Ohio Gov. and GOP presidential hopeful John Kasich faced immediate blowback on Friday for recommending to a college student asking about sexual assault that she shouldn't "go to parties where there is a lot of alcohol."
At a town hall in Watertown, New York, a first-year student from St. Lawrence University asked: "What are you going to do in office as president to help me feel safer and more secure regarding sexual violence, harassment, and rape?"
Kasich's answer started off pretty solid. He said that when college students enroll, they should have "a place to go where there is confidential reporting," access to a rape kit, and the opportunity to pursue justice "after you have had some time to reflect on it all." He said that all of our "coeds" should be able to know exactly what the rules, opportunities, and confidential policies are.
Advocates for campus sexual assault survivors would probably agree with all of that, Kasich's slightly old-fashioned reference to female students as "coeds" aside. On many campuses, for instance, it's not always made clear to students what steps they should take after being assaulted and what their rights are.
"It's sad, but it's something that I have to worry about," the student added.
That's when Kasich replied, "I'd also give you one bit of advice, don't go to parties where there is a lot of alcohol."
That line was decidedly unpopular among Democrats and women's advocates — both because they said it blamed women for sexual assault and because it's part of a larger pattern of anti-woman behavior on Kasich's part.
Democratic National Committee spokesperson Christina Freundlich released a statement saying, "Republican presidential candidates like John Kasich and Donald Trump are insulting women every day on the campaign trail by blaming victims of sexual and domestic violence."
"John Kasich’s plan for combating sexual assault as president is to blame women who go to parties," said Dawn Laguens, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "As governor, John Kasich has implemented policies that reflect his disregard for women, enacting 18 measures that restrict women’s access to reproductive health care while nearly half the abortion providers in his state closed their doors."
Laguens also noted that, as Vox has reported, Kasich signed a bill to cut funding for domestic violence and maternal health programs just because they were provided by Planned Parenthood. Making those cuts allowed Kasich to say he was "defunding" the organization amid a controversy over doctored anti-Planned Parenthood videos — even though he had already substantially cut Planned Parenthood's funding in 2013.
Why remarks like Kasich's are considered victim blaming
It's certainly true, as National Sexual Violence Resource Center spokesperson Kristen Houser told ABC News, that many rapists "use drugs and alcohol strategically."
But many advocates for sexual assault say that telling women to drink and party less is not only patronizing and shaming, it's also counterproductive.
When a woman or man is raped, some people's first response is judgment and skepticism rather than sympathy. Was it really rape? What were you wearing? How much were you drinking? In other words: Did you invite the attack in some way, or could you have done something to prevent it?
That's rarely the case when someone says they've been a victim of another crime, like mugging or car theft. And it's rare to judge accused rapists in the same way; their behavior is seen as awful but inevitable. Some men even share this view about themselves or their peers — witness the recent shocking comments from a prominent Harvard men's club on how allowing women to join would increase those women's risk of sexual assault.
Some critics defend comments like Kasich's as just common sense — either that or a bold, controversial, yet necessary step to help women protect themselves.
But young women already get enough messages about how they should change their behavior to avoid sexual assault, advocates say. Don't go to frat parties. Better yet, don't go to any parties, or walk home from them at night, alone. Better still, don't go to parties or go out at night at all.
You can see where this starts to become a problem. There's only so much a woman can really do to prevent assault from a determined rapist. There are things she can do to reduce her risk of assault or harassment, but most of them come with some cost to her personal freedom. And even if she thwarts an attack, a rapist might just move on to someone else.
Meanwhile, focusing on victims' behavior often means ignoring the idea that we should educate men and boys about things like consent and bystander intervention.
That also has policy implications when it comes to Kasich specifically.
"Take the most recent bill to defunding Planned Parenthood, for example. John Kasich blocked vital prevention funding from Violence Against Women Act," NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio executive director Kellie Copeland said in a statement. "These programs focus much of their attention on teaching boys, how to combat rape culture, and stop men from becoming rapists."
Kasich can't seem to stop condescending to college-age women
This is not the first time Kasich has taken fire for making a condescending or tone-deaf remark to a young woman trying to ask him a question.
In fact, as Emma Gray noted this week at the Huffington Post, it's becoming a bit of a pattern. On Monday, Kasich asked a young woman who asked him about Social Security: "Did somebody tell you to ask this question?"
Kasich surprised when young woman asks about soc. security, asks if someone told her to ask about it. No, she says, "I think for myself."— Ben Gittleson (@bgittleson) April 11, 2016
Then there was the time Kasich told a young woman who was enthusiastically raising her hand that he didn't have any Taylor Swift tickets, prompting her to write an essay on why his response was offensive.
Add that to Kasich's willingness to cut programs for youth sexual education, along with gaffes like talking about how women "left their kitchens" to support him, and it creates the impression that Kasich has a disconnect with women — especially young women.
"John Kasich blocked sexual assault programs and education because John Kasich doesn’t understand why they are necessary," Copeland said. "Telling women that they need to avoid parties with alcohol shows just how out of touch he is with the realities young women face on campus every day."