On Campus, Women Must Protect One Another

By Cynthia M. Allen (Opinion)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

This week in Washington, a Department of Education panel continued negotiations over new campus sexual assault regulations.

Among the topics was how to define “consent.”

The definition requires review due to a prolific component of most sexual assaults on campus: alcohol.

Last month’s report by the White House Council on Women and Girls recounted a shocking statistic that one in five women was sexually assaulted while in college.

The report further acknowledges that “the dynamics of college life“– read: the unfettered availability of alcohol and the propensity for its irresponsible consumption — “appear to fuel the problem” of sexual assault.

Many young people — both men and women — engage in sexual behavior while intoxicated, high or incapacitated. And in such circumstances, it is easy, particularly for a man, to take advantage of a woman who is incapable of saying “no.”

But not every case of assault is so cut-and-dry.

In a sharply criticized column, Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto argued that in sexual encounters where both men and women are intoxicated, the parties bear equal blame. Yet his commentary is not wholly deserving of the consternation it has generated.

It would be naive — even dangerous — to ignore what Daily Beast writer Cathy Young calls the “very real phenomenon of alcohol-facilitated rapes by serial predators.” Such men operate with impunity in campus environments where drinking is part of almost every social activity.

But as Young also explains, “it is equally true that, in today’s climate, many cases labeled as sexual assault involve two young people who are drunk and reckless.”

Young points to the underlying data from the report the White House cites which finds that some “70 percent of the incidents classified (emphasis my own) as sexual assaults were based on women’s self-reports of sexual contact while ‘unable to provide consent or stop what was happening’ due to being ‘passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated, or asleep.’ Yet only a quarter of these women — 37 percent when penetration was involved — believed they had been raped… Two-thirds didn’t regard the incident as serious enough to report.”

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