Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Daisy Coleman, the Defn of Rape, & is Alcohol Really the Problem?

So I'm not sure how many of you are following the case around Daisy Coleman and the involvement of Anonymous and the Kansas Star paper in bringing the facts to life, but if you're not, you probably should be. There are things about that night in January that we don't know. That Daisy Coleman doesn't know. But here's what we do know:

-Her blood alcohol was twice the legal limit
-The senior boy involved admitted to having sex with her, and another boy recorded part of it on his iPhone
-She was left outside in freezing temperatures on her porch afterwards with no shoes, socks, or coat

In the state of Illinois (and I assume most other states) the legal definition of criminal sexual assault includes "the accused commits an act of sexual penetration and the accused knew that the victim was unable to understand the nature of the act or was unable to give knowing consent". So. There you have it. I'm not sure why this is still being debated. If you have sex with a person who cannot give conscious consent, this is rape.

But, let's put the legal part of this aside. Because I actually don't want to get into a legal discussion over the line of when someone "knowingly" consents. I want to get into a bigger discussion about whether we are okay with this.

Whether we are okay with our sons videotaping others having sex, whether we are okay with plying girls with alcohol and having sex with them afterwards, whether we are okay with dropping a girl off on her porch in freezing temperatures without even ringing the doorbell, whether we are okay with having sex with thirteen and fourteen year old girls to begin with.

I am NOT okay with this. I can't imagine any parent being okay with this. I'm not okay with living in a world where people are pointing to lines of legality instead of codes of ethics. Who are these boys perpetrating this type of crime and why do we keep seeing it? When is the decision made in a boy's mind to stop treating someone like a human being and start treating them like an object? At what point do we lose our sons?

Which brings me to Part 2 of this post, involving the publication of this article in Slate. I ended up getting into a very good Twitter debate about this essay. I argued that the set-up for this article, the headline & the structure pointed to a crap ton of victim-blaming. In spite of Yoffe's persistent declarations of not blaming victims, she quite clearly puts the onus on girls and their alcohol consumption to stop rape from happening. She then goes on to cite all sorts of statistics about alcohol consumption and its involvement in rape cases. I do not doubt this to be true. What I have a very difficult time with is the fact that YET AGAIN we are pointing to some sort of external bandaid (stop getting drunk, girls) to solve the issue of rape. As if banning alcohol is the wrecking ball that will deconstruct our deeply imbedded rape culture.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that I got drunk as a teen. I did a lot of stupid stuff I regret. And I probably would do it again. This is the reality of being a teenager and being human. If we have expectations of teens walking the road of perfect human beings, we are going to have some very big problems on our hands. But there is a difference between doing stupid stuff like drinking too much, and someone having sex with you, videotaping it, and leaving you on your porch in freezing temperatures. I'm not sure why the fault is on Daisy Coleman for drinking alcohol in this case. And if any boy thinks part of the definition of "doing stupid stuff" includes sex with a non-consenting drunk girl, videotapes, & leaving her to freeze, then we are in even bigger trouble.

What makes drunk girls rapeable? What gets us to the point that conscious consent on both parts is not essential? And why is the onus on girls to own their consent and not on boys to ask for it? The problem with Yoffe's article (well, one of the problems) is the acceptance/assumption that boys have sex with drunk girls because they're an easy mark. As if guys in general are on the prowl for sex with non-consenting partners. I'm pro-dude so I would like to think better of guys. And the reality is that many, many guys do not do this.

So what do we do with the ones that do? Are they salvageable at all? This feels pretty critical to me. And this feels like where we really need to educate. And we need to do this early. We need to build in a foundation of respect, understanding, the space where we hold guys accountable for things they do that make girls "less". We need to educate about enthusiastic consent, educate about the idea of green zones and when it's okay to have sex with someone and when it's not, educate about girls being human beings worthy of respect and also girls should be allowed to do stupid stuff without their very person being in danger.

I'm not saying we don't have conversations with girls about being safe. Those conversations are critical. But the fact is, I think we're having those conversations already. I think that we have been protecting our girls from BAD STUFF from the very beginning of their lives. I think that girls are very aware of the fact that the world isn't totally safe for them. I look at how I explain to Jojo why she can't wear a bikini. I realize that part of me is shaming her with this "You're not going to the pool dressed like that" and I'm equally aware that this shame is also my shield for her. And I think that when bad stuff happens, girls frequently blame themselves first because "they should have known better." They are hard-wired for this. And yet, they are human and should be allowed to be so.

The conversations that we are not really having are the ones where we explain to our sons why it's not okay to call a girl a slut, where we explain to our sons that if a girl is drunk at a party they should take her home or watch out for her, where we explain to our sons that consensual (and great!) sex involves getting a fully conscious yes, where we explain that rape jokes aren't okay, where we explain that social media should not be used to hurt people, where we acknowledge there is a power differential, statistically guys are way more frequently perpetrators, and the onus is on them to ensure they are having consensual sex.


Matthew MacNish said...

I'm so angry about this, I can't even...

I will try to just focus on one part. The only part I can even make a sensible argument about.

We've got to stop talking about the drinking. The safety conversation is a conversation a parent has with their OWN child. No one else has any damn business making assumptions about someone else's child's behavior. So bringing up drinking and focusing on girls putting themselves in unsafe situations is total BS IMHO.

Also, we need to realize that most of these kinds of crimes are committed with malicious intent. What I mean by that is when boys get girls drunk so that they are "easy targets," I guarantee you the boys do not get as drunk themselves. Sure, they fake it, and pretend to be getting wasted too, but if you were so drunk that you passed out in 30 degree weather, you would not have the capacity to actually rape someone.

We can't tell girls don't go to parties and don't drink or if you do always watch your drink ... or whatever. I mean, I'm not saying that's BAD advice, and I do tell my own kids that, but how in the world do we as a society have a right to tell ALL kids that? First of all, it's a ridiculous expectation, and second of all, it's entirely missing the point.

And furthermore, what about the girls who don't have parents to tell them that? What about the girls who are shipped off to boarding school by their jet-setting parents? What about the foster kids? Do they not also have the right to not be raped just because they drank alcohol?

The onus must ALWAYS be on the rapist not to rape. ALWAYS. It's up to men to teach this to boys. That is the ONLY answer I can ever see working.


[please excuse any typos, I'm livid over here, and Christa's space always makes me feel safe with expressing myself, sometimes to excess]

Jody Casella said...

Thanks for posting this, Christa. I can't believe that our society has to keep having this conversation over and over. Some days it seems as if we are moving backwards instead of forward in the conversation.

And it enrages me too. I say this as a mother of a teen boy and a teen girl. I did have the conversation with my daughter that she needs to be careful at parties, needs to stay with friends she trusts, need to watch out for other girls who may be drinking. It's a conversation that seems like a crazy to one to have to have with a child. Be careful because there are crazed sex fiend boys out there who will not see you as a human but as a possible sexual conquest.

I had a similar conversation with my son, that he needs to watch out for other girls--who may need someone with an ounce of humanity to step in and protect them. I had these conversations with my kids after Steubenville.

Something I read at that time stuck with me. A teacher had asked her class if it was okay to take have sex with a girl who was drunk and most of the kids in the class--boys and girls-- simply did not see alcohol impairment as lack of consent. The teacher was horrified.

She mentioned in her article that there was a boy at the party in Steubenville who witnessed the assault but was more concerned about being the designated driver for his drunk buddies than for protecting a girl who was in the process of being raped. The teacher said: isn't it interesting that our society has drilled into these kids that it's dangerous to drink and drive, and even this bozo kid managed to learn that lesson?

Now it's time to do the same thing with rape. You see a girl who is passed out, you leave her the hell alone or you take her to a safe place. Seems like a freaking no brainer to me.

Anonymous said...

+1 Jody. And Slate should run an article by Christa called "Boys: Only 'Yes' Means 'Yes'" as a companion column.