Former GWU Pres Tells Women Stop Drinking to Avoid Rape

By Paul Gaita 09/03/14

Dr. Trachtenberg was roundly criticized from all corners for his obtuse remarks.

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The former president of George Washington University has come under fire for comments he made on the issue of sexual assault against women on college campuses.

Dr. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who retired in 2007 after 19 years as GWU president, was a guest on the August 26 edition of NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” on WAMU 88.5 FM. The show, which initially concerned fraternities and sororities, addressed the topic of sexual assault on campus, which prompted Trachtenberg to weigh in on the subject.

“Without making the victims…responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women,” he said. “They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave. And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much. And there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children…in that regard.”

Another panelist on the program, Caitlin Flanagan who writes for the Atlantic, took a “real exception” to Trachtenberg’s comments by noting that his suggestions were “not a realistic strategy for protecting ourselves from rape.” Her sentiments were echoed in the days that followed, particularly by students from GWU’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, who emailed the president emeritus to express their disappointment.

A petition on requested that Trachtenberg apologize for his comments, something he stopped short of doing in a statement issued on the 29th. “Apologizing isn’t exactly the word I would use,” he said. “I’m explaining.”

“I was trying to say only that people need to know their limits," Trachtenberg wrote in his response to the GWU students’ emails. "That sober is safer. That someone who is drunk is more vulnerable to attack. I also think that being educated about what to do if attacked is empowering."

Dr. Trachtenberg’s statements are the latest in a string of similar admonishments to women by authority figures and pundits., which broke the news about Trachtenberg’s comments, posted a startling gallery of PSA advertisements by law and government officials in the UK and United States which essentially pinned women’s dress and behavior as the reason for rape, while Slate’s Emily Yoffe was widely criticized for an essay which told women that by getting drunk, they were inviting sexual assault.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.