Why Sobriety Is Not A Good Enough Answer To Sexual Assault


In this day and age it is no secret that the number of women who claim to have been sexually assaulted is far too high and completely unacceptable. The incidence rate is notorious across college campuses. When I started law school several months ago, I was hardly surprised to learn that three of my four closest girlfriends are victims of a sexual assault, myself included.

It is also no secret that there exists an obvious and substantial correlation between drinking and the high rate of sexual assaults. The Internet is rampant with article after article assessing why the statistics are so high. And theory after theory hinges upon notions of the “drinking culture,” “frat parties,” “implied consent,” and “girls who play the victim.”

Most recently, women have begun to generate a lot of talk about the role alcohol plays in this widespread epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. The extensively publicized article by Emily Yoffe on Slate.com entitled “College Women: Stop Getting Drunk” suggests that women need to start taking responsibility for their weekend festivities. I agree; women should be informed of the responsibilities and subsequent risks associated with college drinking.

I will be the first to admit that the sexual assault I experienced would likely not have happened had I not been drinking. In consideration of my own reckless behavior, however, I do not agree that telling women to drink less is an actual resolution to the problem. Alcohol abuse on college campuses will continue no matter what because telling students to cut back on drinking is about as effective of a solution as preaching abstinence.

If someone had warned me, would I have listened? Probably not. I would have said something along the lines of “Thanks, but don’t worry because I would never let that happen no matter how drunk I am.” Or, “There is no way I wouldn’t speak up for myself if I wasn’t consenting to a sexual encounter.”

Furthermore, no amount of warning or information could have prepared me for the sudden loss of power over my body that I experienced during the actual assault. My mind went numb, and it was not because I was drunk. I was confused, and I was terrified. While I attempted to find my voice, the assault continued to happen. In these moments, I lost my dignity and sense of autonomy. No degree of sobriety could have prepared me for the onslaught of emotions that I experienced while I was completely violated.

What I experienced was a trauma in every sense of the word, and I am offended to be regarded as a mere drunk girl who should have been more responsible with her liquor. On the other hand, I also do not think that the man who assaulted me was just being a drunken idiot who failed to respect my womanhood. So, who do I blame? Well, I blame you. In fact, the blame is on each and every one of us right now in this very moment. Not only did you fail me, but you failed the man who did this to me. We failed each other because, in our every day lives, we communicate blurred lines as opposed to clear lines when it comes to what we will and will not accept as appropriate sexual behavior.

To women: You say you want to be respected. You hold Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” as a modern field-guide as you approach your 20-something ambitions and dilemmas. Yet, you allow images of Miley Cyrus leaning over to flood our everyday lives. As consumers, we hold the power to control the market through our demands. So I ask that we start figuring out what it is exactly that we do demand.

To men: You also have failed to take responsibility for yourselves by placing the burden of defining what is and what is not a sexual assault on women. You wait until you, or someone you know, has been accused of an assault before taking a moment to cultivate an opinion on the matter. Your construct is based solely in hindsight as opposed to a value-based belief on what constitutes acceptable behavior. Women deserve to know where you stand so we can trust and hold you to a definable standard when we are in your company.

I ask that my fellow 20-somethings think about what you would consider a “sexual assault.” How will you define the line for your children? How will you raise them to think and behave in situations where the line is not so clear? Maybe then we will see real results.