Campus Rape: A Dangerous Mix Of Sex, Alcohol And Culture

By
Anne Li

Dateline
Updated Wed, Oct 16, 2013 3:36 pm

Court Street In Athens, Ohio

Disclaimer: This article discusses the issue of campus rape, focusing on rape of females by males.

The alleged rape of an Ohio University student documented by bystanders and posted on social media is gathering worldwide attention, and raises a number of questions in the all too often gray area where sex, alcohol and larger social issues intersect.

The Athens Police is investigating the alleged rape that occurred on Court Street Saturday night of Homecoming weekend.  This follows the incident involving an Ohio University student who was allegedly raped in her dorm the second of week of classes at Ohio University this fall.

It seems that the crime of rape should be easily defined and efficiently prosecuted, but the criteria for who can commit rape and who can be raped have changed throughout the decades. In the 1800s, “penetration and emission” by a man were required to constitute a rape and women specifically of “previously chaste character” could be raped. By 1993, marital rape was illegal in all 50 states.

Ohio University Police Department Chief Andrew Powers said the laws are written black and white. But, he said, “Unfortunately, life is . . . shades of grey.” That is, consent is an “elaborate social issue,” he said, often not given verbally.

The laws are many. An intoxicated or unconscious individual cannot give consent, but there is no established blood alcohol content level above which one legally cannot give consent. Individuals who are sleeping, in a coma, under 16 years old in Ohio, or have certain mental illnesses cannot give consent, even if they say yes.

And an individual who agrees to sex after being persuaded by another has been raped. This is known as “sexual coercion.” At OU, it is considered rape. But at Yale University, a private institution whose rules on what it controversially calls “nonconsensual sex” have been widely criticized, an individual who has been coerced into having sex has given consent.

According to a 2002 study by the U.S. Department of Justice 90 percent of campus rapes are acquaintance rapes, committed by someone the victim knows.

According to the study, victims raped by an acquaintance often struggle identifying the incident as rape, because the ordeal did not match what they envisioned rape to be – an attack that involves a violent struggle between the victim and a stranger in the bushes. In fact, only 20 percent of college rape victims have injuries such as bruising.

The conflicting perceptions lead in part to cause of the underreporting of rapes (the same study found that only five percent of college women report rapes to the police).  And to make things more confusing, over 75 percent of campus rapes involve alcohol by at least one party.

“Clear communication doesn’t exist [while sober],” Powers said, ”and now you’re adding alcohol to the mix.”

Ohio University has its share of campus rapes and other sexual offenses every year.  OUPD reported seven forcible rapes to the U.S. Department of Education last year. That’s up from 2011, when four forcible rapes were reported and down from 2010 and 2009 with six and eight forcible rapes reported, respectively.

Reflecting national trends, almost every sexual assault case in Power’s career has involved alcohol, and many are acquaintance rapes. According to him, alcohol not only can make individuals a more vulnerable target, it can also be emboldening, leading them to make decisions they might not have made if sober.

But correlation is not causation, and Powers emphasized that alcohol does not cause rapes.

A former professor of sociology at Ohio University and a current professor at George Washington University, Martin Schwartz said the reason why rapes happen is the underlying societal belief that men are superior to women.

It’s a gender practice enforced by the community – coaches, employers, friends and even parents – called “hegemonic masculinity” that victimizes both men and women by defining gender roles. Under hegemonic masculinity, men are expected – often pressured – to show their masculinity by being athletic, competitive, emotionally restrained, heterosexual and authoritative. They are taught that they are superior to women.

“Nobody says [being a man means being] caring, loving, [a] good father, [a] good lover,” Schwartz said. “No one says anything like that. What it means to be a man is strong.”

“How can you commit rape against your friend? I don’t believe it’s, ‘I think of her as a complete equal.’” he said.

Masculinity also means being lustful, according to Schwartz Many men learn from films and conversations with their own male peers (Schwartz will be publishing a book on his and a co-author’s “male peer support theory” this November) that they are entitled to, or should be, having sex.

“It’s pluralistic ignorance,” Schwartz said. “[It’s ignorance] because not everyone’s [having sex] and it’s pluralistic because everyone’s believing it.”

Meanwhile, many women are raised to feed that sense of sexual entitlement and to take the blame when things go wrong in any situation. (Tally the number of times you hear an apology and note the gender of the apologizer, Schwartz suggested.)

That’s why many women do not identify their rape as rape, and why some victims change details of their story, such as how much they drank prior to the rape, in order to appear less “at fault.”

But Schwartz says changes in victims’ stories only cause headaches for prosecutors, who have to prove that the victim is trustworthy to jury members who grew up in a society that produced both rapists and rape victims.

The crime of rape is so uniquely traumatizing that some universities – like the University of Southern California – feel compelled to report a lower number of rapes each year to protect the reputation of the institutions.

And some universities, those that among other factors have easy access to alcohol and unsupervised parties, are even more “rape-prone” than others, according to the Department of Justice.

To combat rapes, or at least make students feel safer, OUPD provides a generous supply of blue light phones around campus, a Rape Aggression Defense System class and police escort services for anyone nervous about travelling by foot alone.

Cheryl Cesta has been teaching women, men, teachers, instructors, law enforcement and other Athens community members for 30 years on how to prevent and respond to rapes and other forms of violence or sexual acts. She runs classes through the Ohio University Women’s Center as well as through her own venue, “Cheryl’s Training.”

“Honestly, 30 years ago I naively thought the problem was going to go away, that we would be able eradicate sexual assault, violence against women,” she said.

When instructing women, Cesta focuses on being aware of the verbal and nonverbal cues from an assailant that indicate an oncoming sexual advance. She teaches them how to use their self-defense yell, which comes from the diaphragm, not the throat, and as a last resort, to physically defend themselves by going for what she called the “most vital points of a person’s body,” like the eyes or groin.

She noted that the most difficult lesson for her students is learning not how to physically fight back, but to verbally prevent the assault.

“Kicking and punching is fun and you mean it,” she said, ”but yelling and saying no is the hardest. [Women] are raised to be kind.”

But in light of the overwhelming percentage of rapes that are acquaintance rapes, many studies say the standard services provided by many universities are outdated and irrelevant. The Department of Justice study additionally pointed out that the riskiest time of a college students’ college career in terms of rape is his or her first few weeks of freshman year, rendering any college rape prevention service too little, too late.

Cesta disagrees. While acknowledging that women are less likely to fight against someone they love, she said that rape prevention courses are teaching proper techniques for acquaintance rapes, such as bystander education. Bystander education, she said, is a trending technique on college campuses that instructs bystanders to intervene when they foresee a potentially dangerous situation between classmates or friends.

But Schwartz is one of those who isn’t satisfied. 

“‘Walk around with your keys in your hand.’ Sounds very impressive in a lecture,” Schwartz said. “But if it’s your boyfriend pushing you down, you’re not going to poke his eye out.”

At the end of his interview, Powers offered the same advice to men on avoiding situations in which they may be accused of rape as he does to women on avoiding situations in which they may be raped.

“Make low risk choices when it comes to the consumption of alcohol,” he said. “Communication is key.”

Asked if he had any advice for men, Schwartz’s advice was stern and simple.  

“Yeah. Don’t do it.”

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