Thursday, October 26, 2006

Drunk Sex or Date Rape? Responses

Basha weighs in:

When Brett Sokolow, JD, came to speak last Thursday night about drunken sex and date rape, I must admit I attended more out of a sense of obligation than genuine curiosity.

Sokolow proceeded to relate the facts of a case, and then ask the students and faculty present to vote guilty or not guilty. While I had rightly expected discord amongst those present, I did not anticipate my own ambivalence. Legally it seemed the man in question was guilty of rape, but morally? Maybe just poor judgement. His punishment seemed disproportionate: 18 mos. in prison + lifelong registration as a sex offender? The man lost his job and education prospects because a drunk girl woke up the next morning, didn't remember having sex with him and was very unhappy about it. At the same time, she had consumed the equivalent of 15-20 shots (at his behest) while he remained basically sober. Any reasonable person should know she couldn't consent, right?

Honestly, I don't know -- one person's funny story of a drunken Saturday night is another's nightmare. How do you tell the difference and what should the consequences be?

I think a large part of the problem is that we don't seem to have the proper vocabulary or perhaps comfort level to talk about what happens to us and to express what we are comfortable doing or not doing?

Adda weighs in:

I totally agree with Basha in that, legally speaking I did find the defendant guilty of rape--the girl in question had had way too much to drink to be able to consent, evidenced, if nothing else, by her having blacked out. Unfortunately, its also true what Basha said, which is that so much of this case depended on things specific to their respective personalities--another, more sexually experienced woman might not have charged the defendant with rape. The point being that at the end of the day it often comes down, not to objective facts, but the experience of each person involved. In this case, the accuser felt like her drunken state, and lack of ability to make a reasoned decision, or fight back, was taken advantage of.

And although I truly believe in the importance of respecting and believing women who feel that they have been raped, I do wonder whether such circumstances are enough to warrant the sorts of penalties they can carry--its a tragedy that the defendant will now forever have to register as a sex offender.

What this leads me to wonder is whether or not we should lump all sexual assault crimes together, or whether the law, and society should actively acknowledge that there is an enormous grey area and that crimes that fall into that grey area should be handled differently? In other words, I want to believe in the inherent goodness of most men, and I want to believe that good men can make poor decisions, but that does not mean that they are morally corrupt, or dangerous to all women-kind. Instead, I think it behooves us to create a well structured system that addresses what causes men in such ambiguous situations to take advantage of the situation, rather then respect the female and her right to protect her body. Why do men feel entitled to sex? Is it purely hormonal, or is it conditioned by our society that encourages men to want sex all the time?

What is interesting to me though is that of my friends who can remember their assaults, they have talked about how during the assault they felt totally invisible, or like anything they said or did was falling on deaf ears. What this indicates to me is that during most sexual assaults men dehumanize the victim to the extent that its totally irrelevant what his or her feelings are in the moment--their sexual desire, or desire for power, conquers all. It also suggests that assaulters care so little about the feelings of the victim, that after the fact the assaulter would never register the event as an assault. I think that sort of dehumanizing is obviously incredibly problematic and speaks of deepseated misogyny on the part of the assailant. Unfortunately, in this case, the victim couldn't remember having sex, and is therefore incapable of telling us what the defendant acted like in the moment.

Perhaps instead of jail sentences, men should undergo major counseling. But maybe something like this can't be solved that easily, and the only answer is to change our culture so that men and women don't don't internalize such misogyny.

Maggie weighs in:

I wish I had made it to this talk; it's such an important discussion.

I understand what Basha and Adda are saying about the punishment being disproportionate to the crime in the case study, or at least disproportionately harsh when you consider the intentions of the male student. That being said, I don't feel an inordinate amount of sympathy for this guy. I think men, especially male college students, need to be aware of the consent laws in their state and know the role of alcohol in this legal context. If you know that a woman can't give consent when she is drunk, then it's probably in your best interests to not have sex with her, even if she is the one initiating the hookup.

I think that men should be as aware of the possibility of rape as women are. Rape is a constant threat that changes the way women conduct themselves. It changes what neighborhoods we live in, how late we stay at the library, with whom we socialize and how we interact with these people. Before we come to college, many of us hear the same warnings: always pour your own drinks at parties, don't go anywhere alone with a guy you don't know, etc. My point is that rape is a part of a woman's consciousness, but as far as I can tell, it's not something most guys think about, or at least it's not something they think about as much as women do. To be honest, I'm kind of envious of college guys because they haven't had to worry about keeping their wits about them when they go out. I don't think that such ignorance or obliviousness on the part of men is fair or productive. Why is the onus on the woman to "not put herself in a bad situation?" Why shouldn't men operate on the same principle and avoid situations like the one described in the above case?

In short, why should only women be responsible for stopping rape? In recent years, groups of men have become more active in preventing sexual assault. The national group Men Can Stop Rape and the undergraduate organization NO MORE (a group dedicated to involving men in discussions about rape and sexual violence) are too great examples of the growing number of men who are taking responsibility for their role in sexual violence prevention. I think that when men begin to be more conscious of their role in rape prevention, there will be fewer situations like the one Sokolow discussed.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Come on! 15 to 20 shots versus basically sober before bed! Would you even stomach a premeditated intent by the boy next door? Who can count after 5 or 6 drinks let alone the next 5 or 6. 15 to 20 only seals the deal for the perpetrator. What a tragedy for the girl.

Basha said...

Yes - it was a tragedy for the girl, but it is also a tragedy for the guy. He certainly made some very poor choices, but so did the girl. Should he be forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life because SHE kissed HIM while she was drunk? If it had been a different girl, maybe she would have woken up and laughed about it the next morning... I'm certainly not saying it is ok; I just think we should hesitate before we demonize and think about the consequences before we dole out labels.

Nick said...

This entry reminds me of an article in Sunsay's NYT Week in Review: Alcohol, a Car and a Fatality. Is It Murder? It looks at juries' frequent unwillingness to convict drunk drivers of murder. In particular this quote came to mind:

“There is a certain psychological barrier there,” said Marcia Cunningham, director of the National Traffic Law Center, an agency of the National District Attorneys Association, in Alexandria, Va. Americans spend an enormous amount of time in their cars, she noted, and at one time or other just about everyone has had too much to drink. “The combination of these two familiar activities makes for a certain, what have you, difficulty with the word ‘murder.’ ”

At the same time, Basha's sympathetic phrasing of the issue implicitly blames the girl: "The man lost his job and education prospects because a drunk girl woke up the next morning, didn't remember having sex with him and was very unhappy about it." Not to mention the use of "man" versus "girl". Admittedly, this is her phrasing of that one side of the debate, and I'm not ascribing this particular opinion to her--just dissecting it a little.

Nick said...

*Sunday's

Adda said...

Nick, I totally agree and yet I totally agree with a lot of the points that Basha makes. And perhaps the drunk driving example is instructive--I don't think driving drunk is murder, but it is something where a death is caused by actions that were taken willingly and on purpose, though murder was not the purpose. I think the truth is simply that we have to expand our vocabulary for such cases beyond a consensual sexual act vs. nonconsensual assault.

Anonymous said...

OK, Let's try this again. The boy had a predatory motive to have a sexual encounter with someone who was at the point of being completely numb as well as powerless in regard to consent to any participation. Specifically, in order for him to get sex, he stayed with a girl drinking alcohol through her consumption of 15-20 shots, where at one point in an already drunken state she gives him a kiss. Which is supposed to indicate the entire social encounter from the girl's perspective is a romantic one? Well she clearly felt otherwise, when she could feel after sobering up. Basha, if you personally choose to have sex as an unconscious body, that is up to you to work out beforehand with your prospective lover. Otherwise he should end up in jail thank you very much.

Adda said...

Yes, Maggie, yes. I totally agree, I think you very astutely articulate how rape is a part of women's consciousness. I guess what I just want to push us all to do is really really specifically articulate what is rape and what defines it and how it can play out in a myriad of circumstances. In other words, though I understand your suggestion that men should be familiar with their states rape laws, I think that sort of doesn't address the heart of the issue. We don't not murder people because its illegal but because its wrong, in fact its the other way around: murder is illegal because its wrong. So men shouldn't be raping anyways because the act of rape is in and of itself a basic violation of a human being. So how do we address that issue, because though negative feedback for behavior (ie jail time) is good, but not sufficient in terms of preventing rape.

Anonymous said...

My concern with this is that the idea of rape connotes no responsibility on the part of the woman. When alcohol is involved, or other consensually consumed drugs, it almost seems like the above suggests that -- even if both parties were ripped off their asses -- the burden and blame falls entirely on the man if something regrettable happens. Certainly both parties play a role in the actions? In my mind, if both parties were drunk, then the man may be equally as incapable of saying no as the woman.

Granted, there's usually an imbalance of physical power, but I feel that rape itself should be restricted to things we can all agree on as rape -- one party taking violent, nonconsensual sexual advantage of another, which I would argue would definitely include coercive deliberate drug use. Which I view as distinct from the (sadly) standard college model of two people who are attracted to each other getting drunk, having unwise sex. It sounds very much like the woman is always to be considered faultless, and always has the option of crying foul after the fact.

None of which excuses deplorable behavior, but the definition *is* problematic. Perhaps many women didn't consider what happened rape because they acknowledge their own contribution toward the situation? I mean, when someone says NO, that should be the end of it -- but the reality of the situation can be quite different, because of mixed signals.

Here's a situation I've witnessed personally at a party. Both parties have been drinking, but aren't rat-faced. They're smooching and groping in the corner in a way that is on the verge of making others in the room uncomfortable. His intentions are clear, and her body language and tone of voice when she says "no, really, I shouldn't" are those of someone playing coy, rather than someone being firm about calling a halt to the proceedings. They disappear upstairs. There is no violence involved -- because this is a crappy house and the walls are thin enough that we are treated to their activity as a half-hour radio play, but the next morning she has regrets and begins badmouthing him for taking advantage of her.

Under a definition some use, that's rape. It really doesn't seem fair to me -- it was bad judgement on both their parts, but it clearly wasn't a violent act, just hormones and lowered inhibitions, cast in the harsh light of the next morning's regret.

If one is going to say that these things count as rape because they meet this legal definition, then I'm looking for the balancing clause that says it doesn't count if both parties were intoxicated and no physical violence or threat was involved.

It's a fact that in college, drunken sex is often the norm, especially in certain subcultures. Hell, everyone in theatre seemed to be sleeping with everyone else at various points, usually after drinking, and often with regrets -- but was it rape?

Who decides that a girl was too drunk to give proper consent? And if so, who decides the a boy was too drunk to be in control of his hormones?

Anonymous said...

Rape defense kit, cicra 2006

Prior to forensic DNA fingerprinting techniques which then gave rise to the forensic rape kit for analysis of DNA evidence, criminal charges of rape were frequently defended by lawyers on the basis that a rape never happened and the person making the accusation is crazy.

At this point, if a boy wakes up from a possible sexual encounter with a strager and he has even a vague recollection of any statements made such as

"no, really, I shouldn't" he should preceed immediately to his nearest facility to obtain blood drug and alcohol testing so he might establish his state of intoxication in defense of potential rape charges where he would have had no control over his hormones. The serious possibility of jail time involved in a possible rape accusation would justify his taking this minimal defensive action.

Maggie said...

I was talking about this subject with my boyfriend last night, and he reiterated a valid point that was already brought up in one of the comments (I would point to the poster's name but can't do that becase everyone is posting anonymously . . . it'd be cool if you all put your names just for discussion purposes). If a girl can't give consent when she's drunk, then why can I drunk guy give consent? Would we prosecute a sober girl for having sex with a drunk guy? I'm not sure of the legal line on this, but if the drunken consent laws don't work both ways, then that's a problem. I guess you could argue that when women rape men, the use of physical force is not the same, but I still think there's a problem if the law is not the same for both sexes.

Anonymous said...

This whole discussion is ridiculous. What kind of girl drinks 15 to 20 shots of alcohol? If a drunk driver runs into a car and is injured severely, is it the fault of the alcohol or the person who CHOSE to consume it? Courts would say that it is the fault of the drunk driver. This girl deserves the same treatment as a drunk driver who commits a horrible act. If one drinks 15 to 20 shots of alcohol, they are lucky if all that happens is they wake up with someone who they would not normally engage in sexual intercourse with, but did anyways. The entire argument all of you are having is ridiculous. This is comparable to a drunken person making an expensive purchase then charging the store with robbery the next day if they wake up regretful after the purchase. What is wrong with you people who think that he is guilty? Do you drink 15 to 20 shots on a daily basis? sure seems like it....What happened to taking responsibility for one's own actions? Most of you make me sick.

Anonymous said...

Erg, this is infuriating. Just because she was DRUNK and regretted her STUPID decision does not mean he raped her! He just had sex with her when she was drunk and then she realized she'd acted irresponsibly and started crying rape. Sheesh.

Viagra Online said...

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