On alcohol, policing and responsibility

Reading about recent alcohol citation efforts published in the Minnesota Daily and in the email updates sent out by the University of Minnesota leads one to wonder, what next? Perhaps citations for being outside after dark, or for being alone? Mandatory body-building and martial arts classes to keep students from “making themselves easy targets” by small size or poor fighting ability?

Perhaps a University-appointed personal minder and bodyguard as well, to keep us all from engaging in any unsafe behavior of the sort that might leave us vulnerable to criminals.

Or perhaps the University could stop blaming the victims for making themselves vulnerable, and instead assign responsibility for robbery, assault and other crimes to the people who commit those crimes. By linking intoxication to vulnerability and then making intoxication something to be enforced against, the University administration is saying that it is students’ vulnerability to crime —and not criminal behavior — that must be penalized.

The effect of such a stance is profoundly negative. First, it can create a false sense of security; vulnerability comes in many forms. Second, it adds to the expectation that students will structure their lives in order to avoid becoming the victims of crime.

Third, and most damaging, it encourages those who become the victims of crime — whether they are using alcohol or not — to blame themselves for their victimization. In addition to the obvious psychological trauma such a response can inflict, this also discourages victims from reporting crimes and allows serial predators to act unchecked. After all, if the victim is to blame, why should anyone do anything to check the predator?

Their predation becomes a natural result of the victim’s imprudence; the victim deserved it. And all that before police are encouraged to take crime reports less seriously by the subtle assumption that this was, essentially, an accident.

When responsibility lands squarely on the shoulders of those who commit crimes, the focus of crime prevention changes. Instead of inducing students to avoid being “vulnerable,” the University and society at large must take on the much more challenging task of dissuading people from committing crimes in the first place.

This undertaking will require substantial amounts of time and money and a rethinking of cultural assumptions. It does not offer flashy statistics like the more than 90 citations from the weekend of Sept. 5. What it does offer is a chance to actually make students safer, instead of offering a false sense of security and telling them they are to blame if they are victimized.