By Hannah Bullion
As we all start up a new school year, I want to remind incoming freshman and all other women that party culture does not equal rape culture. If anything, excessive drinking and partying is nothing more than a sad excuse for rape. No one drinks with the intention of being sexually assaulted. Men drink, women drink, both sexes often wake up with regrets after a night of overdrinking. We run around the house half-naked and we drunk dial our exes because sometimes too much alcohol can get the best of us, but committing rape is more than a regret due to letting alcohol get the best of you – it’s a life-altering crime.
If you’ve been following the news this past summer, you’ve probably heard of the completely disgusting and disappointing People of the State of California vs Brock Allen Turner case (among many others). Let me quickly fill you in specifically on the tragedy of the young women who read this letter out loud to her attacker:
On January 18, 2015, Brock Turner, a freshman at Stanford University, met a girl at a frat-party. Sounds like a pretty average college-freshman situation… Until said girl was found by two students biking across campus, unconscious and penetrated by Brock Turner. She was found with her clothes disheveled, underwear balled up on the ground, and completely unconscious. She was not responsive for three hours following the assault.
The case was undecided for roughly a year before the judge sentenced him for six months jail time (the maximum sentence was 14 years). Because of Turner’s young age and lack of criminal history, his sentence was cut short. Brock Turner was a white man, on his way to compete in the Olympics (in most stories you actually learn more about his swimming career than the rape he committed). The judge felt like jail would be too tough on him, he wouldn’t be able to handle it. To make matters worse, because of his plea to the judge, it’s possible he will only be spending three months in jail instead of six.
Turner, his family, and his friends used drinking as an excuse for his poor decisions. The father even went on to write, “Brock was desperately trying to fit in at Stanford and fell into the culture of alcohol consumption and partying.” Last time I checked, sexual assault wasn’t the way to fit in in college. Maybe shot-gunning a beer or doing a keg stand in front of some upperclassmen–but raping someone, probably, most definitely, not.
Family and friends went on to explain that excessive drinking and partying was the reason for Brock committing this horrible act. Contrary to the family’s beliefs, multiple studies reported by the Washington Post have found that there is a repressed set of attitudes, not alcohol, that plays a key role in the perpetrator’s decision to commit sexual assault. The connection between alcohol and sexual assault is not a cause and effect, the same way that party culture does not equal rape culture. The connection is complex, the same way a perpetrator’s mind is. They know they can overpower their victim with alcohol and as a culture, we’ve let women (and men) believe that that’s true. For example, 48% of men aged 18-25 believed that sex with women too drunk to know what was going on is not rape (according to the Summary of North American studies and police reports). Ohio governor John Kasich even went on to explain to young women entering college to avoid rape by staying away from parties with a lot of alcohol. What type of message are we sending to the young women in our life? Don’t go to the party, you might get raped? Don’t drink too much, you might get raped?
As a college student a major university (one that is considered a party school), I’ve been to my fair share of parties with friends, and what I want most is for my friends and I to feel safe. These things–drinking and feeling safe–should not be mutually exclusive for young women. The anonymous girl in this horrifying case was with her sister and this still happened. These cases happen at universities around the country, including my own. At Michigan State University alone, there have been numerous Title IX violations within the past year or so. Victims become liars; they become silenced– because authorities refuse to take their cases seriously. I’ve heard stories from friends on campus that have been sexually harassed or assaulted while drinking, but feel like they can’t do anything about it because they were too drunk to remember exactly what happened but woke up the next morning feeling violated. This! Is! Not! Okay! Sexual assault is sexual assault, alcohol involved or not.
On top of this, 59% of perpetrators are acquaintances of their victims (RAINN), meaning it’s not just a random act like most believe. So when do we stop worrying about sexual assault? Where are we free of being sexually harassed?
No one teaches their son, brother, nephew, or grandson not to rape women but from the start women are told to stay away from strange men, not drink too much, stick with friends. Women should be able to go out and drink without the fear of being drugged, harassed, or sexually assaulted.
These are the types of conversations you need to have with your friends, guys and girls. Make it known, don’t let it be something you shove under the rug. These things happen and they’re real. You’re not any less assaulted because you were drinking. Remember that.
Stop blaming rape on anything but rapists. “Yes” is the only form of consent. Don’t let yourself be fooled into believing that you were assaulted because you were drunk or you were showing too much skin or you were acting like a tease. Your body, your decision.
No one can sum up this concept better than the victim herself in her incredibly moving and heartbreaking letter to Brock Turner in the courtroom:
“You said, Being drunk I just couldn’t make the best decisions and neither could she.
Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. Everyone in this room has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much, or knows someone close to them who has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much. Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That’s the difference.”