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Archive for Monday, January 14, 2013

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Double Take: Acquaintance rape a danger for young adults

January 14, 2013

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Dr. Wes: Katie’s contest essay addressed an issue I’ve long wanted to do in Double Take — acquaintance rape. But the scenario I created from clinical experience turned out to be so complex that everyone had a different view as to what had happened, including the judges and contestants.

It is too often that way with the real thing.

The dynamic of acquaintance rape among teens and young adults is so full of angles, and at times even politics, that I’ve been reticent to move on it. Last week, NPR ran a story about a horrific serial rape in Steubenville, Ohio, that’s landed at least two 16-year-olds in jail. It’s a discussion we need to have.

I’ve been reading “Easy,” an edgy novel by my friend Tammara Webber that address sexual assault head-on. We rarely review books in Double Take, but this is a good, highly relatable book for mature teens and young adults, many of whom have or will face similar experiences. Plus, this New York Times Best Seller emphasizes a favorite topic of mine — the healing power of real love that extends beyond sexual energy to embrace us in honesty and compassion. Tammara wraps the heartache, shame and confusion of a sexual assault inside a larger redemptive love story.

While Jackie, the protagonist in the novel, was not intoxicated, most acquaintance rape today involves a cross between highly permeable sexual boundaries and heavy intoxication. Disaster ensues.

Saying “no” to any sexual incursion means “no.” Period. There are no exceptions, regardless of anyone’s state of mind. Yet when consent is clouded in an alcoholic haze and friends are just as intoxicated, who is left to say “no”?

Recent clinical experience indicates that many 20-somethings have had more drunken sex over their short lives than sober sex — even dating couples.

I’m not implying that all or most of these constitute rape. But in a party environment, unwanted sex can more easily occur, and many situations I would consider as assault are instead remembered as a bad night by those involved. Nobody can say exactly what happened, so the victims — and I’ve seen both genders in that role — remain silent.

And where rape is concerned, silence begets more incidents and more silence. It is intolerable. Yet it continues.

Bottom line: Black-out drinking and sex don’t mix. Take care of yourself and each other when out. NEVER take consent for granted. If you think the answer might possibly be “no,” assume that it is. And how about a new rule: Sober friends are not for mocking. They’re for shepherding everyone else through the night.

Katie: I’m a girl, 5-foot-5.5-inches when my hair frizzes, and I have the muscle mass of a strand of angel hair pasta. I resonate with the fear every young woman has when considering the vulnerability of her physical safety.

Back in 2011, Vice President Joe Biden spoke at the University of New Hampshire about sexual violence and rape at colleges across the nation. His speech came shortly after 16 students filed a complaint with the Department of Education claiming their university had not adequately responded to sexual harassment. At their school, a parade of fraternity boys marched in 2010 chanting, “No means yes!”

In 2009, a sizeable group of returning students welcomed the incoming freshmen with a “preseason scouting report” that ranked freshman women by the number of drinks a guy would need to get them in bed. You may recall that university as Yale, but it could have been any number of schools. Sexual harassment knows no bounds, and assault can happen to almost anyone, including men, anywhere, with or without alcohol involved.

Yet just as Wes notes, certain factors can increase the risk of nonconsensual sex. A young woman drinking at a frat party is at a higher risk of than one hanging out with friends at a café. Neither of these women is ever, ever “asking for it,” as that sickening saying goes, but alcohol is notorious for dulling just about every useful function of the human body and mind.

Vulnerability is dangerous. No woman ever wants to find herself in a situation in which she lacks the mental capacity to run, resist or say the word “no.”

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