Friday, April 1, 2016

Does drunk mean no?

"Drunk means no," said the district attorney.

Does drunk only mean no if the victim/survivor is/was non-male?

If drunk means no because the person is unable to consent or be responsible for hirself, then how can someone be sent to prison for a felony committed when s/he was drunk?

On campuses across this country, Person A (whether student, faculty, staff, or administrators) often feels that the best way for Person A to get sex is to become drunk (regardless of hir gender).  And yet we continue to send the message that "drunk means no."
Is "drunk means no" perhaps already a relic of the gender-binary past?  Within a few years, will we not see a really terrifying Supreme Court case in which 1) blame is assigned based on gender, but 2) the genders of the plaintiff and defendant have not been--or cannot be--assigned?

How is it going to turn out?

Are there any good answers?

. . . keeping in mind how much CMers drink?

or how likely it is that a teenage girl's evening goal is to "get really drunk and make out with someone"?

or how common it is that any/every/un-gendered student today will regularly have sex yet say something like, "We don't really like each other in person, sober.... we literally can't sit down and have coffee"?

Should we be sending a student to prison because s/he got drunk and had sex?

Does drunk really only mean no at Stanford/Harvard/Princeton/Yale or when big money is involved?

Because on almost any campus (below the Mason-Dixon, anyway), drunk not only doesn't mean no, it is deemed the best way to get sex by many many many many self-determining agents regardless of gender.

Struggling with this on my campus.

Southern Bubba, Ph.D.


  1. Just a (first) thought as a biologist: I am not sure there will ever be a legal/responsibility symmetry given that gender is asymmetric in the reproduction process. Only females get pregnant, AFAIK. I don't think this conflict can be worked out otherwise.

    1. ...which kind of seems to suggest that it's going to take a long time for the laws to catch up with reality, or that gender nonconforming people are, again, just SOL.

      And, yes, there's a complex web of factors. For example, I can't recall the last time anybody was punished for raping one of the international students.

      But "drunk means no" is an intensely inadequate thing to say on my campus. Perhaps even boorish.

      Never mind Title IX. Christ on a goddamn cracker.

    2. Rape and pregnancy have nothing to do with each other >.>

      "Well, they were using condoms, but if they weren't the guy STILL couldn't have gotten pregnant, so, yaknow, fuck him."

  2. wouldn't that depend on HOW drunk? a bit happy or passed out??

    1. WRT the Stanford case, I think both people were extremely drunk. Here's another article about that from a slightly different perspective. In general, though, the thing about being drunk is that there can be such a strange slippery slope between one sip and passed out.

  3. I'm probably not the best person to comment on this, since I neither drank much nor had much of a sex life in college, but it does seem to me that we may be undergoing a sea change (or perhaps an extreme of an ever-swinging pendulum; I'm not sure which). Among other things, I'm hearing at least as much concern from members of my generation (who are fast becoming parents of college-age young people) about the possibility of their sons becoming embroiled in a situation which leads to a rape accusation as about the possibility that their daughters could be assaulted. And these are basically responsible parents with basically responsible kids; they just remember that they drank to reduce inhibitions during college, and won't be surprised if their kids, and the kids with whom their kids will be interacting, do the same.

    And I'm torn. "No means no" and "unconscious means no" [which was the situation in the Stanford case] do seem more unassailably true to me than "drunk means no," especially since both parties may be drunk, and either or both may be inexperienced in perceiving that others, or even they themselves, *are* drunk. But drunk can also slide into unconscious with relatively little warning, and the other participant, especially if drunk hirself, may or may not notice (okay, physiologically speaking, at least in a male/female gender-norm-conforming encounter, a female is probably more likely to notice if her male partner has passed out in medias res than vice versa. Similarly, there are some physiological constraints involved in these questions that don't entirely have to do with pregnancy, but they also probably vary a bit by individual -- so, for instance, while it's possible for a female to have intercourse with -- whether you call it rape or not -- a passed-out-drunk male, it's a considerably less common occurrence than vice-versa, for a whole variety of reasons that range from the biological to the cultural, probably with a considerable amount of gray area in between. There are also, of course, differences in *average* size and strength between males and females that are potentially significant here, though also a large area of overlap, even among cisgender/gender-conforming males and females. In short, what may be true across populations may or may not be true for any one encounter).

    1. There's a part of me that thinks that an understanding that one needs to decide either to get drunk *or* to have sex in any particular 8-12 hour period wouldn't be such a bad thing. It would probably prevent a lot of misunderstandings, and a lot of pain, and would require both young men and young women (and everyone in between, but I have the sense that, on average, the people in between are actually doing a better job at present of thinking about all this than those of us in the general population) to enter sexual encounters more intentionally. There would undoubtedly be less sex on campus, but it might well be better sex. That would be a good thing.

      And we have made a similar change in my lifetime when it comes to drinking and driving, moving from a "kids will be kids and some of them die; it's sad" mentality to a pretty strong societal norm that drinking and driving is beyond the pale because it endangers both the drunk driver and others who may encounter hir. It's possible that we're moving in that direction with drinking and sex, and that *might* not be a bad thing.

      But it does seem like there are a lot of gray areas and complications involved, and, as with other similarly morally-complex situations, trying to create rules/legislation might not be the best way to deal with the issue.

  4. You know, in my experience, the only people who REALLY have a problem with this are either alcoholics or date rapists.

    To me, that so many people "struggle" with this issue (and with the pandemic of alcoholism on college campuses... it is NOT the same as it was when you were in school in the 60s/80s/stone age, grandproffie) is just more evidence that Western society as whole has a sick codependent relationship with booze, beer, and all the other substances that are often joked about on this page.

    I might as well tell everyone that I do not drink alcohol, and I have had recurring issues with those who do, which all started when I had the misfortune of befriending a guy who drank too much and always seemed to date women who never wanted to speak with him afterwards. It took me YEARS to finally figure out why, even though he basically confessed it to me!

  5. I don't think "drunk means no" is an actual legal thing. I think it's more like something that someone says when the cameras are rolling as a shorthand for "drunk means you are treading in murky waters where you might think that the person is consenting but zhe is really non compos mentis and might even lapse into unconsciousness in flagrante delicto, and even if you don't give a crap about the other person, you don't want that shit---it will bite your ass and ain't nobody got time for that" because if you take it literally and act accordingly, at least you won't be one of those cases we read about.

    1. I'm not sure whether it is or will be an actual legal thing anywhere, but there may be some campuses where it is, or is close to becoming, an actual rule, and that strikes me as tricky. As advice from anybody from the President of the university to a coach to an RA or friend or frat brother, what you say strikes me as an excellent description of the very strong reasons to be careful (about having sex while drunk or about getting drunk in the first place), but as an enforceable rule, with penalties, it's much trickier, in part (but not only) because alcohol affects different people differently, and few people carry around breathalyzers with them.

    2. @OPH: Another thing I like about CM is reading a comment that has "zhe" and Latin phrases and "bite your ass" and a variety of other stuff thrown together intelligently in two sentences.

    3. Thank you, Bubba. I am glad you liked it. I quite enjoy the comments here, too. I've learned from the masters of CM and try to give back at least a fraction of the great deal I get from my time here.

  6. Bubba, one of the reasons I don't usually comment on your posts is that I can't tell when you are kidding and when you are serious.

    But I can't resist here. You almost (almost) seem to be saying that drunk means yes.

    Drunk. Does. Not. Mean. Yes.

    Sorry to take you seriously when you were probably just kidding.

    Does drunk mean no? I think drunk means---- be damn sure it's yes! I like what I read about some students suggesting---keep saying "we good? ---You good?" as things begin and get underway. This was an idea that some college boys came up with during a campus event about being sure you have consent.

    How to be SURE? It's sad it has come to being so definite---but it HAS come to this.

    How likely is it that a teenage girl would get drunk planning to just make out with someone? Again---I can't tell if you are kidding. But very likely, Bubba. Some young women really don't get it that the end game in a guy's mind is almost always sex. They ARE that naive. Some of them. Not all of them, of course. (And for some boys, that's not even the end game---I guess. I find this harder to imagine.)

    Yes, of course things have changed and I am old and everything is different now. But if there are people (and it seems like there are plenty) who think drunk means yes---then a drunk means no campaign is a good thing in that it is so extreme it gets people to reconsider, hopefully.

    And gender does not come into the drunk means no thing in terms of victim hood. The person claiming to have been raped while drunk could be male or female or ambiguous. That seems to go without saying.

    1. I'm very excited! I tried Cal's directions for bold font, and I did it! Yay for Cal's directions!!!

    2. Yay for bold (and what you said in bold)!

      The other really obvious one is that "no," or any variation thereof ("stop," or even "I'm not sure") really does mean no, whatever the (perceived) tone of voice, accompanying actions, etc.

      I like the "we okay? you okay?" approach. Communication is always good, and that seems like a good, realistic, current-lingo way to communicate about the matter -- sort of an updated and less stilted version of the Antioch rules, which we joked about when I was in college, but which I always thought that, even if they took things to a bit of an extreme, made a good deal of sense.

  7. Another potentially important factor (though there seems to be some debate about this) is that most rapes are committed by a relatively small number of repeat offenders. The tricky part about that is that rapists may just be beginning to establish a pattern when they're in college. That's an argument for some sort of centralized reporting and tracking system (and also for at least an informal campus ethos that eliminates some of the excuses such serial offenders may use to evade responsibility for their actions, such as, yes, "she/I/we was/were drunk").

  8. I'm going to write quickly and perhaps sloppily now, because I have diapers to change (etc).... (Sorry....)

    CM is much appreciated as a forum for commiserating about the goddamn college misery. That matters a lot. CM serves other purposes, too, though. For some of us, one of those other purposes is that CM is a sandbox for exploring/questioning/sharing/brainstorming. . . . In this case, for example, how the hell are we going to determine campus policy in the very very near future? As has been said before many times here, the students are (unfortunately?) not younger versions of ourselves. If all of the people I dealt with on campus every day were both at least 25 years old and devoid of devastating personality disorders, then life would be oh so much easier. We could just say, "Here's the policy: Treat each other with respect." Or "Be kind, dammit." Or "Be empathetic and don't be stupid." Alas.

    So then there's the question of how to articulate and implement policy. Frod handles it in the classroom by giving the students a 25-page syllabus--or is it up to 26 pages now? That's certainly one way to handle it, and it's an entirely understandable strategy (and it's understandable why someone would use that strategy). But then there's also the hopeful part of us that wants to try to go in the other direction and try to get to the heart of the issue(s) and address whatever is the essence.

    YY1 is, as far as I can tell, pretty right about the roots of rape law/mores/folkways. It was about reproduction and still mostly is (yes?). But the definition is also evolving. It used to not be rape if someone forced sex on hir wife, a prostitute, a slave, a differently-gendered person, or non-human primates, or if there was no ejaculation.... But what does the future hold?

    This issue with alcohol and rape/sexual assault has (unfortunately!) been an issue on my campus. And at some point I very much was thinking that I really didn't think the outcome would have been the same if the people involved had been known to have different genders. It made me feel sick inside. I hate those fucking meetings where we end up saying, "OK, well, our lawyers tell us we're ok, so let's adjourn." And not enough of the people have a heart. And the case on our campus was worse than the Stanford one (believe it or not), and it just struck a chord in a bad way. Yes, like Bella says, there are lots of people (and not just female, not just young, not just students) who ARE somehow so naive that they say, "I'm just going get extremely drunk and sit in the front seat of the car with the key in the ignition, but I don't really plan to drive." !!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. BTW, @Bella, I can understand why you said what you said, and I appreciate your saying it respectfully and candidly. No, I'm not aiming for sinister provocation or trolling. I'm trying to figure out how to articulate humane, useful policy in the most effective way. You know, Cal (for example) has his way of being serious/sincere/true sometimes and other times a caricature of himself (or someone else), and the personas can intertwine, but he's certainly not an antagonistic malicious ass--and I hope it's clear that I'm not either. Each of us has hir own way to grind through ideas here. Anyway, I love you guys. (And agree that Drunk. Does. Not. Mean. Yes.)

      One of the challenging issues (for me, anyway) here is that it's unclear who is disenfranchised and in what ways (and to what extent).? A lot of us have a predilection IRL for protecting the disenfranchised. How do we define the disenfranchised now? It seems murkier.

      I love love love CC's idea ("There's a part of me that thinks that an understanding that one needs to decide either to get drunk *or* to have sex in any particular 8-12 hour period wouldn't be such a bad thing. It would probably prevent a lot of misunderstandings....") because that's how I think myself. Why can't everybody just be logical about this? ;-) But, really, it's an absurd and entirely impractical idea. That's not the world we live in. That's not my campus right now, anyway. And yet... I love to entertain those ideas because... who knows... maybe... maybe we could have a policy like that one day. ? Regardless, I like that CM is a venue for consideration of such ideas.

      @The_Myth: There are really not words to express how sad I am about your experience and what you wrote. I'm sorry. My hope is that the exploring/brainstorming here at CM allows some of us to go back to our real campuses IRL (beyond "the Compound") and have more sophisticated and more humane policies and behaviors and thoughts, and then that will be a good thing. That's what I want.

  9. I think there's some good stuff going on in this comment thread, and I appreciate, Southern Bubba, PhD., that you clarified where you were coming from.

    So, how about this?

    The goal of sex is to have a mutually enjoyable time with another person. While sometimes things do not always go as planned, it is your responsibility as a ethical person to do your very best to:

    A) do your best make sure that your partner is explicitly into the proposed and/or ongoing activities,
    B) stop if that changes.

    Take into consideration that a human cannot meaningfully consent while unconscious, drunk, or on mind altering substances.

    If someone is unhappy with the sexual activity that they took part in, that does not automatically mean that a criminal act has occurred. However, failing to obtain explicit and ongoing enthusiastic consent puts both partners at an increased risk of consent violation.

    I think having this as a statement of ethics would at least set up a goal for students, and emphasize that the administration as a whole recognizes that a) students are having sex, b) that bad sex happens, and that c) violating consent or failing to gain consent is a big deal.

    I think colleges want to stay out of the determination of criminal guilt, but offer ways to support and make explicit the guidelines for being a decent human. And setting up guidelines that emphasize that affirmative consent is the way to go may be the best we can do.


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