The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

On Sexual Assault and Alcohol Consumption

I wrote this essay because I have not heard many male opinions on the subject. I know for a fact I don’t address the entirety of the issue because to do so is to presume too much. I don’t want to trivialize this issue either, but I do want to have an opinion. I know this is a sensitive subject, and I don’t intend to offend anyone. I volunteer my opinion to the Quest because I was asked to and I want to encourage more people on this campus to be open about this issue; in fact, I wish Reedies were having more spontaneous discussions, arguments about sexual assault, racism, classism, sexism, and everything that makes us uncomfortable. I do not volunteer my opinion because I think I am an authority on the subject; I just think there’s an unnecessary prevalence of sexual assault on a campus with only 1,400 students and it deserves our attention.

I know that at least four of my female friends have been sexually assaulted at Reed, and this frustrates me (since I’ve written this, I’ve learned of even more). Each story involved the male being intoxicated to the point that he either did not or could not consider the wellness of my friend. Three of my friends were intoxicated during the incident as well, which leaves me to believe these instances could have happened differently. I don’t have the privilege of knowing the men’s side of the story, so I can’t know on whose side it could have happened differently. However, that is all beside the point. I see people abuse alcohol very frequently at Reed, and while I’m aware it may be worse on other college campuses, I don’t think that this is a good enough excuse for why my friends were abused.

I feel that there’s an increased likelihood of sexual assault at Reed because of the hook up culture tied to excessive alcohol consumption. Based on what everyone constantly reminds me, it is the way, or most likely way, to have sex at Reed — both partners casually having sex under the influence. While, I’m sure, much of the time it happens without either of the partners feeling anything but satiated (and awkward toward each other the next day), I also believe the casualness of the encounter provides room for a lot of miscommunication.  Rape does not always involve some attacker jumping out of a bush. It’s often more subtle. People ignore or neglect to notice the signs of discomfort in each other while having sex. This, also, is not to presume that all rape at Reed is unintentional or incidental.

I imagine the less overt form of sexual assault happens when people assume that their partner(s) in the mood. I’ve heard a lot of people say that talking about consent is not sexy. I think that this is a problem, because even if both partners are willing to engage in sex, it’s bad form to assume intentions. The likeliness of miscommunication in a casual encounter is increased when the people involved are overly intoxicated. One of the things that I’ve learned here at Reed is that not everyone is capable, even while sober, of saying “no.” I find that Reedies evade conflict by use of overly passive aggressive or friendly behavior. This kind of behavior should be taken into consideration when choosing to have sex. Reedies would all benefit if they made the effort to talk about consent and make sure their partner(s) is capable of it. However, I’d personally encourage people to have actual relationships or regular sex partners who communicate their desires and consent on a regular basis. I’d also encourage people to have sex while sober, or not after having had a lot of alcohol. It’s really easy for a person to not remember what they did the evening before, yet have comported him or herself intelligibly enough to have consented to sex at the time. Not saying this is the only way, but I personally make a choice to avoid sex when I’m drunk because I would rather go home alone than make a mistake I would later regret.

I understand that Reedies are always going to drink and do drugs to a potentially absurd degree because it’s a privilege of being young and in college to be kind of carefree and irresponsible. But I want to think about how this image is different from the one given to a student who supposedly has the institutional privilege of arbitrating his/her own issues. While no outsider of the college scene would argue that a passed-out state school student evokes astonishment, they might think differently if they knew the student was a Reedie and that s/he had the right to judge or assess his/her own or someone else’s dilemmas vis-à-vis the Honor Principle. In short, I think the conflicting images of a Reed college student deserves to be discussed because I don’t see how a student who can and will get just as drunk as any other college student could be expected to come to a coherent and thorough conclusion on a matter that is often beyond even most “grown ups”.

Truthfully, I don’t think many Reedies in our age range are capable of coming to a concrete decision about the subject of alcohol abuse or sexual assault. However, I do think that the size of our school and the potential that our friends can be seriously affected by our decisions warrants us to try. Personally, I don’t think “trying” is just simply a discussion. I think it is a personal change we have to make in regards to our lifestyle and our approach towards the members of our community. What I mean is, ignoring issues or people that make us uncomfortable is only the first step to be obliterated in order to actively engage the issue of sexual assault.

Moreover, I don’t think enough Reedies have an accurate perception of reality in the bubble. I find people not really thinking of the consequences of their actions because they think the college can or will clean up after them, or worse think that Reed is a bit of a hedonistic pleasure dome. I admit, we get away with a lot and don’t feel the legal repercussions of most of our decisions; but I think we need to still keep our heads. Our actions have consequences on the community and the greater community. I don’t think the Reed community can solve its own issues unless Reedies are willing to face them like adults. There are too many specifics and details on the issue of sexual assault for me to comfortably make general solutions, or even address in a Quest Op-ed, but this is not simply a discussion I need to have by myself. We need to have it with each other at assemblies, Commons, parking lots, and basements; everywhere we should be discussing this issue because we care about our friends.

29 Responses to “On Sexual Assault and Alcohol Consumption”
  1. Rory Bowman, '90 says:

    Alcohol increases the risk and incident of sexual assault, but the primary drivers are social and psychological. Most people are hormonally primed to want sex and will adjust their thinking to justify social or sexual contact.

    Females are generally conditioned to be socially agreeable and NOT to speak up for themselves, either to say yes or no in sexual situations. Males are generally conditioned to pursue what they want and are notoriously bad at reading social cues of all sorts. This conditioning will constantly create ambiguity and situations where miscommunication or ambivalence lead to sexual assault, with various degrees of intent.

    Our culture is better at identifying and teaching people about sexual assault than it used to be, but there are still MANY situations where people will (A) be pressured into sexual contact they do not want, (B) actively pursue sexual contact past clear points of resistance and/or (C) change their mind about desire or the acceptability of sexual contact, even during or after sexual contact.

    Alcohol exacerbates the situation, but alcohol is merely an accelerant. The basic issues are social and psychological. People are often unclear in their communication. Men often ignore verbal and non-verbal communications. People sometimes regret past contact and may construct a narrative that supports their sense of themselves after the fact.

    For better or worse, the main responsibility for clear communication falls to the “aggressor.” In our culture this is usually a man. Because we’d like to believe that half the human race is not evil, blame may also be placed on the target. Rightly or wrongly, this is usually a woman. Alcohol amplifies this, but does not cause it.

    Social conditioning, self-image and sexual desire are all strong influences. Introducing alcohol only complicates the situation.

    • Alex Cherin says:

      Thanks Rory for your reply. I read your reply to Izzy’s open letter as well. When were you a CSO at Reed? Did you leave for the reasons you listed in her essay about the real objective of the Reed Administration?

      Also, what advice do you have for a male comforting a survivor?

      • We all die of our entire lives, but something has to come closer to the end so that coroners can fill in a blank on the death certificate. At core I would say that I was forced out by a mutual appreciation of an incompatible worldview: the forces of selfish had less to defend and held to it more tightly. Yes, a clearer understanding of Reed, who made it up and how it worked made me mostly irrelevant and unwelcome, so I left. Institutional education is an industry largely powered by human souls and run for the benefit of apparatchiks. It has little use or place for people like me, neither as grist nor cog, so I stepped away.

        The first and most important piece of advice I would offer a male comforting a survivor is to try and hold space for the healing to happen. There is a reason that one of the first questions to ask of a survivor in crisis is if they are “okay” (cogent enough to communicate) and in a safe place (physically present enough to do so). One of the first and most important things to say, after they have had a chance to frame and convey their own story is that (1) it was not their fault and (2) they did the best they could. There will be a lot of self-blame and it will be a while until they can adjust to a changed circumstance. This task is essentially narrative as they reframe and come up with a cognitive structure where the world and their relative place in it makes sense. What a survivor needs is to recast their narrative for themselves. One can aid this process through sacred support and silent safety that I capture best in the phrase “hold space.” More than anything, in my judgement, a survivor needs space to construct their own meaningful narrative of their life and what happened, such that they can move forward.

        This first piece of advice is for the benefit of the survivor but a second, and more difficult piece of advice is for the helper: Be clear about what you want from this and why.

        It is a burden and emotionally difficult to hold space well and comfort another, so I would suggest asking yourself why you are doing and what you hope to gain. A lot of “sensitive guys” have several ulterior motives, many of which they may not be aware of. Are you hoping to get into someone’s pants later, either those of the survivor or of someone else who notices what a white knight you are and so wants to sleep with you? Are you repaying a secret debt for some past wrong you have done or in gratitude or recompense for help that was previously given to you? Are you hoping to show your general competence and mastery, to win the respect and honor of others? All of these are clear and understandable motives, but they are cleaner when you are clear and understand.

        Initially, a helper’s motives will not matter much, if the general support of (a) creating a safe space for (b) the survivor to make sense of their situation and (c) choose a logical and empowering path forward is met. As the survivor gets their feet underneath them, however, the helper’s motives will become more important. The cleaner you are to yourself and in your discernment of your own goals and hopes, the more clearly you can move forward in a way that makes you better and/or gets you what you want or need.

        There are many deep psychological, social and hormonal things going on at this stage in life for both parties: survivor and helper. My advice to a male friend would be to (1) help the survivor by holding space as previously described and (2) help yourself by getting clear about what you want then (3) seeking support from your own trusted friends on how to stay healthy and go forward with clarity.

        If the helper performs their task with grace and competence, both helper and survivor will emerge with increased confidence and power in the world. There may or may not be any further relationship after that, and the survivor should be the one to decide. Deep competence has both internal and external dimension. One offers help for selfish reasons (which one may or may not know), and the main reward is increased competence and power in one’s own world.

        Does that help? Competent people tend to have more friends and be more attractive, but the survivor may or may not want anything to do with you. What is most important is that the helper offer competent support so that the survivor can make decisions for themselves.

        The fundamental problem with the administration “having a dog in the fight” of how a survivor pursues their complaint (criminally, institutionally, otherwise or not at all) is that it can further take power and autonomy from the survivor. Increased confidence, competence and autonomy are arguably main goals for both the “honor code” and a liberal arts education generally.

      • Oops. I didn’t answer the simple question. I was a CSO in the mid 90′s, with RCCS between teaching gigs 1992-1996.

  2. Dear Alex,

    I read with interest your thoughtful — and thought-provoking — piece about sexual assault. I hope you’ll attend my talk on Tuesday, April 12 at 8pm in the Vollum Lounge. I’ll be talking about men, feminism, sexual assault, and progressive social change. There will be lots of time at the end for discussion.

    To the point made in the comment above about alcohol and sexual assault, there is not causation (of course!) but there’s plenty of data regarding correlation. My hunch is that’s what the commenter (Rory Bowman ’90) was trying to get at.

    As for how men might comfort or provide support for female survivors of sexual assault (also in reference to the comment above): Listen. Listen some more. Talk less. Talk way, way less. Mansplaining the situation or filling up more space with more words is counterproductive. And try asking, “What can I do for you because I really want to help.” Start there.

    I hope I get a chance to meet you on Tuesday,
    Shira Tarrant

  3. Hazel '94 says:

    On the whole, this is a good piece if one considers it in terms of solid advice for people regarding the dangers of hook-up culture and drinking hook up culture. Alex is likely correct when he says: “One of the things that I’ve learned here at Reed is that not everyone is capable, even while sober, of saying ‘no.’ I find that Reedies evade conflict by use of overly passive aggressive or friendly behavior. This kind of behavior should be taken into consideration when choosing to have sex.”

    Good judgement tells us one should not have sex with these timid, passive aggressive cowards as they’re incapable of taking the responsibility for sex and may never be ready to do so given their stunted development. But all too often one is blind to the deficits of a sex partner until after sex. But if one mistakenly makes scrumpie with one of these silly gits believing one had their consent and not realizing they’re crazy, one is guilty only of bad judgement, not of rape.

    As a feminist, female Reed graduate, I have to hold my own sex to the same standards as I do males. Sadly, as a group we seem determined to put the entire responsibility for intercourse onto men. Sure, drunk Reed women may not, for whatever reason, don’t pull themselves together and say ‘no’ when they’re engaged in a sexual activity with which they’re uncomfortable, but this does not make their sex partners rapists. Seriously, girls, if you believe you were raped because you had sex when you didn’t want to, and all of your behavior would indicate to a reasonable person that you were up for intercourse, the person responsible for your ‘rape’ is you.

    Reed culture glorifies ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’ or ‘accusers’ regardless of the facts of the case. Unfortunately women do lie about rape. In fact, the 1996 Uniform Crime Report found that roughly 8% of rapes categorized as ‘forcible’ are also ‘demonstrably false.’ Dr. Kanin of Perdue found that in one small town found 41% of the 109 rapes reported were false accusations as admitted by the complainant.

    Combine bad judgement with a glorification of victims and one seems bound to increase false report and reduce the odds of finding a sound policy that would reduce the incidents of rape.

    • Chris Atkins says:

      “Seriously, girls, if you believe you were raped because you had sex when you didn’t want to, and all of your behavior would indicate to a reasonable person that you were up for intercourse, the person responsible for your ‘rape’ is you.”


      This is dangerously close to the “appearance indicates consent” argument, but I’ll grant room for doubt and hopefully subsequent clarification on your part, Hazel. I hope you didn’t mean to suggest that consent is something that can be implied. Consent is explicit.

      What kind of behavior indicates to a reasonable person that you’re up for intercourse? I assume you’re pointing to any sexual activity that stops short of intercourse. I suppose you mean that a girl acting in this manner invites the intercourse upon herself, but again, you were not specific as to what kind of behaviors constitute being “up for intercourse.” (Feel free to clarify.)

      Regardless, I believe any sexual activity that stops short of intercourse signifies to “a reasonable person” that you are “up for” THAT specific activity and nothing further. The ONLY behavior that can ever suggest you are “up for intercourse” is verbal consent, and NEVER, under any circumstances, can the absence of refusal replace the word “yes.”

      Maybe you should brush up on the definitions of consent, some of which are conveniently found in Reed’s Guidebook under Sexual Assault:

      • Hazel '94 says:


        It may be the Reed legal standard to gain explicit consent, but for the vast majority both within Reed and outside of the school, when two people go through the typical courtship rituals that conversation doesn’t always occur. As Alex noted, many Reedies are unwilling to voice their discomfort with sex. On the same note, many are uncomfortable bringing up an explicit conversation about sex – especially when, as Alex notes, they’re often drunk when the conversation would be a good idea.

        Humans are designed to handle both explicit and implicit communication and this frankly not very well thought out policy ignores this human reality. In the case of a hookup, some of the implicit communication, like touching one another, heading back to a room together, or moaning and panting, fumbling with a condom all follow the patterns of implicit communication that indicates that sex is an option. I don’t know about you, but like many Reed women I’ve had consensual sex where my consent was only given implicitly.

        If one engages in the activities that suggest implicit consent for sex, one should either be prepared to speak up should one change ones mind or never wanted to go that far to begin with. It will save everyone involved a lot of grief.

        But if the woman doesn’t speak up it is absurd to then hold only the man guilty for reading her signals the way most men and women within the community would interpret them because of a silly technicality.

        But more important than that, this insults women. This puts all responsibility for sex into the hands of men ignoring women’s roles and ability to initiate, respond or communicate our expectations. With the power to engage in these activities comes the responsibility to clarify ambiguities in our actions to our sexual partners.


        • Chris Atkins says:


          Thank you for your detailed response. I first want to address your last paragraph (“But more important than that, this insults women…”) and acknowledge that I agree with you to an extent. As a friend has recently pointed out to me, one of the problems with discussing this topic is that people are all too quick to create a binary for blame, as if it’s categorically males or females that can be faulted for rape. I agree that it is ridiculous to wholly hand all of the responsibility for sex into the hands of men, and I would argue that the responsibility for sex is mutual. By removing the aspect of blame, we’re relieving this idea that sexual assault can be entirely the fault of one sex, all the time.

          Alex says Reedies are unwilling to voice their discomfort with sex; part of the problem we’re trying to address is that in and of itself–that if you are uncomfortable discussing sex with a person, it’s probably not the best idea to have sex with that person. Basically, I think our school is attempting to make a movement toward openly communicative sex rather than having people find themselves in unwanted situations, because being prepared to speak up (in the first place) would, as you say, save everyone a lot of grief.

          But that, of course, is an imaginary world free of communication errors. Some people will find themselves in the situation you described in your second reply–in which they don’t want sex, but are unable (for whatever reason) to communicate this to the other person, and so things escalate against someone’s wishes. The point of understanding consent as a purely verbal affirmation is to prevent this situation, because clearly implicit consent is ambiguous to the point that people are unaware of appropriate boundaries, which vary from person to person, and then we end up with people feeling violated. The benefit of explicit consent is that nobody is a mind reader anyway. By stating that we believe consent to be a verbal affirmation, we hope that less people will find themselves escalating a situation without agreement from both parties.

          This also follows that if a person is noticeably uncomfortable with whatever’s happening but have yet to say something, the other person should act honorably and do/say something about this. It can be ambiguous when someone is no longer interested in moving forward (given that sex can have both active and passive roles), but if, as you say, “heading back to a room together, or moaning and panting, fumbling with a condom” can be legitimate claims for implied consent, then the ceasing of these actions should also be considered implied unwillingness. I doubt the girls who felt they had been raped pursued any furthering of the situation by continuing whatever “consent-implying” behaviors they were previously engaged in.

          If we assume implied consent is to be taken as moving forward without verbal objection, I think this contributes to rape-enabling. We cannot always assume the occurrence of one action is a green light for the next step; it’s this kind of ambiguity that leads to the entire question of how consent can be given. We can probably agree that an active ‘yes, I want to fuck you’ is an appropriate measure of consent, and that this is arguably a much clearer definition than implied consent.

          Our judicial system has an idea of innocent until proven guilty, right? Implementing an ‘unwilling until verbally spoken (or actively affirming?)’ policy on consent is what we hope can reduce the incidence of sexual assault, at least on the grounds of miscommunication by either party.


          • Hazel '94 says:


            We’re now down to quibbling over who has the responsibility for reading ambiguous signals. You seem to come down to males should recognize the half second hesitation on the part of his partner might signal a lack of interest while I come down on the idea that if a female’s partner isn’t getting the hint that she’s not interested, she needs to make her signals more clear. You want the man to get explicit verbal consent, I want the women to accept that the men can’t read their minds and therefore make an obvious indication that their direction has changed.

            So which one is more reasonable? In an ideal world, responsibility would be shared. But as you point out, this is not ideal. Americans tend to put weight into legal contracts, explicit statements and ignore subtle queues. Other cultures put more value on the body language, tone of voice and other subtle queues sometimes even ignoring explicit statements or giving ones that Americans will find misleading.

            But when it comes to sex, the vast majority of the communication, even for Americans, will be implicit. Our choice of partners is made with little logic. How we read their signals is implicit. The reason we’re confident our potential partner would be receptive to a move is implicit. American’s might tell us to ask and get permission, but most of us also know that this isn’t how these interactions work in practice. So with all this implicit communication going on in a culture that is not great at reading it, misunderstandings are likely.

            Just as when one turns on a street, I remain convinced that the person changing direction is the one responsible for making their intentions clear. In the scenario we described, there are many ‘yes’ indicators along the way. One has gone through ‘yes’ with kissing, ‘yes’ with the panting and moaning, ‘yes’ with clothes fumbling… If one has hit one’s limit, the ‘no’ needs to be clear. One might initially try your suggestion of just stopping and holding still, but sadly, many women just lay there during sex, so this is not unlikely to be misunderstood as a signal.

            If one has given an unspoken signal and one’s partner didn’t notice, it’s time to make one’s signal more clear. If one doesn’t bother to send a clearer signal, odds are one’s partner isn’t trying to commit rape; But he is now in a position where he may very well have sex with a partner who doesn’t want it.Sadly, however, this is happening because the person who didn’t bother to say no is doing something spectacularly stupid. The instigating partner may also feel bad about this later, especially if the stupid git then goes on to accuse him in a bathroom stall or in the court of gossip, so really do everyone a favor and speak up before it happens.

            Chris, you also bring up the judicial system. One of the key problems with Sexual Assault on campus is the assumption of guilt before innocence. When the members of the Duke Lacrosse Team were accused of gang raping a woman, the lash out against them was significant. The entire team was threatened, the coach resigned in response to threatening letters, two players filed a lawsuit against professors who, they believe, failed them on a final due to the scandal. And the shame continued long after the prosecutor in charge of the case was disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct and it became exceptionally apparent that the accuser was, almost beyond any doubt, making up the allegations. Like the Duke Lacrosse players, Reedies accused of rape tend to be ostracized regardless of the circumstances, the substantiality of the rumor or the rest of the guy’s reputation.

            Now I’m not one to say that a guy’s reputation should be of major concern in sexual assault when it happens, but when it didn’t happen, or the guy genuinely thought he was having consensual sex, the guys don’t deserve that kind of attack any more than women deserve to be raped.


    • Alice says:

      stop victim-blaming.

      • Hazel '94 says:


        Your post is the kind of one-eyed ‘women = good & blameless & victims: men = bad & aggressors & rapists’ nonsense that dominates the discussion about sexual assault at Reed and has for decades. You are neither helping women empower themselves to avoid sexual assault nor helping men avoid committing it.

        Instead of whinging that women should take no responsibility for their role in sexual activity isn’t it better to unbunch your knickers and think critically about what women can and should do for themselves?

        Hazel ’94

        • Alex Cherin says:

          While I do appreciate you taking time to share your views, Hazel, please encourage discourse with your replies. This kind of response is more caustic than progressive. I imagine you’d want more Reedies to read, digest, and respond to what your message is than get distracted with, what appears, your abrasiveness.

          • Hazel '94 says:


            This is a great example of why the discussion over Sexual Assault (and many other charged subjects) don’t tend to be productive: One decides which side one is on and then stops questioning or paying attention. One makes up one’s mind about a comment not because of its value, but because of the side that person is on.

            So Alex, seriously, you’re taking me to task for replying to a useless one line comment? Where’s the comment to Alice that if she to contribute to the discussion she needs to come up with more than a useless cliche?

            Of course there’s not one because you see Alice as making a comment on your side and you see me as your opponent. I’m not your opponent. I am trying to engage in discourse and I believe so are you. Alice, on the other hand, is not.


          • Alex Cherin says:

            You’re right. Alice’s point is unproductive as well. I apologize for simply calling you out on it.

          • Hazel '94 says:


            First, thank you for admitting your mistake regarding the value of Alice’s post. I appreciate the consideration that went into that.

            This said, I maintain that my response to her one-eyed BS promotes intelligent discussion on this charged subject and therefore provides value in the discussion. There is a plague of BS like the silliness that Alice muttered in the discussion of sexual assault. Part of why this BS dominates the conversation is because people like Alice don’t get called on the BS that they spew as long as it matches the preferred dogma surrounding the issue. By calling Alice on her BS, we show a community preference for considered debate rather than the BS.

            As others have pointed out, within the Reed community, many feel uncomfortable voicing their disagreement with the preferred dogma regarding this issue. Calling Alice out for her BS also encourages those who disagree with the dogma to express their views – preferably without using the kind of BS dogma that dominates discussion around rape in some other communities.

            So I’m sticking by my comment. Alice should unbunch her knickers.


  4. Hazel '94 says:

    Slight correction – I re-read the concept of ‘Effective consent’ in the policy. It accounts for the implicit consent. But the critique that one must make an explicit counter to the implicit consent that is the norm within the community remains. If your actions imply consent but you don’t want sex and you don’t otherwise contradict this impression, it is not your partner’s fault if they correctly read your implicit and explicit behavior as consent to sex. If you believe this is rape, then the guilt is yours.

    • Chris Atkins says:

      “Effective consent is informed; freely and actively given; mutually understandable words or actions; which indicate a willingness to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other. Students are strongly encouraged to talk with each other before engaging in sexual behavior, and to communicate as clearly and verbally as possible with each other. In the absence of mutually understandable words or actions (a meeting of the minds on what is to be done, where, with whom, and in what way), it is the responsibility of the initiator, or the person who wants to engage in the specific sexual activity to make sure that he or she has consent. Consent to some form of sexual activity does not necessarily imply consent to other forms of sexual activity. Mutually understandable consent must be obtained by the initiator at every stage of sexual interaction. Mutually understandable consent is almost always an objective standard. Consent is mutually understandable when a reasonable person would consider the words or actions of the parties to have manifested a mutually understandable agreement between them to do the same thing, in the same way, at the same time, with one another. The only context in which mutually understandable consent may be considered in its subjective sense is in the context of long-term relationships where couples have established patterns of communicating consent that alter/replace the definition elaborated here.”

      I want to draw attention to the following point, just so that readers who didn’t follow the link to effective consent have it here to read: that implicit consent is indeed accounted for in so far that it is “the responsibility of the initiator, or the person who wants to engage in the specific sexual activity to make sure that he or she has consent. Consent to some form of sexual activity does not necessarily imply consent to other forms of sexual activity. Mutually understandable consent must be obtained by the initiator at every stage of sexual interaction.”

  5. Chris Atkins says:


    This is going to be my last comment because my discussion of these matters would be better served with current members of Reed’s community, i.e., my peers who are directly affected by instances of sexual assault at our school. I don’t think your comments warrant explanation from me any further. I think your opinions are misinformed, and that you misconstrue what points I made.

    I also resent you claiming that I argue for the male responsibility to obtain verbal consent (notice I didn’t use gender labels), in addition to this particular remark: “one might initially try your suggestion of just stopping and holding still…” when my point was not this at all. Rather, I suggested that if you want to make a case for implicit consent, this necessitates a concept of implicit unwillingness, which is even more ambiguous than implicit consent.

    As for your examples regarding Duke, I’d like to note that Reed is not Duke. I think what I imply by that statement is clear (since apparently we’re down for implicit communication, but just to be clearer: our community is unlike others.) Take, for instance, the fact that we still have rapists attending classes, enjoying social events at Reed and thesising away. I have yet to hear of any sexual offenders who are students at Reed who have suffered the repercussions to the same degree as those of the Duke students–in fact, I believe a large portion of the discomfort with our sexual assault policy is that while Duke’s examples fall on the extreme end of the punishment spectrum, we perceive Reed’s to fall on the softer end–but if anyone would like to properly inform me, I will gladly stand corrected.


    • Alex Cherin says:

      I agree with Chris.

      I think it would completely help if the woman were able, and especially capable, of saying “no” or communicating more directly her interests. I, personally, have been in the situation (nonsexual) where I was inattentive due to emotional distractions to the woman’s vague but visible signs of discomfort with a situation. Details aside, I did not know at the time, and, due to thoughts running in my head, I could not see the discomfort she was showing me. I do not deny the mistake was mine, but I do know if she was more direct, I would not have ignored her boundaries. I can see how men are uncomfortable with some of the zero-tolerance views on consent because it doesn’t take into account that mistakes, which can happen for innocent reasons, happen.

      However, I also understand that some people have real issues with being direct. Past trauma, youth, etc. are legitimate reasons for someone’s inability to be direct. Remember, the average Reedie is just barely above high school age. There are a lot of experiences they have had or have not had that confirm their behavior at this age, and before one can make conclusions about the character or behavior of these people, their history has to be taken into consideration.

      I think people who use the term “victim” or “survivor” are actually interested in the question: “How do we get people to stop raping each other?” The usual question is: “How do we prevent rape?” Preventing crime often leads to presumptions being made about victims of said crime. People assume that rape, murder, theft, and other felonies are not preventable. And to an extent, they are not. But it makes sense that not all rape, all murder, all theft is for the intent and purpose of being deviant or morally reprehensible, but that there are cultural or social systemic issues involved. I think those systemic issues should be resolved or approached in an active, attentive, and constructive manner. Yet, I agree that some incidences of misunderstanding are preventable; good judgment in choosing who is to be one’s sexual partner and how one is to engage in sex is vital to any kind of positive sexual experience. However, bad judgment does not result in rape and sexual assault, and a victim is not responsible for the actions of his/her aggressor.

      Moving on, even though I didn’t focus my essay on a specific gender, I did have in mind the agency of men. I’ve learned that speaking on behalf of, to, or for women often means I’ll make a presumptuous claim; I sometimes also find that is the case even when I speak to men. I come to the issue with my own background: I’ve done martial arts for 8 years and I’m a tall, black male. I feel these experiences compel me to be more legitimate in my actions; I therefore would rather sacrifice some of the privileges of college sexual behavior than indulge in them because one, I’m easily perceived as a criminal, and two, I really don’t want to cause trouble or misunderstandings. Sometimes I forget that not all men look at this issue the way I do. I feel a lot of issues would be different if they did. For instance, if the law says you can’t consent while intoxicated, I don’t see why I would want to entertain that kind of trouble in my life. I can see how frustrating this is for some people, but I don’t think its one of those laws that one should ignore (Civil disobedience does not apply to sex).

      • Hazel '94 says:

        Alex, Chris,

        I think Alex’s last post gets to the heart of the issue: What do we want to do about sexual assault? While I think all three of us want to see it reduced in frequency but none of us has a genuinely good idea of how that might be done.

        Yes, for everyone (male and female) taking more responsibility and care in one’s sex life is likely to lead to better personal choices and reduced risk on a variety of fronts. One is likely to be personally happier with one’s choices, not at as high a risk of STD’s, and reduced risk of becoming involved in a sexual assault. But as Alex points out, Reedies are young and inexperienced and good judgement is usually developed through experience. I still believe that everyone owes it themselves to speak up if they’re not comfortable with the degree, or even techniques used in a sexual encounter. And if one doesn’t, one may not deserve what happens, but one certainly knows one could have engaged in reasonable actions to prevent it…

        But you’re both still blurring the idea that being a good person and being legally responsible are, or should be, the same thing. Chris, your argument that consent should always be explicit is both inconsistent with the Reed policy and unrealistic. In an ideal world would we only have sex with people we’re comfortable talking with about sex? Perhaps, though this also limits the sexual experiences preferred by many people. But we don’t live in that world and most sexual encounters are primarily implicitly consented to and writing a policy that ignores this isn’t going to do anything positive.

        So now comes the question of the role of the Honor Council or legal proceedings in these cases. If the question is how does one reduce the incidents of sexual assault – as I think we can all agree should be the goal, the point where one has happened is too late. Thus, these bodies must have some other purpose. As I see it, most people seem to want them to do one or more of the following: 1) To eliminate the pain of the complainant; 2) To gain retribution for the hurt; and 3) Reduce the risk the accused presents.

        Realistically, neither the Honor Council nor the legal system is going to accomplish the first goal in most cases. Women who have been sexually assaulted often complain of feeling powerless. By its nature, sexual assault is both difficult to prove and invasively personal which makes some feel further victimized by the experience of prosecuting it wither legally or through the Honor Council. As we all know, the procedures for handling rape cases is emotionally charged and for many victims, this alone feels like another victimization experience. If the accused is found not guilty or goes unpunished, the situation is worse. The victim is unlikely to get an apology or admission of guilt which may help some (but not all) move on from the pain.Some may gain some closure, but this is not assured and doesn’t make up for the pain.

        Which brings the next two areas: Retribution & Public Safety. I’ll start with retribution. Everyone who makes the accusation of sexual assault are clearly in pain and we tend to want someone else to bear this pain. While this doesn’t remove the pain from the accuser, it may help to provide closure and in some cases it may remind the accused that they did wrong. But in the case of a misunderstanding or a wrongful accusation, the retribution serves no purpose. Don’t get me wrong – I still believe the accuser is in pain, after all, those full of emotional health are more capable of avoiding the misunderstanding and less likely to just make things up – but why would that justify inflicting more pain on another innocent victim? If the accused behaved in a manner that a reasonable person would accept as gaining consent, what purpose does retribution serve?

        Now let’s move onto public safety… Ideally, both the Honor Council and the US legal system can separate individuals who present a danger to others (generally) or a specific individual either with a prison term or a restraining order or expelling, suspending or revising a schedule. But proving the charges are difficult.

        So the debate seems to center around whether Reed should emphasize the legal system or the Honor Council in handling sexual assault charges. This seems to push for a one size fits all solution to an almost infinitely variable situation. The legal system has limited tools and a variety of consequences that make it less than ideal in prosecuting many acquaintance rape cases. The Honor Council offers an alternative to the legal system that may be better for some and worse for others. As discussed elsewhere, one must face one’s accuser, provide personal details (which would also be necessary in the legal system) and the variety of options available to the Honor Council is limited. As Chris points out, the Honor Council does not always remove students from campus or classes.

        One last point – I have to admit I giggled when you, Chris, implied that Duke is more vigorous in persecuting alleged rapists than Reed. None of the incidents I mentioned were within the school’s policy regarding sexual assault. You really think a school would sanction arbitrarily failing students accused (but not committed) of a crime? Or sanction hate mail to the coach who wasn’t accused of participating in the events? Of course not.

        But these unofficial sanctions against the accused are common at Reed. When I got a black eye (a block I failed to make in a martial arts class – it was combined with some bruises from blocks I did make on my forearms), Reedies started handing me cards for battered women’s shelters and many wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. My poor boyfriend was ostracized by a shocking number of people who would not believe either of us when I said he didn’t hit me. Years on, at least two still won’t talk with him because, in their minds, my ex- is a batterer. Now if that happens to someone when the ‘victim’ is standing up for him, imagine what it’s like when a guy is falsely accused?


        • annoyed reader says:

          Hazel, nobody is taking your argument seriously. I enjoy laughing at how you misread everything Chris and Alex wrote, but please stop. The very fact that you incorrectly infer the meanings of their posts *IMPLIES* that implicit meanings aren’t useful.

          • Lisa says:

            Hazel, thank you for your series of well reasoned posts that express clearly and eloquently the ambiguities involved. Your posts add light to a needed discussion, and go beyond the somewhat sanctimonious and naive, if well intentioned, posts of others

          • Hazel '94 says:

            Annoyed Reader,

            I think it’s indicative of the poor quality of discussion on the subject of sexual assault at Reed when you respond to a post asking what one wants from a system working with sexual assault which is a necessary question if you want to make that system better with: please stop.

            Perhaps if you read more carefully you might see value in this discussion that involves points of view that do not entirely match your own. But you don’t see value in that, so why bother to comment at all? Your comment was neither useful nor accurate, which actually strengthens my point…

            So thanks for making me look better than I did before your silly little comment.


        • Alex Cherin says:

          I intend to respond to this, but currently don’t have enough time to do so right now.

        • Alex Cherin says:


          Please don’t misunderstand me. I think there are issues with “implicit consent,” yes. But I understand when it happens, and I understand that men and women will do it and want it. I don’t think people are unable to read and make decisions based off implicit behavior, or body language. In fact, I don’t think there’s too much variability on what people mean when they aren’t saying something. We do it all the time; it’s ingrained in us, socially, culturally, and biologically, to move at a pace without verbal discussion. I also think mistakes can happen, and there should be a way to see it as a mistake, if it is one–and I think Hazel points to that. I don’t think she’s saying that there aren’t victims or there aren’t people who get attacked. I think she’s talking about what I’m talking about—that people whose only intention is for sex, not some sexual grab for power, can make mistakes, and that it doesn’t help if a person (whose been addressed as a woman) can’t be upfront about the issue and see it as a mistake rather than sexual assault.


          This video is pretty awesome (“Coffee and Consent” performed by two Reedies in Commons):

          I agree. People are going to be implicit, and it’s the responsibility of either individual to say, “Stop” when it has become uncomfortable, and for the other to listen. And if we happen to be the person who feels uncomfortable, then we need to not jump to conclusions (this is if the scenario can really be seen as an honest mistake). Idyllically, the scenario would involve more “Yes” and less “No”—but ideally, there’d be “Yes” and “No” allowed.

          Now to be honest, when I first wrote this essay, I did not have “honest mistakes” in mind. The four stories that I heard, Hazel, were sick and disgusting. Without referring to names or details (I want to respect my friends’ feelings on these issues), the incidences that were told to me involved violence, obvious malicious intent, and the inability for my friends to say, “Stop it.” In fact, even if they could, their perpetrator wouldn’t have listened.

          Those guys didn’t care about my friends; maybe all they wanted was sex, but they didn’t go about it the right way and they never checked in. I don’t know if these situations were preventable from the perspective of my friends (I really don’t want to think about that) but it is clear that my friends had trouble being able to consent. In fact, they were not given a chance.

          I completely understand that people have trouble sticking up for themselves, too. I have trouble sticking up for myself. At a dance, I’ve let a woman practically straddle my thigh while dancing despite my being uncomfortable with it; I was worried about making her feel bad if I told her I didn’t want to dance with her. Therefore, I understand if (if the scenario is between a woman and a man) a woman has trouble telling a man to stop. And true, she (the hypothetical woman in the scenario) and I should feel confident enough in ourselves to tell them to stop. However, the reality is that men who, on average, are taught, or told, to be confident and aggressive come after women who, on average, are taught, or told, to be passive and evasive. What’s the recourse when a man feels too entitled to a woman’s body and she can’t un-condition herself to remind the guy he needs to stop? Do we just tell everyone to buck up and move on? I don’t like that idea.

          I don’t know how the law should look, honestly. I think it is perfectly respectable, even if unrealistic, that two intelligent human beings can talk about what they like, who they like, and where they want it most. As Shira Tarrant, a lecturer who came onto campus to talk to us about her book, pointed out in her lecture, the kink community is ALL about consent. “How hard do you want me to whip you?” “Is this ticklish?” She asked the audience, can’t the vanilla culture embrace this approach to sex? This would be considered absurd to people who find it awkward, or uncomfortable; I find its because people are often too scared to talk so openly about what they want, or that they are unpracticed in doing so.

          Our law is unrealistic, but our expectations of people, yours and mine, are unrealistic, too; they won’t talk to each other, and they won’t talk up for themselves. I’m wondering if we can work on changing the perceptions around sex courtship, and making what’s “unrealistic,” real for more people. I think if a guy decides to have drunk sex, he should feel inclined to ask. I think if a girl doesn’t want drunk sex, she should be able to be held accountable for being direct, and say “no.”

          I suppose what I’m getting at is the need to educate people on communication, the law, and people’s responsibility towards each other. People need to learn or become more upfront about their intentions. People need to understand that consent IS both implicit and explicit. People need to learn to be more upfront when it gets uncomfortable. The community needs to be delicate and not presumptuous—however, I feel the response of the community on this issue has more to do with their resounding disappointment with the administration, and their sense that justice is not being served often enough.

          I think the HP process has issues, and it shouldn’t be assumed that because some people get justice, that it is a good system for adjudicating felonious crimes. I’ve heard stories where the accuser’s aggressor was on the J-Board. I don’t know details, but I can see that there is an issue when a group of your peers is allowed to make judgments about your case (especially considering those peers are not exempt from the cases they observe). If the case was about academic honor, then I guess that’s okay; Reedies can totally come to conclusions about that issue. However, if it’s about sexual assault, I don’t think students are trained well enough, nor should they be burdened with the responsibility of dealing with it. I think it was suggested in the comment section of Isabel Manley’s article, ( that the college hire legally trained consultants on the issue. Thus, as opposed to the students judging whether someone’s a rapist or not, it’s unbiased, trained officials. This would serve as an alternative to going to the outside authorities.

          Essentially, I think the Reed community should strive to continue to educate itself on SA, the roles of the genders, consent, and good communication. You can’t stop SA from happening or from people feeling the way they do about it. However, you can change some people’s perspectives and maybe minimize “honest mistakes” from escalating to horrendous ordeals. Additionally, I don’t think students should adjudicate cases of sexual assault because students are not mature enough, exempt enough, or trained enough to do it.

          What do you think?

          • Hazel '94 says:


            Thanks for another thought provoking response. I admit I jumped on the issue of mistakes out of frustration with the tone of the debate which made me focus on one or two lines of the first post.

            You mentioned your friends and their horrible experiences. I have no doubt that they’re there and some of my Reed friends had similar horrible experiences. They had no choice. The perpetrators either prevented them from refusing with violence or drugs or ignored their refusal. That, no doubt, is sexual assault.

            But I’ve also heard all too frequent epic distortions. I’ve seen women recast the friendly behavior of her ex before the breakup as a deliberate manipulation to get into her pants and then use this to characterize him as a rapist. I’ve heard friends speculate that the man they’ve been sexually involved with for months is a serial rapist because he doesn’t always get their explicit consent for each of the sexual encounters they enjoyed together. Arbitrarily, these women have turned their perfectly decent boyfriends into sexual predators.

            The Reed community is right to condemn sexual assault. But the community is also very quick to condemn men, often with no more evidence than gossip, without always thinking it through. It’s so tempting to want to sympathize with someone who is hurting and by and large every woman making an allegation, even a false or distorted one, is hurting.

            Using the Duke case for a minute, the wrongful accuser was bipolar and using large quantities of drugs and alcohol. She was hurting. That’s not an easy situation in which to keep perspective. The prosecutor who was later dismissed for misconduct over the case likely felt for this woman. And in feeling for her, he broke laws, lied, and persecuted three men despite all of the evidence exonerating them. The 88 Duke Faculty who signed onto an ad condemning the accused men initially did so likely believing the prosecutor and woman. But when that prosecutor was replaced and his replacement made the exonerating evidence public, several continued to insist that the men were guilty. One responded to an email from one of the accused men’s mother by informing her she was the mother of a farm animal. The accuser was hurting, but the accused men weren’t the cause of that pain.

            Alex, you’ve mentioned the role of booze in sexual assault. I agree with you that for a variety of reasons, drunk sex is a bad idea and after a drunken poor judgement on my part, I decided I wouldn’t have sex with anyone with whom I was not already in a committed relationship when even mildly intoxicated. I’ve never missed sex that I regretted missing because the rule, but I’ve certainly avoided some that I would likely have regretted for any number of reasons.

            You also hypothetical mentioned legally prohibiting consent when intoxicated. This is problematic. As you pointed out, as a large black male you’re more likely to be looked at as a criminal than I am. But it’s more than that. In most cases, when one party is drunk during a sexual encounter, so is the other. In these cases, the sad reality is that when this scenario involves a male and a female, the male will then be guilty of sexual assault and the woman will be cast as a victim of rape though both made the same series of judgements.

            The problem with all of these scenarios is that they blow a situation well within the socially accepted norms and turn it into a huge, criminal problem. For the man involved, the consequences may not always be criminal charges as we’ve discussed how hard those can be to prove, but guilt and painful social ramifications aren’t fun either. The woman has now gone from participating in a socially accepted norm to being the victim of a terrible crime. This can change her feelings about the situation in ways that aren’t healthy for her. She may start to feel like a victim and that her actions don’t matter because whatever she does or felt at the time, she’s been the victim of a horrible crime. But she wasn’t.

            So your last question was about whether students should be responsible for hearing cases related to sexual assault. I still have mixed feelings. I don’t think the Reed community at large has particularly good judgement about the issue. But the whole community isn’t on the board – it’s a small subset. So could one find enough mature Reedies to populate the board? Maybe, but I’m not sure the process for selecting them necessarily ensures maturity and even with a generally mature board, we all have moments when our judgement fails.

            But I’m not sure I believe the judicial system has great judgement on the issue either. I still think offering alternatives to the legal system has some uses, but modifications are a good call. Clearly more training would help, as would a recusal process for those hearing cases either where they are involved directly or close friends are involved. As would some modifications to the assurance of confidentiality to allow both victims to get the support from their friends that they need and the accused to defend themselves from gossip and understand the community reaction.

            I still think the discussion needs to come back to what the community wants from the system handling sexual assault cases and I’m not sure that’s clear. I also wonder if the problem will never be resolved because what we want from the system may not be achievable. Still, incremental improvements provide steps in the right direction.

            So what do you want do you want from the system?

  6. Emily Symington says:

    Hazel, thank you so much for posting your comments on this article. With all this recent discussion of sexual assault, I’ve felt alone in believing what you articulated here. Everyone seems to be so full of bullshit and bile when it comes to this issue, and you said so eloquently all of what I had been feeling but afraid to express. Thank you.

    • Hazel '94 says:

      Emily, Lisa,

      Thanks for the support. I will admit it’s easier having graduated from Reed and thus being pretty sure that the social sanctions that one can encounter for saying anything but the official and approved Reed positions about this exceptionally charged topic won’t bite me – much.

      I often wondered while I was at Reed how many others saw this topic as more nuanced and complex than the discussion seemed to allow. I wondered if others were as frustrated as I was that these oversimplifications hurt some, made others glorify victimhood and left many feeling powerless and confused. In revisiting the topics with some other Reed grads, I am pretty sure that far more felt similarly than I realized at the time.

      I think to many voicing doubts about the Reed line regarding sexual assault looks like it will have too many consequences. For many Reed men, I think the fear is that by admitting one doesn’t believe bearing 100% of the blame and responsibility is fair or realistic one will be looked on as a probable rapist. Admit you don’t buy the Reed line about sexual assault and one may wonder if one is risking abstinence for the remainder of one’s college career.

      For women, the fear is that our friends will not understand the difference between nuance and victim blaming. And, of course, we have to wonder what we might gain by admitting that we share responsibility. We worry that we will hurt our friends who have gone through genuine horrors. In sharing responsibility, though we both empower ourselves and play fair with our partners.

      We also don’t don’t do any harm in challenging these notions despite what some might suggest. Those women who had sex because they didn’t speak up know they played a role. They know that what they went through may not have been the greatest moment of their lives, but they also know isn’t the same as the person who is attacked or is forced after making lack of consent clearly known or who is prevented from doing so by an assailant. By sharing responsibility we also remind ourselves that we owe it to ourselves to speak up.


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