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Consent While Drunk Is Impossible To Give

There’s something absolutely horrifying going on in a little town called Steubenville, Ohio. There’s an article about it on the New York Times website that came a full two months after a blogger named Alex Goddard tried to bring attention to what’s going on in this small town, and three months after the event actually took place. There have been a few blog posts and articles about it since, but other than that, the WWW is silent. Nobody’s talking about it. Nobody. And that, in and of itself, is disconcerting.

Picture, for a moment, that you’ve got a 16-year-old daughter or sister. She’s off at some end of summer party being held at the home of a volunteer football coach for the local high school championship team. While teen parties tend to get a little crazy, we’re betting you’re expecting the scene to look a little like this:

Football players milling about and dancing with cheerleaders. Other kids milling about and dancing, too. Parents scattered around. The man of the house flipping burgers on the grill. Soda, juice, brownies and chips on the table for the kids to help themselves to. Maybe a touch football game going on in the backyard. Some flirting, a little making out, but over all a mostly wholesome shindig. I mean, they’re at the coach’s house. Right?

Unfortunately, what your daughter’s/sister’s party REALLY looks like is this:

Kids are drinking. Some are drunk. Some are acting up. Dancing leads to making out, which leads to sex. And before long, they’re house-party hopping.

Your daughter/sister? She’s wasted. As in, non-responsive. Soon, she’s naked. The two boys who have been carrying her by her wrists and ankles from party to party are making a big show of sexually assaulting her. Someone else is trying to convince people to pee on her. No one is trying to stop them.

This is the era of social media and 4G networks, so the entire event was documented online. And when your daughter/sister wakes up in the morning, she finds out what went on by reading it in the newspaper. The newspaper found the story on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and various other social media sites.

This actually happened in Steubenville, Ohio, to a girl from across the river. And instead of supporting HER, the town is standing by their high school football team The other witnesses (who snapped pictures and took video) say they didn’t think there was a rape in progress because there was no force involved. A few students who should have been disciplined haven’t been, because they told the coach they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong.

Let’s give these kids the benefit of doubt and say we believe them. I don’t. I think they knew full well what they were doing, and when they weren’t being asked to stand up in front of an entire town that puts all its hopes and dreams in a high school football team, some of them even had the decency to say so. No one’s talking now.

But let’s say we believe them. That’s a scary thought. If high school students truly don’t understand that touching someone in a sexual way without first getting permission is wrong, that means that some of us adults don’t know, either, because kids look to us for their definitions of acceptable behavior.

Folks, this is a problem.

A while back, when I spent a lot of my time verbally sparring with other equally sex positive people about my opinions on “rape culture” (the theory that a patriarchal society actually embraces rape and protects rapists while vilifying their victims), a topic that came up quite frequently was what constitutes consent. A big issue in cases of sexual assault is whether or not the victim gave her alleged attacker permission to do the things he did to her. And that is an issue in this case.

I don’t understand why this is even a question in sexual assault cases that involve drugs and alcohol. The Red Cross instructs their trainees to get permission from the person they’re helping before saving their life. You’re required to get permission before stepping on a stranger’s property, or it’s called “trespassing” and you get fined. If you don’t get permission before borrowing someone’s car or money, it’s called “theft” and you go to jail. While I think this should be obvious, I also feel the need to point out that a person who is so incapacitated she has to be carried from place to place is not capable of giving consent.

What’s going on in Steubenville is tragic. We need to make sure something like that doesn’t happen here. Or anywhere else, for that matter. For that to happen, we have to talk about it. With our friends, our family, strangers and coworkers…anyone who will listen.

I’m talking to you. And I’m here to tell you that being trashed isn’t consent. Getting so drunk that a person has no idea what is happening to them does not make someone deserving of being violated or mistreated. No matter how much she drank before she was too drunk to make any decisions for herself, what’s alleged to have happened to that girl in Steubenville (or anyone like her) was not her fault. And I hope like hell those boys are held responsible. It’s too bad the police can’t put together a case against the kids who just stood by and watched.

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