If us girls would just stay home and stay sober, we’d save our collegiate athletic stars a lot of trouble — am I right?
Ladies, we can absolutely take measures to “protect” ourselves from sexual assault. But, the fellas have responsibilities, too. Drunkenness is not a green light for a hook-up. Nothing entitles you to someone else’s body without their explicit consent.
The Washington Post conducted a poll of current and recent college students, which found that:
- Women who say they sometimes or often drink more than they should are twice as likely to be victims of sexual assaults as those who rarely or never drink.
- Two-thirds of victims had been drinking right before they were assaulted.
Alcohol is often called “liquid courage” because it makes it easier to meet people, yet it’s also become a date-rape drug.
The Stanford Rape Case
This case has drawn much-needed attention to the problem of sexual assault, especially on college campuses. The woman who endured the assault wrote a powerful statement directed at her attacker ― giving a voice to the horror that countless others have lived through silently.
Yet, once again, the law can’t seem to bring justice to this crime. Because Brock used his fingers to penetrate her instead of his penis, in the state of California, he technically didn’t rape this young woman. Instead, he was convicted on three felony counts of sexual assault.
Although he was facing a maximum sentence of 14 years, and despite the fact that most sexual assault convictions in California average a 2-4 year sentence, the judge sentenced Turner to just 6 months in Santa Clara County jail.
And, more good news: This gentleman—who was caught behind a dumpster, in the midst of thrusting himself onto an unconscious woman with her dress hiked up and underwear on the ground—will be released early from jail this Friday after serving just half of his sentence.
Two Sides to the Story
Brock Turner was a star swimmer at Stanford, eyeing a spot on the Olympic team. In a public statement, he wrote, “I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone.” He claims the assault was really just two college kids caught up in a culture of “partying” and “promiscuity.”
A spelling error, a missed appointment—these are mistakes. Mistaken penetration? Not in my world, Brock.
Can we play down the severity of sexual assault as “boys being boys?” Should women learn to expect unwanted penetration from drunk, frisky men? Absolutely not.
Both the woman and Brock Turner were drinking that night. She didn’t know Brock before the party and doesn’t remember leaving with him—only waking up in the hospital.
“Alcohol is not an excuse,” she wrote in her letter to Brock. “We were both drunk; the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately and run away.”
Drunkenness, age, athletic ability, and gender do not excuse violating another human being. Yes, partying, drinking, and one-night stands have become norms of the college experience. But, Brock, could this woman—a stranger with a blood-alcohol level 3 times the legal limit—even give you sufficient consent to penetrate her?
The Definition of Rape
Do we need to define rape? In both state laws and the minds of some young people, it seems like there’s confusion.
Rape is defined differently in each state, and some states only use the term “sexual assault.” In California, rape requires “an act of sexual intercourse” under circumstances in which a victim is unconscious or incapable of giving consent. Brock committed a different crime: forcible penetration by a foreign object. Sounds way better, right?
State laws need to catch up with the updated FBI definition of rape: “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
So, Brock, by FBI standards and mine, you raped an innocent woman.
Why does it matter so much what we call it? Am I hell-bent on labeling you a “rapist?”
No. You’re first and foremost a lying coward—someone who didn’t take responsibility for his actions. I don’t know if you’re a rapist, if you’ve assaulted other women, or if you’ll do so again.
I’m hell-bent on calling it like I see it: Rape is rape. If we’re trying to soften the blow and not use “rape” as a label, are we taking better care of the victim or the assailant?
The Problem of Rape and Sexual Assault
I can’t help but align myself with the victim—as a fellow woman who’s almost the same age, been to my share of college parties, and also made the “amateur mistake” of drinking too much. Anyone who’s gotten too loose and blacked out at a party, been too trusting of their friends and fellow partiers, might have endured the same kind of assault. Maybe you already have.
One in 4 women will be sexually abused before age 18. In their lifetime, 1 out of every 5 women will be sexually assaulted. And sexual assault doesn’t only affect women—it’s estimated that 1 in 6 men have an unwanted or abusive sexual experience before age 18.
That’s at least two girls on a soccer team, a handful of people in your meeting at work, someone behind you in the grocery line, someone you know and maybe have known for a long time.
These numbers don’t even account for the 2 out of every 3 assaults that go unreported. Most victims fear retaliation. They believe the police or the law won’t do anything to help, that it wasn’t important enough to report, or they don’t want their attacker to get in trouble.
The general impression is that sexual assault is normal: something to be expected by women, and a no-big-deal “mistake” for men.
Teaching Girls to “Prevent” Rape
I remember my mom warning me about parties, drinking, and the length of my dress. In college, a friend of mine was raped and her mom’s response was, “What were you wearing?”
We talk to young women about how to best prevent being raped. Our approach often focuses on what the victim did wrong to put themselves in harm’s way.
There are definite risks that go along with parties and heavy intoxication. We should talk about drinking and living responsibly. But, what’s lost in this preventative advice is the fundamental right to one’s own body.
A person should be able to dress and drink as they please at a party, without increasing their likelihood of being attacked. A victim alone cannot take it upon themselves to prevent rape.
A Culture of “Partying,” Sexual Entitlement
There’s massive social pressure to party hard and sleep around, particularly in college.
As women, we’re expected to be “ladies in the street, but freaks in the bed”—able and willing to do anything a man asks. Women are labeled as “prudes” if they refuse sex, or “reckless” and “slutty” when they’re victimized.
Men are expected to be hyper-masculine and hypersexual—a superficial measure of “manhood.” Alcohol is seen as something that will facilitate sex. At some college and frat parties, women are treated as prizes to be won. Some men feel entitled to those prizes.
Don’t believe it? Just look at the list of college campuses with recent sexual assault cases that have made news:
Has society imbued men with macho attitudes about sex? Do depictions of male dominance in porn have an impact on the psyche of young people? Have music, TV, and movies portrayed women as trophies? Are fathers teaching this to their sons?
Making Positive Change
We raise women to be cautious. Even in my blurriest, haziest moments at parties, I remember being wary of men and clinging to female friends. The fear of what happens when a girl gets too drunk has been bred into me by my mother. Yet, few boys are raised to be cautious about their drinking and sexual behavior.
Yes, many boys are raised to respect women, to treat them as equals. Yet, Brock Turner’s father calling his son’s assault “20 minutes of action” is an example of the opposite: viewing women as objects. Also consider the influence of popular music, TV, movies, and porn on our minds.
So, in a drunken stupor, what bubbles to the surface in a young man? Will his subconscious egg him on to “be the man?” Hearing, “you know she wants it” in his head? Entitlement is an attitude that is learned.
This obviously isn’t true for all men by any means. The point is, both women and men need to take preventative measures against sexual assault.
We can raise men to understand every person’s right to their own body. We can raise men to be cautious when they are too drunk—to stop and think, “I should be careful, I might go too far.” We need men to stand up within their social circles and stop putting pressure on one another, to stop viewing sex as a “conquest” or a measure of masculinity.
Ultimately, we need to educate young people about the reality we face: that the ability to give or receive consent is severely impaired when someone is intoxicated. We can teach both women and men about how to stay safe on college campuses and a parties.
As for you, Brock Turner,
I hope your very short jail stint hasn’t reinforced your sense of white privilege and male entitlement. Don’t get it twisted—you raped someone, and that will never be “okay.” You deserve much more than this slap on the wrist.
But I want to believe you can learn from this, that you won’t attack another woman. Brock, I beg of you—use your freedom to make positive change.