The Communication and Consent Educators — Yale College’s most visible sexual assault intervention program, which touts a research-based approach to sexual violence — is a masterpiece of mendacity. It is an embarrassment. Victims and the student body writ large deserve much better.
First up on the trumpery train is the absurd claim, repeated time and again in CCE programming, that alcohol plays almost no causal role in sexual misconduct. The official script for the Myth of Miscommunication workshop, graciously forwarded to me by a current CCE, states that although “there are some correlations between alcohol use and sexual assault,” it would be a mistake to characterize the relationship as one of “simple causation.” More explicitly: “Another common myth is that alcohol causes sexual assault. That’s just not true.” The script concedes alcohol does indeed “lower inhibitions,” but the real problem is that people choose to disregard clear “signals of agreement and refusal.”
And why might they do that? From page one of the script: Drunkenness “will likely increase someone’s willingness to disregard the other person’s wishes.” From page nine: “Someone who’s experiencing alcohol myopia may be more likely to pay attention to cues that line up with what they want than to cues that are discouraging them.” And from page 16: Alcohol “might make people feel like they have permission to disregard someone’s signals.” Three unambiguous admissions that the proximate cause of someone willing to commit sexual assault is, itself, fueled by alcohol consumption. Yet the CCEs continue to insist no causal inferences are warranted.
In this, they behave more like lobbyists than educators, latching onto memes that support their worldview and brushing aside inconvenient facts that don’t. Much as the National Rifle Association parries calls for gun control by saying that “guns don’t kill people, people do,” so too do the CCEs dismiss honest conversations about alcohol as “perpetrator-excusing myths.” Such casuistry nourishes all manner of self-serving fictions, chief among them that telling students to be mindful of their peers’ desire not to be raped will somehow stop rape from happening. That the central reason so many Yalies suffer sexual assault is that their assailants just weren’t paying attention. “We are not training people to pick up on cues,” the script helpfully clarifies. “We are training people not to disregard those cues.”
With all due respect: If it’s true that “patterns of casual disrespect” are “woven throughout the fabric of daily life,” as the CCE website alleges, how on earth are students going to unlearn all those behaviors in the span of one hour? To believe alcohol has nothing to do with sexual assault is foolish; to believe skits and skittles will cajole would-be rapists into abandoning their ways is veritably insane.
Almost as insane as the fact that, of the eight books and articles footnoted on the organization’s website, not a single one actually evaluates the efficacy of existing sexual assault prevention programs. For instance, the CCEs tout the paper “Ethical Erotics: Reconceptualizing Anti-Rape Education” as an example of how “safety tips” about avoiding sexual assault are often “ineffective.” Yet the author does not actually discuss the effectiveness of “safety tips” at any point in her analysis. Her primary critique of conventional anti-rape education strategies is simply that they fail to address the skills “young people need to negotiate pleasurable ethical sexual intimacy.” It’s not really about sexual assault. It’s about sexual enjoyment — and thus irrelevant to rape prevention. Evidently, keeping people safe is “problematic” if it does not entail getting them off.
Another article deploys “thematic analysis” — genderspeak for interviews — to prove that “neoliberal discourses … reproduce women’s consent” to unwanted sex. No strangers to neoliberalism, the CCEs say their aim is to create “more options and better ones,” on the theory that doing so will foster a more positive sexual climate.
How curious, then, that a rigorous 2015 study linking risk-assessment and self-defense training to a nearly 50 percent decline in sexual assaults on college campuses is nowhere to be found among the CCEs’ copious citations. You’d think learning how to defend against an assailant is the sort of “option” most people want.
But not the CCEs, who seem more concerned with promoting public pleasure than public safety. The program spends a lot of time planning social events — which CCEs are literally paid to organize — and advertising Yale’s “diverse” array of sexual practices, including, as one brochure tastefully put it, the practice of approaching every hookup as a “new puzzle” waiting to be solved.
Which brings us to the greatest deception of all: The CCEs are not, in fact, a sexual assault prevention program. Sex-positive and open-minded in the widest sense of that word, the program treats booze-fueled bacchanalia as a human right and evidence-based strategies as mere suggestions. It aspires to a world in which students feel licensed to do whatever and whomever they like, provided everyone consents.
If that sounds to you like a sustainable blueprint for campus culture, then by all means join the CCEs. But if it doesn’t — if it sounds instead like a pipe dream too good to be true, a boorish, Belushian canticle to folly — you’d be wise to let the program rot in obscurity where it belongs.
Aaron Sibarium is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Fridays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Clarifications, September 18: This story has been clarified to reflect that the CCEs are not the only sexual assault intervention program on campus, and that the paper “Ethical Erotics: Reconceptualizing Anti-Rape Education” includes several critiques of conventional anti-rape education strategies, not just one.
Clarification, September 29: This story has been clarified to reflect that the paper “Ethical Erotics: Reconceptualizing Anti-Rape Education” does not discuss the effectiveness of safety tips in its critique of conventional anti-rape strategies.