A new federal health campaign meant to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome is doubling as a handy guide to victim-blaming.
According to the new recommendations released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday, all women who consume alcohol are at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or ending up pregnant.
Without pointing to its underlying reasoning, a CDC infographic simply states that “drinking too much” can lead to STDs, violence, and an unintended pregnancy “for any woman.” Without understanding the CDC’s thinly veiled logic, this makes no scientific sense.
Though the CDC doesn’t mention rape or sexual assault anywhere in its campaign, this logic fits into a larger pattern related to the issue. (On its website, the federal agency lists sexual assault as one of the “short term risks” of consuming alcohol.) The assumption that women should avoid drinking so they don’t become the subject of unwanted sexual attention — which can lead to an unintended pregnancy or an STD — is one of the many victim-blaming pieces of advice that women regularly hear about how they should avoid being raped.
The CDC’s guidance fails to mention that men are equally more vulnerable to contracting an STD or impregnating a woman when they are under the influence of alcohol.
It doesn’t seem to matter if a woman is or isn’t planning on getting pregnant. The CDC suggests that simply drinking alcohol could make any woman forget to practice safe sex, thus leading to her to have a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome. All blame is placed on this imaginary, irresponsible woman.
“More than 3 million US women are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy,” the CDC affirms.
Another CDC graphic recommends physicians give birth control to female patients who drink alcohol, because of this “risk.”
Telling pregnant women to avoid all alcohol consumption has sparked past controversy in the medical community — since scientists have yet to pinpoint when in a pregnancy alcohol is actually damaging to a fetus.
However, the CDC notes: “The baby’s brain, body, and organs are developing throughout pregnancy and can be affected by alcohol at any time.”