April 18, 2014
This column covers both silly and serious topics about sex and dating from the perspective of a poetry-loving, feminist psychology major. For topic suggestions, questions, or other perspectives on sex in college please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
People joke that Hamilton is a country club with a lot of homework. It does sometimes seem like I live in an oasis of meal plans, reasonably priced concerts, heating and locked doors. When I see the same faces on Martin’s Way every day, our campus starts to feel small and safe.
But does living in a bubble create a false sense of security? When all of the faces on the Hill are familiar, things like sexual assault start to feel far away. The fact is, however, that people are sexually assaulted on our campus every year, and those people are mostly women (the accepted statistic is that one out of six American women will be a survivor of rape or attempted rape. For men, it is more like one out of 33). Rape isn’t reserved for huge state universities; it is a problem Hamilton also faces. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a good time to think critically about why sexual assault still happens at Hamilton and the steps we can take to prevent it.
Ending sexual assault on campus requires settling for nothing less than enthusiastic consent, both as participants and observers of intimacy. It’s not enough to say, “Consent is sexy.” Consent is not sexy. Consent is absolutely and indisputably required for anything sexy to happen. A “fun” hook-up reaches far beyond mere consent.
Having a “fun” hook-up is often difficult on the Hill, but establishing consent never should be. If someone is saying, “Yes,” things happen, and if they are saying, “No,” they don’t. Unfortunately, when alcohol is involved, the line between consent and assault begins to blur. News flash: just because someone is drunk, doesn’t mean that they want to sleep with you. In fact, sometimes people are so intoxicated that they cannot consent for themselves (legally, an intoxicated person cannot consent to sexual contact at all).
A girl in one of my classes last year talked about how she took the initiative to check in with drunk couples in the Annex and Bundy to make sure everything was okay. She reported losing guy friends who were “trying to mack” and thought she was “cock-blocking” them. Um, sorry, guys. If you’re getting all defensive, then what you’re doing is shady. If you pull two people making out in the Annex apart and ask them: “Hey, how are you feeling about this, is this okay?” Anything less than an enthusiastic, “Hell yes” from both parties is, in my opinion, a cause for concern.
It’s a problem that people here, in general, don’t follow this girl’s example but instead turn a blind eye when some random dude leads a severely intoxicated girl away from a party. Maybe she’s fine. But wouldn’t it be so much better to check in and have peace of mind? Imagine a community in which we didn’t turn a blind, embarrassed eye to hook-ups but instead thought, “Hey, that person looks too drunk, I think I’ll make sure she’s okay.”
Okay. So say now that our hypothetical drunk couple is back in one of their rooms. They got past check-in girl and they’re both down for some sexy-time. That still doesn’t mean they have to have sex. If they’re both naked that doesn’t mean they have to have sex. Even if the condom is on, that doesn’t mean they have to have sex. Nothing (no action, no skirt length, no blood-alcohol content) entitles anyone to sex. Any sexual act requires verbalized, enthusiastic consent. The only way to ensure you are not violating your partner is to ask, “Is this okay?” Silence is not consent (neither is someone passed out drunk, but, hopefully, that goes without saying).
Coercion is not consent either. There are some strong, independent women on this campus who can say no 100 times and then leave the bed of a guy who just isn’t taking a hint. I am not one of them. TV shows and movies sometimes tell us that it is sexy to be docile and passive, that boys will be boys and that they’re supposed to want it more. But being coerced is not how good sex should ever start out. When you create a safe, caring environment for girls to make their desire clear, they will make it clear. You don’t need to coax them. But sometimes the time just isn’t right. Sometimes she has a boyfriend. Sometimes your breath smells. Sometimes she’s saving herself. And sometimes she just doesn’t want to sleep with you. And guess what? She doesn’t have to. That doesn’t make her a “tease” or a “frigid bitch,” it makes her a girl who doesn’t want to have sex with you. Respect her choice.
But shouldn’t girls just drink less? Or travel in groups? Or wear longer skirts? You ask. Here’s the thing, stressing rape prevention to girls makes it seem like guys are big and scary and can’t help themselves. Guys, you can help yourselves. If it is a choice between being called a rapist and not getting laid, I hope you’d choose the latter. It’s not worth it. Again, consent is a dialogue, so please ask, don’t assume. Please don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re being called a rapist and you thought you were just having a good time. If you ask and if you’re still unsure, don’t. And guy friends: if you think he’s going to do something stupid, check in with him, too. Do you want a friend who’s mad at you or a friend who’s convicted of a felony?
The bottom line is this: Rape, sexual assault, and even regretted sexual encounters after a night out are not only the concern of the couple involved. It’s a campus community problem.We should work to create a campus-wide culture that celebrates consent and is not afraid to take action to preserve it. We should keep tabs on friends during the weekend, but also on the people standing alone. We should not tolerate rape jokes or talk of girls “wanting the D.” The steps to creating a safer community don’t have to involve tackling every sketchy-looking guy at a suite party or checking in with every person who’s had more than one drink. The steps can be just another way to be a responsible, caring and involved community member.
When things do go wrong and people come forward with reports of assault, we should not stigmatize or question them as dishonest, overly dramatic or careless but rather commend them for their bravery. We should exist in quiet support of survivors. We should not defend the actions of the man, but we should also recognize that the community as a whole, in that case on that night, failed to maintain a safe space.
Anything less than an anti-sexual assault, pro-consent campus community is unacceptable. Sexual assault in college is not inevitable. Its prevention means a safer community for the girls of this campus, girls who you care about. When a girl is raped, she could be your friend, your sister, or the quiet girl down the hall. She could be anyone. She could be you. And right now, she is alone and hurting. We can do better. Do better for her.