Drunkenness and Double Standards
A balanced look at college sex offenses.
February 10, 2014
The headline in the New York Times's Education Life section reads "Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault." The story, by reporter Michael Winerip, is more balanced than that.
many journalists writing about this subject, Winerip acknowledges the
problem of wrongful accusation. He recounts the story of Dez Wells, who
was a star basketball player at Ohio's Xavier University. A female
student went to the campus police claiming Wells had raped her. He
denied the charge, saying that the pair had consensual sex after a game
of truth or dare. Investigators concluded no rape had occurred. "It
wasn't close," prosecutor Joseph Deters tells Winerip. A grand jury
declined to hand up an indictment.
"repeatedly tried speaking with Xavier officials, but they did not
respond." Instead, they hauled Wells before a campus tribunal, which
expelled him: "When Mr. Deters read the transcript of that hearing, he
says: 'It shocked me. There were students on that conduct board, looking
at rape kits; they'd say, "I don't know what I'm looking at." ' "
story has about as happy an ending as such a case can have. On the
strength of a character reference from the prosecutor--"I told them he
was a really good kid, he'd never been in trouble with the law and I
didn't believe he'd done anything wrong"--the National Collegiate
Athletic Association allowed him to transfer to the University of
Maryland, waiving its usual one-year delay for such actions. "Several
times last season at away games, including one at Duke when he scored 30
points, fans taunted [Wells] about being a rapist, shouting, 'No means
no.' " (Mike Nifong, is that you?)
is suing Xavier--which, for its part, seems to have learned a lesson
from the incident: "Xavier now refers all assault cases to [Deters's]
At the other end of the
spectrum is an incident last Labor Day at the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst. A young man allegedly "stopped a young woman
heading home alone from a party," then "pinned her against a tree and
began kissing and biting her neck." She told police that he throttled
her so that she couldn't yell, and that "after 10 minutes, she was
thrown to the ground . . . and raped." Passersby then broke up the
alleged attack, took pictures, and contacted police. The defendant,
Patrick Durocher, has been charged with aggravated rape; last month he
pleaded not guilty.
Winerip makes clear
that the unambiguous brutality of the alleged Amherst attack is
atypical. "These aren't people jumping out of the bushes," Sgt. Richard
Cournoyer, a Connecticut state trooper who's investigated a dozen
assault allegations against University of Connecticut students, tells
the reporter. "For the most part, they're boys who had too much to drink
and have done something stupid. When we show up to question them, you
can see the terror in their eyes."
main topic of Winerip's piece is a preventive program called "bystander
intervention": "Mostly it is common sense," he writes: "If a drunk young
man at a party is pawing a drunk young woman, then someone nearby (the
bystander) needs to step in (intervene) and get one of them out of
there. . . . The goal is to stop bad behavior before it crosses the line
from drunken partying to sexual assault. . . . The hope is that
bystander programs will have the same impact on campus culture that the
designated driver campaign has had in reducing drunken driving deaths."
sounds quite sensible, not to mention shrewd. Bystanders are encouraged
to favor subtlety over confrontation, to employ "diversions" such as
"suddenly turning on the lights at a party or turning off the music;
accidentally spilling a drink on the guy; forming a conga line and
pulling him away from the woman he's bothering and onto the dance floor.
. . . In the best of circumstances, a drunken aggressor won't realize
he's been had."
Winerip recounts one successful intervention that was more forthright:
Martel [was on] a taxi ride home with a friend and a very drunk woman
they'd met at a UMass party. "The two of them were touching, cuddling,
it was obvious she was down for whatever," says Mr. Martel, a junior.
"She'd lost her inhibitions to the point that it really seemed like a
good idea for her to go home with this guy she hardly knew."
Martel got between them to take her back to her dorm. "I said, 'Dude,
come on, she's hammered,' " he recalls. His friend was angry. "It was
outright awkward," Mr. Martel says. The next day the girl thanked him,
but Mr. Martel didn't take a lot of pleasure from it. "I could tell she
didn't remember what she was thanking me for," he says, "but someone
told her she should, so she did."
question arises here: Whom exactly did Martel save from danger? The
answer is quite possibly both the young woman and his friend. Had she
awakened the next day feeling regretful and violated, she could have
brought him up on charges and severely disrupted his life. Both of them
were taking foolish risks, and it seems likely that he as well as she
had impaired judgment owing to excessive drinking.
Don't be a boar, drink responsibly.
Winerip notes that between 2005 and
2010, "more than 60 percent of claims involving sexual violence handled
by United Educators"--an insurance company owned by member
schools--"involved young women who were so drunk they had no clear
memory of the assault." We know from Sgt. Cournoyer that the accused
young men typically are drinking to excess, too. What is called the
problem of "sexual assault" on campus is in large part a problem of
reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike. (Based on our
reporting, the same is true in the military, at least in the enlisted
and company-grade officer ranks.)
points to a limitation of the drunk-driving analogy. If two drunk
drivers are in a collision, one doesn't determine fault on the basis of
demographic details such as each driver's sex. But when two drunken
college students "collide," the male one is almost always presumed to be
at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating
factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.
As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes, at some campuses the accuser's having had one drink is sufficient to establish the defendant's guilt:
definition of consent to sex imposes a concept that is foreign to most
people's idea of adult consent and inconsistent with California state
law. Stanford policy states that sexual assault occurs "when a person is
incapable of giving consent. A person is legally incapable of giving
consent . . . if intoxicated by drugs and/or alcohol." In other words,
any sexual activity while intoxicated to any degree constitutes sexual
assault. This is true even if the activity was explicitly agreed to by a
person capable of making rational, reasoned decisions, and even if the
partners are in an ongoing relationship or marriage.
theory that means, as FIRE notes, that "if both parties are intoxicated
during sex, they are both technically guilty of sexually assaulting
each other." In practice it means that women, but not men, are absolved
of responsibility by virtue of having consumed alcohol.
That is self-evidently unjust, yet it turns out to be a matter of high principle for many feminists. Last fall Slate's Emily Yoffe, the mother of a college-age daughter, was the target of a Two Minutes Hate
for a post titled "College Women: Stop Getting Drunk," even though she
offered the same advice to college men: "If I had a son, I would tell
him that it's in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who
finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate."
One might argue, as City Journal's Heather Mac Donald does, that there are reasons to hold men in particular to high standards of behavior:
return to an ethic where manhood consisted of treating women with
special courtesy would be a victory for civilization, not just for
college co-eds. The chivalric ideal recognizes two ineluctable truths:
men and women are different, and the sexual battlefield is tilted in
favor of males. On average, males are less emotionally affected by
casual sex; if given the opportunity for a series of one-off sexual
encounters with no further consequences, they will tend to seize it and
never look back. . . . The less that a culture signals that men have a
special duty toward the fairer sex, the more likely it is that the
allegedly no-strings-attached couplings that have replaced courtship
will produce doubts, anguish, and recriminations on the part of the
female partner and unrestrained boorishness on the part of the male.
as Mac Donald notes, contemporary feminists "embrace the Victorian
conceit of delicate female vulnerability while leaving out the sexual
modesty that once accompanied it." That they do all this in the name of
equality is downright Orwellian.