My freshman year I found myself one too many times drinking punch infused with grain alcohol and dancing at a frat. (I love Sigma Nu dance parties, not going to lie). Most of the time it was just me, my girlfriends, and our wild, unskillful dancing. But sometime last spring, while slightly inebriated, I was dancing with a good guy friend when a junior boy came up and said to him, “If you give her one more drink, she’s all yours buddy.”
At first, I laughed. Didn’t he know I could hear him? Not to mention the fact that the boy he was advising was gay? But as I strolled home, it hit me. I not only realized how inappropriate he had been, but how devastatingly prevalent this attitude is across all college campuses, including Yale.
In fact, the dominant attitude is that rape doesn’t happen here. And Yale University reports support that feeling. In the Report on Campus Security 2002, the University recorded that in the year 2002 there was only one sexual offense.
Yet Yale’s report does not reflect national statistics. According to a report released in 2001 by the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), roughly three percent of college women experience a completed and/or attempted rape during a typical college year. There were 2,624 women in Yale College in 2002; that means if Yale were to follow national trends, 79 women would have experienced rape or attempted rape at Yale that year.
Perhaps you think that Yale is an exception, just a lucky, safe space. All its safety precautions like blue phones and escort services have paid off. But the discrepancy between Yale’s report and national data is too big; the facts don’t seem to match up.
The reason for this mismatch in information is because Yale University’s statistics only reflect the number of sexual assaults that have been reported to the police. What those numbers don’t mention are the many cases that have been reported to the Yale community via conversations with peer counselors or residential college deans, who often direct students to the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board. The survivor can talk with the grievance board, which keeps the information confidential unless the survivor is willing to lodge a formal complaint. While confidentiality is essential to encouraging survivors to come forward, it nevertheless means that Yale statistics seem misleading and Yale students are inadequately informed.
Many students also fail to recognize, or at least refuse to acknowledge, that certain situations are cases of rape. A prevalent form of denial entails rape with the presence of intoxication. The common attitude is that sex with a girl or boy who is drunk is at the most an unfortunate event (or a “fortunate” one for some), but does not constitute rape. We chide him or her for not taking care of his or herself. Or we decide he or she knew what he or she was doing and just regrets it after the fact. A few may sympathize, but no one seems to be pressing charges and many may not believe that legal recourse exists.
However, in the state of Connecticut, sex with an intoxicated individual is a crime. According to the Connecticut State Penal Code, Section 53a, a person is guilty of first degree sexual assault when he or she “engages in sexual intercourse with another person and such other person is mentally incapacitated to the extent that such person is unable to consent to such sexual intercourse.” And, as my anecdote suggests, some students are doing just this. For some, the goal of getting a person drunk is so that he or she loses her mental capacity to make rational and healthy choices. It makes truly consensual sex impossible.
While I agree that there is a fine line between drunken sex and drunken rape, there still needs to be more awareness of this prevalent attitude and the illegality of such an act. Students need to be informed about their rights, their options and their risks. The University also needs to be more involved in educating the students and acknowledging the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, including Yale.
Averting our eyes and keeping our silence will not make the problem go away. As students we not only have a right but a duty to become more politically active and socially aware. Because the University has failed to address the problem adequately, it is up to the students to demand more.
We can do this by educating our peer and ourselves, by joining political organizations such as Rape Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) and by holding the University accountable. We can take back our rights by knowing what they are and how to utilize them. And we can also demonstrate our unwillingness to tolerate such violence.
For me, this means joining groups like RSVP and participating in Take Back the Night, a national event held all over the United States on college campuses in April. It involves a week of activism and education about the number of rapes that occur on college campuses and the way in which our society tacitly condones such atrocities. It culminates with a rally and a nighttime march for women only.
Take Back the Night allows us to walk alone on the streets without the need for outside protection from security guards or men. It gives us a sense of empowerment and it will create a safe space, a place where women can share their stories and realize that they are not alone. It acknowledges that rape exists but does not control us.
I hope you will join me.