In this article featured in the USA Today news, Naomi Riley discussed the Yale incident involving students who filed a Title IX complaint against the university for failing to address incidents of sexual harassment and violations. Naomi reflects, however, on the much higher prevalence of casual sexual liaisons amongst college students, which is largely fueled by alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Indeed, studies have shown that sexual risk behaviors are largely associated with alcohol usage amongst college students. Read on for her article:
The news that 16 Yale students filed a Title IX complaint against the university for failing to properly address incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus has prompted another round of handwringing about the victimization of women on campus.
When Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary of Education, told The New York Times that “there is a terrible and alarming trend in the country of sexual violence (on campuses),” parents begin to worry. So let’s reassure them: The statistic that one in five college women are victims of rape is vastly inflated. Researchers who arrive at these findings typically decide for themselves whether they think a woman has been raped. Very few of the respondents themselves say they have been.
But that is not the end of the story. Whatever you think of the risk of sexual assault on campus, there is something seriously amiss in the sexual environment. The fact of the matter is that a significant number of women are having sexual encounters that they regret.
We can argue about whether the men involved in these incidents “premeditated” their actions or whether they misinterpreted a woman’s signals; whether, as a recent public radio segment had it, men are watching too much porn and that is influencing their behavior. We can wonder about whether fraternities make things worse. They probably do, and so do co-ed dorms for that matter, according to one study. But if you are the parent of a girl enrolled at a residential college, these are largely irrelevant questions. You don’t want to be wondering who should take the blame after the fact.
The drinking factor
So what is a concerned mother or father to do? The shortest, most obvious answer is to tell your daughter not to get drunk. Ha, ha. I know we could never expect our children actually to follow such advice. Forgive me if I sound prudish. College women (I might even say all women) don’t have to give alcohol up altogether. But they should always be in control. And increasingly, alas, they are choosing not to be.
The meteoric rise in drinking among college women is well-documented. According to a 2002 article in Time magazine, Georgetown University reported a 35% rise in women sanctioned for alcohol violations during the three years prior: “Here on the front lines, we’re very worried about this,” Patrick Kilcarr, the director of Georgetown’s Center for Personal Development, said at the time. “Women are not just drinking more; they’re drinking ferociously.” Female students are now more likely to binge drink than males, according to preliminary results from a new study called The Brain and Alcohol Research with College Students (BARCS), which looks at more than 2,000 students from two colleges in Connecticut.
The relationship between drinking and sex is not exactly news either. A Harvard School of Public Health study in 2004, for instance, found that one in 20 women reported being raped, and nearly three-quarters of those said they were too intoxicated to consent to sex.
So why are parents reluctant to explain to their daughters the dangers of having too many drinks in terms of the sexual consequences? Where is Mothers Against Drunken Sex?
Parents have been told again and again that telling their daughters not to get drunk around members of the opposite sex sends the wrong message — specifically, that it’s a young woman’s fault if she is raped or assaulted. This has always struck me as a particularly dangerous and patronizing kind of logic, and yet it is employed again and again.
You can’t say that
I wrote my first article about “date rape” for a Harvard newspaper more than a dozen years ago. The next day a friend relayed to me a conversation between two students where one asked the other if she had “read the article by the girl who was in favor of rape.” Unfortunately, the argument against suggesting that women act responsibly hasn’t gotten much more sophisticated as my critics have aged.
A few years ago, I wrote about the tragic case of a woman who was raped and murdered after she had been left alone and drunk in a bar by her friend at 3 in the morning in New York City. Could we learn anything from this terrible case about the vulnerable circumstances that excessive drinking can put women in? In her book Full Frontal Feminism, Jessica Valenti wrote about my article: “Do you really want to live in a world where someone is going to blame you for being raped (and murdered!) just for going to a bar and getting a drink?”
Parents, of course, don’t have the luxury of pondering what world they want to live in, of course. They send out their children into the one we’re all stuck with right now.
So tell your daughters this: Unless you trust the people you are with to make life-changing decisions on your behalf, don’t get drunk. Maybe your friends will take you home before things get out of hand; or maybe they’ll think the guy seems nice enough and you said he was cute at the beginning of the night so they’ll see you tomorrow. Why take the chance?