Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How To Stop College Rape

One of my favorite advice columnists, Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. Dear Prudence, waded into uncomfortable waters yesterday when she said one way college girls can avoid getting raped is by avoiding getting blackout drunk. She titles her article, simply enough, "College Women: Stop Getting Drunk."

The backlash, predictably, started almost immediately. And lo and behold... Ann Friedman, taking a page from my playbook, did the exact same thing I did to her vacuous article a few weeks ago-- she flipped the script. She titles her criticism piece, "College Men: Stop Getting Drunk."

She takes the format of Emily's original article and uses it to form her counter argument-- not the first time that strategy has ever been employed, admittedly, but very peculiar given what I wrote just weeks ago.

Come on, Ann, not even a shout out? An i-see-what-you-did-there?

Of course, I don't really think Ann's attempt at parody works here.

Emily's original article says:
A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts, enough to render the young woman incapacitated. But a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.
I think Emily makes a solid point-- that if a girl loses her ability to function, she becomes an easy target for a sexual predator. I think she's being willfully naive to suggest young women don't already know this. But Ann's parody dismisses Emily's point by flipping it:
"As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of male students sexually assaulting their female classmates. A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts. But the obsessive focus on blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn young men that when they get wasted, they are putting young women in potential peril."
Hahaha, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, ANN! You're saying that Emily's argument is as ridiculous as saying drinking makes men more likely to rape. HOW CLEVER! HOW DID YOU EVER COME UP WITH... oh.

The thing is, nothing in Ann's "response" to Emily refutes the very real fact that alcohol can render someone near catatonic, just as chloroform or a whack with a baseball bat (if the movies are to be believed). The problem with Emily's argument isn't that assertion, it's what she offers as a realistic solution to it: a plea to warn America's youth about the dangers of overconsumption.

Yeah, uh, Em, I like your advice usually, but... that's pretty lame.

Drinking is part of college life, as sad as that may be to some. It comes with the territory when you take a bunch of young men and women, many who have never been away from home, and suddenly give them near-full independence and only sporadic structure (nearly no one has classes every day, or even full blocks of classes.) Given copious amounts of free time to explore the brave new world around them, nearly every college kid experiments with something, be it alcohol, drugs, body piercings, tattoos or late-night-coding-that-leads-to-the-creation-of-Facebook. You'd hope for only productive avenues of exploration, but hey, even Zuckerberg was a few drinks in when he hit upon his billion-dollar future. A social life is key to a happy college experience, and when people of many different stripes are awkwardly mashed together, alcohol is a handy lubricant to get conversations, and yes, hookups, flowing. For many college students, getting blackout drunk is "Achievement Unlocked," to borrow the video game term.

So if you think your daughter won't drink to oblivion just because you tell her, "hey, one shot for every year is NOT a good idea for your birthday," you're probably wrong. There will probably be a night in college when she will have a few many too many. I dare say very few people haven't had at least one night they regret, even if the end result was just a bad hangover, bad breath, and a day spent laundering the vomit out of your angry roommate's down comforter.

So we can't stop college drunkenness. How can we stop campus rape? Short of requiring students to wear chastity belts?

Our legal system creates a Catch-22 for colleges-- if they're aware of illegal activity, they can be held responsible for what happens. So if a party is on campus, in a dorm or frat, the university shuts it down. The result is that parties go underground. They go off campus. The parties don't stop, the university just becomes blind to them. That puts the full responsibility to regulate what happens at these parties to 18-22 year-old kids, none of whom are really interested in being the party pooper.

Emily briefly addresses that lowering the drinking age is sometimes suggested as a practical solution... but admits the idea has little political traction. However, its the idea that, to me, makes the most sense. By legalizing drinking for all college students, the university no longer has to push college drinking into its blind spots. Then they would be able to offer incentives to students to act as sober, responsible proctors at parties--both both on and off campus.

Until that happens, its up to students to guarantee their own safety at unsanctioned events. Several student ideas have already gained traction:

1. THE BUDDY SYSTEM. No girl leaves a party without first telling her buddy. They can wear matching bracelets. How cute! This encourages friends to account for each other... and if your buddy is MIA, then you know something's wrong. It's not 100% failsafe... but at least it's an attempt to keep a girl from being isolated in a dangerous situation.

2. SOBER SISTERS AND BOOZELESS BROTHERS. No party should be without at least a few clear-headed designated sober students. As long as college drinking remains beyond university control, this sort of policy needs to exist at the student level. Flyers around campus could encourage party hosts to gather volunteers to act as lookouts for truly dangerous activities. Vanderbilt University, among others, requires that the organizers of Greek parties off-campus send them a list of students who will remain sober throughout the entirety of their events. Student watchdogs can be less stringent than a university official, but no less protective. Someone smoking a joint? Hey, he'll live. Two guys carrying a girl off into the woods... uh, no. no. Stop that.

3. AMNESTY FOR UNDERAGE DRINKERS WHO REPORT A CRIME OR EMERGENCY. Okay, this is not something students can do alone. This takes the government. But I don't know why this isn't enshrined in law everywhere already. It's common sense. Partiers will be less afraid to call 911 in the event of an emergency, because they won't be arrested for underage drinking.

Emily is right that talking to kids about drinking is an important step. But it doesn't end with talking. Teaching students to become responsible adults is one thing that college does. That shouldn't end once the drinking starts. Encouraging student leaders to establish safe-drinking protocols at their schools won't end every sexual assault, but it puts eyes in places where the university, the government, and parents can't go. And that's what is really needed.

Not snarky "responses."

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