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.