This article from the Boise State student newspaper is an excellent illustration of why we anti-sexual violence activists need to be really, really clear about our definitions of sexual violence.
Here we go:
According to BSU’s policy on consent for sexual activity, consent cannot be given by someone who is intoxicated. While I understand this, I do not agree with it. It is a dangerous and vague definition of a very serious crime. Frankly, it scares me. Booze and sex, while once a favored college past time, are now a breeding ground for disaster.
How many college students participate in sexual activity while they are intoxicated? According to factsontap.org, more than 70 percent of college students admit to having sex under the influence of alcohol. With such a high number, shouldn’t we deny the premise that 70 percent of students are raping each other? Is it still rape if both members consent while intoxicated or is this a conundrum? I understand this definition is meant to push youth away from the dangerous mix of alcohol and sex, but it doesn’t offer a realistic solution to the problem.
I’m going to say something that is not often acknowledged by anti-sexual violence activists (though it should be). You know what? He’s right.
A few beers does not make consensual sex sexual assault. It just doesn’t. And I think it’s really dangerous to have these prevention programs with the scare tactics about how you might rape someone “by accident” because if they have had a drink it’s sexual assault. That kind of bullshit makes the prevention program seem less realistic and credible, plays into men’s fear of false accusation and appears to give it validity, makes people believe that the prevalence of rape is overestimated because stats are counting all sex under the influence as rape (they aren’t), gives people the idea that rape is easy to commit by accident (and that maybe perpetrators shouldn’t be punished too harshly), and, most importantly, pretty much completely ignores the concept of enthusiastic consent (I could speculate about why this is, and honestly, I think it’s generally about discomfort with sexuality).
Rape is not gray. How many times must I say this? How many times must I say this to people who are supposed to be professionals in the field of sexual assault prevention?
Basing a prevention program on the premise that men are going to try to have sex by any means necessary, and are willing to engage in any behavior short of rape to do so, is fucked up. And that’s what these programs do. They assume that since men are going to take it right to the legal line when they have sex with people, we should tell them that the line is at a single beer, just to be safe.
That just isn’t true. The line is wherever an individual’s line is, and although it is specific to each situation, it’s not particularly gray. If someone is too wasted to know what’s up or to resist effectively, it’s rape. It’s not that complicated. It’s not gray. The only people who think it’s gray are creepy creepy people who are trying to take it to the legal line. Gross.
We here at SAFER often wonder why the heck would you want to have sex with someone who is falling all over the place and isn’t altogether clear on the situation. You have to be really messed up to think this is okay behavior, and I just don’t know what you get out of it. But that is where the cultural problem really lies. People don’t think that women are supposed to enjoy sex, and be enthusiastic about it when it occurs. And they expect men to lack the most basic empathy for other human beings when it comes to sexuality.
That is what we need to address if we’re going to get anywhere with sexual assault prevention. These scare tactics do not serve our purposes.
(Little Update: Cheers to Cara at The Curvature for pointing out that the original article linked to is a piece of apologist/denialist/generally lame-assist crap. I didn’t really make that clear in the original post, but it’s true and important to mention. I was commenting on the fact that we unfortunately sometimes give lame-assists ammunition and play into the very same gendered expectations that they do, but in no way was condoning the rest of his statements. Bottom line: Dude happened to make a reasonable point somewhere in there, but the rest is baloney.)