Wes: It’s hard to pick the ugliest debate in America these days. There are so many nominees: racial disharmony, income inequality, gun violence, wall building, Muslim banning, rich people tax cutting. I could keep on listing until Gabe and I reached our quota for the week.
But it’s the issue of sexual assault that keeps me up at night. It’s odd that it’s become such a hot topic lately, when it’s been a serious problem forever. As Sarah Lieberman and I have been working on our book "Consent-Based Sex Education," I’m reminded again of the statistics on young adult sexual assault and how those numbers underestimate the level of low- and no-consent sex going on around college campuses and beyond.
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It is a rare young woman I encounter who has not had low-consent sex. Many have had no-consent sex. Yet quite often, what I would consider a sexual assault is seen by them to be just another bad night.
At the core of this problem lies a topic that begs controversy: drinking culture. I don’t mean socializing with friends, I mean binge drinking. Black-out drunk drinking. Drinking that would under any other circumstance be referred to as alcoholic, but in the campus culture is a natural part of the social milieu.
Former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich recently advised students that to avoid sexual assault they should not to go to parties where there was a lot of alcohol. That went over well (heavy sarcasm) because it sounded like he was blaming the victims and affirming the offenders. Yet, as we can see in the backlash to his dumb comments, any slight hint that alcohol plays any role at all in campus sexual assault is panned and mocked and dismissed. And as anyone who talks intimately with college students knows, that’s also dumb.
Intoxication is never an invitation to sexual incursion. Never. Nobody is getting what they deserve when they are assaulted under the influence of alcohol. Imagine if you were hit and injured by a drunk driver. Would you be culpable because you were out on the road? Of course not. Not even if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt or you were texting at the time of the accident. Not even if you were over the legal limit of alcohol. The drunk still ran the stop-sign and T-boned your car.
And yet, from a practical, nonpolitical standpoint, if you control for seatbelts, texting and your own alcohol consumption, you make yourself a lot safer. The same is true for alcohol-related sexual assault. When going out, teens and young adults need to do the party equivalent of “defensive driving.” In the end, the goal isn’t just to raise political awareness. It’s to protect people from harm. When it comes to consent and non-consent, moderate drinking is always safer for everyone concerned.
Gabe: It’s hard to talk about realistic prevention without coming off as victim blaming. It's true that the best way to stop rape would be to teach assaulters to stop assaulting. Unfortunately, the Brock Turners of the world either do not care that what they did was wrong or they don’t see it as assault. The best educators and parents can do is stress the key importance of consent.
A common metaphor for sexual consent is making someone tea. If someone does not want tea, don’t force them to drink it. If someone wanted tea earlier and doesn't want it now, respect that change of mind. If someone is incapable of telling you whether or not they want tea, DO NOT give them tea. The more people that accept this simple idea, the better.
Sadly, we live in a world where some people who understand consent don't care. Much like the Stanford assaulter, they feel entitled to other people's bodies and no amount of education will change their outlook. It is wise to take precautions to make sure that they can't make their bad intentions materialize.
When going out, make sure you aren’t alone and you stay that way. If someone remains sober, they can get anyone who doesn't feel safe out of harm’s way in a hurry. Be aware of your surroundings. Serve as a lookout for others. If you see something worrisome, NEVER be afraid to say something. Speaking up can save the day. Carry some form of defense. It's better to be safe than sorry.
Awful people do awful things. Reading the letter of the Stanford victim was a punch in the gut for me. Even though she took precautions, she was brutally assaulted. In these cases, the best that can be done is to ensure justice is served and victims treated with compassion. Far too often that isn't what happens.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADD & ADHD.” Learn about his writing and practice at dr-wes.com. Gabe Magee is a Bishop Seabury Academy senior. Send your confidential 200-word question to email@example.com. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.