At a town hall in Watertown, Pennsylvania on Friday, a local college student asked Ohio Governor and presidential candidate John Kasich what he would do as president to make young women like her feel safer on campus. She cited what many consider a current epidemic of “violence, harassment and rape” at colleges and universities.
Kasich at first ignored the student’s question and turned to his staffer, joking that he had to go and didn’t want to miss his ride. He then suggested that all colleges offer victims of sexual assault “confidential reporting,” rape kits, and “the opportunity to be able to pursue justice after you have had some time to reflect on it all.” He concludes by telling the woman, a first-year at New York’s Saint Lawrence University: “I will give you one bit of advice. Don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol.”
Not only did Kasich’s remark place the onus for preventing assault entirely on the victim, it also perpetuates the disproved myth that there is a direct link between alcohol consumption and rape. In fact, incidents of rape have been declining since 1979, while binge drinking has been steadily rising during the same time period. While alcohol is present in about half of all sexual assaults, it’s also present in about that same percentage of all violent crimes. Oddly, government officials never tell victims of armed robberies to avoid alcohol.
Additionally, many studies have shown that booze is just one of many tools perpetrators use to prey on their victims, along with methods including physical isolation and psychological manipulation. Yet that hasn’t stopped government officials, college administrators, and fraternal organizations from pointing to alcohol as the main or sole factor, going to far as to ban female students from fraternity parties for their safety.
Across the country, students are demanding a more comprehensive response than simply telling women to change their behavior. Activists at many campuses have been demanding a reporting and judicial process that better protects and doesn’t re-victimize them, educational programming that confronts rape culture, and an assigned advocate to help victims through the process of reporting and recovering from an assault. Many schools have also adopted so-called “affirmative consent” rules, which emphasize that silence or the absence of a ‘no’ does not mean consent.
The Obama Administration, led by Vice President Joe Biden, has launched a major campaign to combat campus sexual assault, called “It’s On Us.” The program asks students to pledge to intervene when they witness “situations where consent cannot or has not been given” — including sexual encounters where one party is impaired by drugs or alcohol. Some colleges that have implemented this bystander intervention model have seen reported assaults decrease by more than half.
An investigation by the Columbus Dispatch found that Ohio campus judicial panels often mistreat both victims and students accused of violence. Governor Kasich has proposed a $2 million investment in new guidelines for how campuses handle such crimes, but there is no enforcement mechanism to force colleges to make changes.
Kasich’s “piece of advice” for the student on Friday is the latest in the GOP hopeful’s long line of tone-deaf comments to and about women. Kasich’s greatest hits also include telling a young woman trying to ask him about immigration policy, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any tickets for Taylor Swift,” boasting that “women who left their kitchens” helped him win the governor’s race, and answering a question from a woman about his Vice Presidential preference with, “Are you available? You look great tonight.”
The women’s advocacy group EMILY’s List has noted that Republicans lose another female voter “every time John Kasich opens his mouth.”