London - For four decades she has imparted wisdom to millions of people.
But British agony aunt Irma Kurtz on Tuesday faced a backlash over her latest advice – saying women should not get drunk around men because it puts them at risk of being raped.
Miss Kurtz, who has worked as an agony aunt at Cosmopolitan magazine since 1973, claimed that the onus was on women to protect themselves against attack.
She said those who “get drunk with the boys” become incapable of defending themselves because “drunkenness tears that away. It really is carelessness to lose your self-defence”.
She called rape “an assault with a weapon”, adding: “You really have to be a little bit defensive when you’re around people who are stupid and armed.”
The 78-year-old’s pronouncement was seized upon by anti-rape campaigners, who labelled her advice “totally irresponsible” and called it “misguided, unhelpful and judgmental”.
She made the comments in an interview with BBC presenter Jane Garvey on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
Miss Garvey asked Miss Kurtz about views she expressed some years ago, when she said women’s sexual freedom came with an obligation to protect themselves.
Miss Garvey quoted Miss Kurtz’s words: “Please remember that your new freedom to go out and play with the boys requires you to employ an even greater freedom new to women, the greatest freedom ... the freedom to take responsibility for ourselves.”
Asked by Miss Garvey if she meant that rape was the fault of the victim, Miss Kurtz said: “Rape is a vicious and wicked crime. It’s an assault with a weapon. It’s not the fault of the victim. However it’s a very good idea to keep away, to protect yourself.
“What I’m saying actually is not that it is her fault. But please protect yourself, now that you’re allowed to, by not getting drunk with the boys.”
Miss Garvey retorted that just because women get drunk, it doesn’t mean they should become victims of rape, in the same way that men shouldn’t become rapists if they drink too much.
Miss Kurtz replied: “No, and I couldn’t agree more if you’re saying that nor should men become rapists because they can get drunk. That’s absurd. It’s like saying someone’s got to shoot someone because he’s got a gun.
“However, the woman is responsible for herself. Men and women are not quite the same. If a woman had a weapon she could use when she got drunk, I would tell her not to, of course.
“But what she does have that she can use is self-defence. And drunkenness tears that away. It really is carelessness to lose your self-defence. You really have to be a little bit defensive when you’re around people who are stupid and armed.”
Miss Kurtz’s comments were condemned by anti-rape organisations, who said women often did not fight back during sexual assault in order to survive.
Lisa Longstaff, of Women Against Rape, said: “Her comments are totally irresponsible. It is time commentators stopped blaming victims and put the responsibility on those who do the crime – rapists.
“Many women do not fight back out of fear or as a survival technique – they can suffer even more injury by physically fighting back.”
Karen Ingala Smith, chief executive of campaign group NIA, which acts to reduce violence against women, added: “Whoever the rapist, whatever the circumstances, the state of intoxication of the victim is irrelevant. Rapists are the only ones responsible for rape. Every time.
“Most – but not all – victims of sexual violence and abuse are stone-cold sober when they are abused. Those who are drunk or intoxicated through drug use are no more deserving of abuse and no less deserving of support.”
Born in New Jersey in 1935, Miss Kurtz is the daughter of a dentist.
She studied at Columbia University, graduating with a degree in English literature. After travelling around Europe, she lived in Paris for a short time before settling in London.
She initially worked as a journalist for 1960s magazine Nova, before joining Cosmopolitan as agony aunt in 1973.
A regular on Radio 4, she has written three self-help books, two novels and three travel books. She has never married, but has a son from a relationship in the 1970s.
She is releasing her memoirs, My Life In Agony, next month. - Daily Mail