Debating is meant to cover controversial topics

Stuff reports:

An international competition held in Wellington has been criticised for mooting that girls should be told to drink responsibly to avoid sexual assault.

The New Zealand British Parliamentary Debating Championships hosted by Victoria University last weekend debated that “This House, as a parent, would tell their daughter to drink responsibly to avoid sexual assault”.

The topic left female debaters “forced to defend their own rights to consume alcohol and have consensual sex”, a spectator, who wished to remain anonymous, said. 

The tournament was held on behalf of the New Zealand Universities Debating Council, and included teams from around the country, and some from Australia.

The spectator said many of the female participants in the tournament were adamant they did not wish to engage in the debate, but were pressured into “hardening up” and arguing the motion.

“What resulted were many of the male debaters literally laughing at their female peers as they tried to defend their own rights to consume alcohol and have consensual sex, and there was also much joking about the circumstances in which sexual assault occurs,” she said.

Participants were reduced to tears both during and after the debate, she said.

“One woman began crying during the debate which she participated in, and others were crying after the debate, for reasons ranging from personal experiences with rape, to the sheer shock of feeling they had to defend those rapists.”

Debate topics across the weekend were set by chief adjudicator Stephen Whittington, a former member of the Victoria University Debating Society.

Considering the sensitivity of the topic, he discussed the motion with five other adjudicators before setting it, he said.

Each of them agreed it was acceptable for the purposes of a debating tournament, Whittington said.

“As part of that discussion we discussed what the purpose of debating was, and as part of that discussion we talked about the fact that debating often requires people to defend ideas or arguments that they don’t personally agree with, even in circumstances where people do in fact have very strong views about those issues.”

Debating the morality of abortion, or whether Israel had a right to exist as a country, were instances in which people could have strong views on a topic and be forced to take the other side of the argument, he said.

Whittington said the idea for the premise of the debate was based on an article in Slate magazine, written by Emily Yoffe.

The view that women shouldn’t drink to avoid being sexually assaulted is a neanderthal one. However I don’t think you do anyone a service by saying that such a view can not be the topic of a debate. Far better to allow the topic to be debated and have talented debaters expose the massive flaws in that argument.

As Whittington says, many debating topics are controversial and may involve deeply personal issues such as abortion.

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