CZINGER: Sexual regret is not rape

Despite conflicting opinions and ideological brouhaha, almost everyone at Yale can agree on one thing: a “rape culture” that includes swapping stories of rape over breakfast and hiding in alleys with knives does not exist at this institution. Instead, as Cecily Carlisle clarified (“Rape without ‘rapists,’” Sept. 23), those who use the term “rape culture” are referring to something more dubious and broad. Yale has a culture that condones rape only if we expand our definition of “rapist” to include hazy ambiguities: an intoxicated boy who hooks up with a girl who is “too drunk to give consent.” While I agree with Cecily that such cases are problematic and terribly common, I do not believe that all such cases should be called rape or involve a rapist. Moreover, by using “rape culture” as an umbrella term, we limit our vocabulary and narrow the conversation, ignoring a whole host of other negative sexual situations that need to be addressed.

There are gradations between “glorious, consensual sex” and rape; the term “rape” should not be used to describe every unfortunate or regrettable sexual encounter. Let’s be clear: I am not proposing that only rape in dark alleys with knives is “real rape.” But I do think the term is currently being applied to the wrong situations. In order for something to be rape, it has to involve a lack of consent, a perpetrator and a victim. As Cecily states, “[the use of the term rape] has value because … those who perpetrate a rape … bear responsibility … perpetrators do real damage to their victims and are accountable for the scars they leave.” In short, rape has a horrible, well-deserved stigma that must be maintained in order to shame perpetrators and bring victims to justice.

The example of the drunken hookup lacks a perpetrator. Consider: How can the boy know if his partner is “too drunk to give consent”? If he is drunk, can he really judge her state? And what if he is also “too drunk to give consent”? Sometimes things are more clear-cut and we can assign blame. If he is more sober, and can see that she is incoherent, sick or unresponsive, the standard is raised. If he proceeds while she is clearly “too drunk to give consent,” then the term “rapist” applies. However, many people not only appear functional when blackout drunk, but initiate sexual interaction with enthusiasm and aggression. Situations without a perpetrator should not be called rape.

The blackout drunk girl needs to share responsibility. Cecily’s assertion that “if she feels like she has been [raped], she has been” is inaccurate. It turns an objective crime into a subjective opinion. If the boy cannot tell that she was too drunk to give consent, then it is not rape. Her predicament the next morning is serious and upsetting. She has the right to seek counseling and reach out to her friends. However, she does not have the right to label her partner a rapist. Intoxication does not relieve all accountability. The drunk driver cannot tell the cop, “I am sorry, officer, but I was in no position to judge whether or not I should get into this car.” The fact is that when she drank that extra gin and tonic, she opened herself up to the possibility that she might grab that boy from Chemistry section and take off her tank top. As a feminist, I believe women have the right and responsibility to take ownership of their bodies and their choices — alcoholic, sexual, social and otherwise.

Sexual regret does not equal rape. We should not use its existence to defend the term “rape culture,” which is alienating, inaccurate and ultimately prevents us from creating a more positive sexual atmosphere. We should prevent behavior that prevents people from giving consent, such as alcohol abuse, unfair hook-up expectations, and mutual disregard. We should recognize that there are sexual problems on campus that have nothing to do with consent. The boyfriend who bullies his girlfriend into saying yes to sex seems more of a perpetrator than the intoxicated party boy. We should prevent the word “rape” from becoming meaningless rhetoric by adding other, more accurate and less offensive words to the table. Words like “sexual regret,” “high-risk sexual behavior,” and “sexual bullying.” If we don’t clarify our terms, we’ll end up in a state of perpetual fear. If we don’t know which real, specific situations cause the problem, we’ll have no way of fighting them.

Antonia Czinger is a junior in Timothy Dwight College.

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