For many years I taught a freshmen high school health class which included the topic of sexual assault. In one class, I showed a video, and we processed the scenario afterwards.
A depiction of a female college freshman and a male college junior coming from a dorm party. In the video, both students described separately what happened that night. They both agreed that after the party the female invited the male back to her dorm room for vodka shots. However, the story continues to disagree after that as the female described that they talked, drank shots, she became very tired, needed to lay down, and passed out. The male said they had some shots, started to make out and then had sex. The female did not remember what happened when she passed out, and when she talked to the male student the next day, he told her they had sex and he used a condom. The female student was shocked and very upset and her friends encouraged her to report it to the Dean, which she did.
The video goes on to show the college interviewed both students and expelled only the male student. The female student also shared that she did not want to report it to the police because she felt her parents would learn of this and be disappointed in her and think it was her fault.
The video also displays the upset female student explaining how she no longer goes out anymore; and the negative impact this incident has on her emotional state. The male student also shared very calmly in the interview that he is almost 100% sure she wasn’t totally passed out; that she was just less energetic than he was, and that he thought she was into it.
The Class Response:
85% – 90% of the class felt the male student should not have been expelled because it was the fault of the female, or both were at fault. The most common reasons students stated for it being her fault was “she invited him to her room”, “she brought out the alcohol”, “she let herself get drunk”, “she had to know what would happen”, “she just regretted it later, that’s why she was so whiny”, and “they were both drinking.”
The statements made by the class brought on an animated discussion around attitudes/beliefs, fault/blame, and most importantly, consent.
The 10% – 15% of the class who believed the decision by the college was correct disputed each of the statements. They included their own statements such as “she may have liked him but not necessarily looking for sex”, “wanting to be alone with him doesn’t mean she wants sex”, “not everyone who drinks wants sex” and “it’s not okay to have sex just because the person can’t verbalize a “NO”. Ultimately, the 10% – 15% would stand on the belief she was drunk; could not fight back; and he took advantage.
A Little Intervention and Food for Thought:
As the teacher in this heated debate, I called a time out to offer some food for thought and alternate scenarios for consideration. “if you left your phone on the desk when you went to the restroom and someone took it, is that stealing? After all, you did leave it there”, “if a storeowner goes to the backroom to get something and someone takes an item from the shelf and leaves with it, is that stealing? After all, the storeowner left the shop unattended”, “if you left your keys in the car and someone drove it away, did that person steal your car? You did leave the keys.”
Students agreed the victims in the alternate scenarios made it easier for someone to commit a crime, but it was not any less a theft because it lacked consent. To say otherwise would be blaming the victim for criminal behavior.
Following that conclusion, we took the discussion a step further to include sexual assault. If a female goes jogging at night, alone in the park, and is sexually assaulted, would anyone say it was her own fault? Jogging alone at night? Following the previous reasoning, being alone might have made her an easier target but the criminal act is not any less a rape.
Now, touching on the alcohol.. If a person is extremely drunk, takes out their wallet and someone takes it from them and walks away, is that a stolen wallet if the drunk person did not object or fight back? If a person is heavily intoxicated hands a signed title to turn over ownership of their vehicle to someone asking for the title, does that person now own the car? Does it matter if the person verbally consented in all these situations? And, “can you legally consent if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs?” The answer is no, and with good reason. Our laws recognize that people need to be of sound mind to give consent to protect being taken advantage of where alcohol or drugs are involved. You can choose to get drunk or high, but it does not give anyone else permission to commit crimes against you in while intoxicated. A victim’s vulnerability does not change the responsibility of the person committing the crime. Consent is everything and it needs to be clearly stated and uncoerced and with a clear head.
In the original video, if the female student reported the incident to the police, the male student could have been charged with rape. The female’s hesitation resulted from a fear of victim blaming, and in a victim-blaming culture, the victims also often blame themselves.
What is consent for sex? Intimate partners might not formally ask each other for a verbal yes or no when there is mutual excitement between them. If one partner seems unsure, needs to be coerced, or is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that is not necessarily consent.
The school resource officer did a follow-up visit to our health class. She left the students with this CONSENT ADVICE:
- Always get a verbal “YES” (uncoerced) to whatever sexual activity you are planning with your partner before you do it.
- If your partner has been drinking, “Do Not Have Sex!”
- Check your partner’s ID for a birthday so you know the person is of legal age to give consent in your state
Coercing, forcing, or having sex with someone under the influence or without consent is never part of a healthy relationship. It is controlling, abusive, self-serving, and could be considered criminal behavior.
Being part of a HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP includes equality, respect and consent.