AEI
By Eliza Berman
October 22, 2014

In a vlog titled “The Factual Feminist,” Caroline Kitchens, a senior research associate at conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, undertakes a MythBusters-style takedown of the threat posed by date rape drugs, suggesting that they are far less common than most women think. But it’s not her skepticism of Roofies that’s problematic — it’s the way she proposes women stop blaming these mythical drugs for the consequences of their own drunken decisions.

The video’s opening question — just how frequently drug facilitated sexual assault occurs — is a valid one. And Kitchens cites several studies that find the incidence to be quite low. Given the relative scarcity of sexual assaults that take place after a woman’s drink has been drugged, she says, “the evidence doesn’t match the hype.”

But it’s unclear exactly what hype Kitchens is referring to. The vast majority of messaging by sexual assault support and prevention groups resorts to awareness, not hysteria. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, offers advice to help women protect themselves from sexual assault. Among the group’s suggestions are to “be aware of your surroundings” and “trust your instincts.” Not exactly the picture of fear-mongering. RAINN also suggests refraining from leaving your drink unattended and accepting drinks from strangers, but these tips constitute common sense more than, in Kitchens’ words, “conspiracy.”

Aside from this exaggerated depiction of widespread panic, Kitchens’ debunking of the rampant Roofies myth is largely harmless. That is, until she begins to search for a reason to explain this imbalance between perception and reality. “Most commonly, victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault are severely intoxicated,” Kitchens says, “often from their own volition.” Blaming date rape drugs, she suggests, is “more convenient to guard against than the effects of alcohol itself.” Women would rather blame a “vague, improbable threat,” she says, than take responsibility for their own actions.

It may be true that date rape drugs are used infrequently, but that does not give carte blanche to shift the blame from perpetrator to victim. No, women shouldn’t be unnecessarily panicked about the threat of date rape drugs. But neither should they be shamed for the size of their bar tabs. Because no matter how short her skirt or how strong her drink, a woman never asks to be raped. It takes a rapist to rape a woman.

Write to Eliza Berman at eliza.berman@time.com.

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