Joanna Schroeder explains why it’s so important to understand the link between the partying lifestyle and sexual assault.
“I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying” is an addict’s story.
If you’ve never truly known an addict, you may not know that at his or her worst, an addict doesn’t really care what happens as a consequence of their actions. As a friend, lover, or family member of the addict, it’s a dangerous and heartbreaking place to be. You wait for the call, the one that says your friend is dead or in a hospital or jail because of being drunk or high. It’s so common it’s become trite. But I’ve been to too many funerals of good men with bad problems to worry about sounding trite.
Today I want to talk about some of the things that people do when they’re drunk, high or otherwise living a party lifestyle. Things they may never do if they were sober.
“I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying” is the story of a man whose partying has led him to do some very bad things. He admits to having raped a woman, and fully recognizes the fact that he may have raped others. Most of the time, he doesn’t feel like a rapist, because he never intended to commit rape.
Instead, he explains how the partying lifestyle creates a scenario where the already-confusing world of sexual consent is so blurry that it’s almost indecipherable. For instance, if a woman is begging for a man to have sex with her, and he knows she has only had two drinks, is there a possibility that the sex they have is rape?
In our anonymous writer’s story, the answer is yes. Seems crazy, right? She’s coming on to the man, she’s only had two drinks. But she’s disoriented and can’t remember his name, and she doesn’t know where she is. Turns out that she was on a medication that greatly amplified the effects of alcohol. So, while he would have been having sex with a woman who was saying “yes”, she was not in a condition to give actual consent.
It’s confusing. In fact, I’d call it a mess. It’s hard to ignore the sheer number of stories about people—both men and women—who have been raped in a “party” environment. Alyssa Royse’s controversial piece, “Nice Guys Commit Rape, Too” is about a man and woman who were partying together, flirting, and passed out together.When the woman woke up, the man was penetrating her. In the piece, we recognize that this is rape. It seems like simple basic knowledge that a person cannot consent to sex while sleeping, but somehow the man in Alyssa’s story didn’t know that, and his judgement was probably clouded by the alcohol and drugs involved.
That doesn’t make him less responsible for committing the rape, but the two confounding factors—the alcohol/drugs and the lack of understanding about consent—are so common in stories about sexual assault that they cannot be ignored.
In my piece, “Why It’s Dangerous to Say Only Bad Guys Commit Rape“, I talk about how “No Means No” consent education doesn’t work. I talk about a teenage girl I called Maria, who raped a teenage boy because of a number of factors including alcohol and the confusing messages she had received about consent and men’s sexuality.
As a result, a very intense dialogue has opened up about whether or not it’s right to discuss the factors that lead to a rape. Is it victim-blaming to say that alcohol and murky messages about consent may have contributed to these rapes? Many say “yes”, that a rapist is a bad person only out for his or her own gain, and that context is irrelevant.
But the real world is a harsh, cold place full of mixed messages, drunken desire, Ecstasy-fueled touching, and the rush of cocaine. The real world is a place where “no means no” simply isn’t enough.
The anonymous man who wrote this story is deeply troubled. He recognizes that as long as he continues to party like he has been, he is running the risk of being raped, and of committing more rapes. And yet he seems committed to continuing with that lifestlye. The writer needs help, and perhaps he is on the precipice of getting it. But as of now, he seems to think that most people who live this partying lifestyle also recognize the risk to their safety, and the safety of others, that goes along with excessive inebriation.
But do they really recognize that risk?
I think most of them do not. I would venture to guess that most of them do not expect to wake up being penetrated by a man they did not give consent to. I don’t think they expect to be pushed against a wall and so violently groped that it physically hurts. I think that’s just a story that this particular addict and rapist is telling himself to make it okay for him to continue partying—and raping.
But he’s not the only one. No, he’s far from the only one. People, particularly young people, are putting themselves in dangerous situations on a regular basis because of their partying. A few hours, weeks, or years down the line, the hurt and pain caused by these scenarios might become very real to them and they will start to see the ways in which they were taken advantage of—or took advantage of others.
We know that alcohol and drug use does not make anyone responsible for his or her sexual assault. However, we cannot continue to ignore the context in which many so-called “date rapes” and “acquaintance rapes” happen. (For the record, all rape is rape. Calling it “date rape” doesn’t make the crime any less horrific.) When you are drinking or drugging, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, your judgement is impaired. And for many, sexual desire is heightened.
This puts you at risk of becoming a victim, but also at the risk of becoming a perpetrator, as your inebriation may make it unclear whether the consent you feel you have is actually consent. The anonymous man who told the story we published today never set out to be a rapist, but because of his partying, he became one. As did Alyssa’s friend in “Nice Guys Commit Rape, Too” and Maria in “Why It’s Dangerous to Say Only Bad Guys Commit Rape”. Three people, who up until that one moment, had considered themselves good people, harmed others because of a mix of their own boundary issues, society’s messed-up messages about consent, and alcohol or drugs.
We cannot ignore this reality any longer. Dismissing all these folks as “bad guys” only serves to feed the problem, because the reality of rape is that most often it does not look like what we think it does—a psychopath with a weapon and intent to do harm. More often, it looks like what happened with Alyssa’s friend, or Maria, or this guy, who believes that the risk of rape is a part of the partying lifestyle.
When will we truly start to discuss the role alcohol and drugs play in sexual assault? When will we explain—without shaming or victim-blaming—to young people the risk they are taking when they over-indulge?
As long as we continue looking at people who commit rape through this black and white lens of “good” and “bad”, we won’t be able to see how close many of us are to becoming victims… or even rapists.
My sincere hope for the author of the anonymous piece is that he seeks help. He is a risk to to himself and to others, and it must stop. I cannot say for sure whether he has an addiction that needs treatment, but I can say that for him to recognize the danger he’s putting himself and others in, and to continue with that behavior, is a sign that something has to change. Maybe everything needs to change.
But he’s not alone in that.
For more, please read Society Won’t Let Me Have the Sex I Want, but Johnnie Walker Will by Alyssa Royse
Photo: Flickr/Imagens Evangélicas