Straight Talk Advice

Rape & Sexual Abuse Epidemic on College Campuses

Dec 03, 2013

Talking to daughters differently can help prevent rape

Dear Straight Talk: With all the holiday parties coming up, there is tremendous pressure to drink — followed by pressure to hook up and have sex. Many people don't realize that taking advantage of an intoxicated person is sexual assault. Most victims (and I'm focusing this letter on female victims), instead of blaming the assailant, blame themselves — and fear their parents will do the same. With nowhere to turn, survivors of sexual assault can end up more traumatized as time passes.

New conversations are desperately needed. I beg parents to avoid making statements to their daughters like, "Don't drink or you'll get raped" or, "Don't drink, something bad will happen." This just sets the stage for self-blame. Instead repeatedly tell your daughter how special she is, how her body and sexuality always deserve respect, and how incredible sex is when people are mature — with not a drop of alcohol needed! Tell her she deserves that! And that if anyone takes advantage of her when she is unable to give consent, she is not to blame and it is safe to come to you ALWAYS!  — Mike Domitrz, founder

Katie 20, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

A change in conversation is so needed! I struggled for years with guilt and low self-worth over being taken advantage of. I always blamed myself and never told anyone. Learning that alcohol consumption renders any consent invalid made me better able to cope.

Molly 21, Oakland, Calif. Ask me a question

I was taken advantage of while passed out drunk in what I thought was a safe space. The guy was a close friend, sober, and he knew I wasn't interested in him. I certainly wasn't “asking for it” as some victim-blamers claim. It was so traumatic it took me almost two months to tell anyone. This happens FAR too often. We need to teach girls that this is not their fault and teach boys that it is, indeed, rape.

Warren 24, Nashville, Mich. Ask me a question

Women, please remember: THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT!!! There was nothing you “did” that caused this. It does not reflect you, but the person who took advantage of you.

Ashley 25, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

What about teaching young men not to take advantage of drunk girls? This is rarely taught to the male child. Often guys are encouraged to have sex regardless!

Moriah 17, Rutland, Vt. Ask me a question

The culture of sex in America is also to blame. Sex is almost treated like something illegal so we hide our anxiety and problems around it for fear of social isolation. We need to “legalize” the topic and say how we feel about sex so others doesn't assume we are asking for it.

Austin 24, Alpena, Mich. Ask me a question

If you get drunk, expect out-of-control things to happen. People get drunk for that reason. However, targeting a drunk girl is wrong.

Treyvon 20, Yorba Linda, Calif. Ask me a question

Sexual abuse following alcohol consumption is an epidemic, especially on college campuses. It's complicated because both guys and girls party with the intention of hooking up. So what separates drunk sex from sexual assault? According to the law, nothing. Guys need to wake up to the line, “If she really wants you, she'll still want you when she's sober.” Besides, drunk sex isn't that fun compared to non-drunk sex.

Dear Mike: Thank you for an extremely important letter. Parents commonly use “don't-drink-or-else” warnings with their daughters. We want daughters to be safe, but unwittingly, our choice of words causes them to blame themselves. This just makes everything worse, both for the girl (who, traumatized, often isolates or starts “acting out” the false reputation she places on herself) and for society because if girls are silenced, the problem grows — which it has.

Parents: I urge you to begin telling both girls AND boys that while you disapprove of drinking, what's even MORE wrong is taking advantage of someone when they are drunk Teach your kids that this is, indeed, sexual assault and ensure your daughters that it's safe to tell you if someone takes advantage of them.

Editor's Note: I am excited to print this letter from Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date Safe Project. He is really on to something in changing the way we talk to our daughters. I have spoken to many young women since writing Straight Talk who have been sexually assaulted while drunk — many while completely unconscious — and even the strongest and most liberated among them lean toward self-blame.

The human sexual system is fragile, especially when it's developing. A young woman who finds herself taken advantage of can develop a host of negative and crazy follow-up behaviors as she processes the trauma, none of which would have happened if she hadn't been "used" against her will in the first place. An incident like this can, literally, change a young girl's life in a terrible way. I'm really sick of these assaults (we did a full column on them two years ago that can be read HERE). Society doesn't help things with the constant message to our youth that getting drunk is fun and if you don't get drunk (or high) when you're at a party there's something wrong with you.

For you girls who don't have parents who will change their approach or are safe to talk to, please change the way you talk to yourself. You have to be your own best parent. If you are sexually assaulted while drunk or passed out, see a school counselor. They are trained to know that this not your fault and will get you the help you need.

I hope today's column makes a difference. —Lauren

  1. By Mike Domitrz, age, from USA on 12/03/2013

    Ashley, we agree that all genders need to learn about respecting boundaries (both your own and EVERY partner’s boundaries). In our work, we provide students of all ages, teens and adults, with “How To” skills for asking first (consent via verbal communication) and for intervening when you see someone trying to use alcohol to facilitate a sexual assault.

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  2. By Ben, age , from Anaheim, CA on 12/04/2013

    My comment is not going to popular based upon the Panel’s comments, but I feel the need to ask for equal time, since there are 2 sides to this issue.  My girlfriend and I both had too much to drink at a party and ended up going all the way.  It was HER idea, but I will have to admit that I did not resist her advances.  Afterward, she put all the blame on me and said that I took “advantage of her” when she was vulnerable.  To make matters worse, we didn’t use protection and her period was late which scared us both to death. As it turned out she wasn’t pregnant, but she used this as one more thing to hold against me and said that I very well could have gotten her pregnant.  Again, it would have been all my fault.  We ended up breaking up over this and she won’t even speak to me anymore.  I’m willing to take 50% of the responsibility for this, but not 100%! 

    I really think you are doing a disservice by telling girls that they have no responsibility in this situation and that it is all the guy’s fault.  If they think they have no responsibility, then they are much more likely to let it happen.

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  3. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 12/05/2013

    Ben—I’m glad you wrote because you bring up a good point. When both participants are drunk, it’s especially easy for things to happen that lead to a lot of angst at best, and at worst, real problems like an unwanted pregnancy, an STI, or a crushing heartbreak that takes months to recover from. In a situation like you report, I agree, it’s hard to point fingers, except to the alcohol…  unless perhaps she felt that you were more experienced with the feeling of being drunk and knew better what it would do to her mood than she did. Could that be the case? Was this her first time to get really drunk? Were you more experienced and she was relying on you to protect her? Just wondering why she’s reacting so strongly. Maybe she is just scared and pointing fingers, but I had to ask.

    The point of today’s column is about CONSENT and when either or both parties is drunk, there is no valid consent possible. It’s gotten really bad in recent years with lots more early drinking than in previous generations and drunk girls are often considered fair game for being taken advantage of by less drunk or even sober guys (rather than being protected by others (even drunk others) who KNOW that booze will make a girl horny when she normally wouldn’t be, or cause her to find herself without the motor control or presence of mind to effectively stop someone. It’s gotten to the point that it’s not uncommon for a girl to be raped even while unconscious. Most victims don’t talk about it and the problem is going unchecked. I want girls to speak up and realize that this is super messed up and just because they drink doesn’t mean they deserve this.

    If girls realize this is sexual assault I don’t think will make them more prone to drinking. I actually think the opposite will happen and they will drink less realizing that there are real predators out there, it’s not just them drinking and “getting what they deserved.”

    For most young guys it’s unimaginable to have to worry about sexual predators just because you got drunk…  (although some guys do get sexually assaulted also). But it’s a big reality for girls today and they almost all blame themselves. Your former girlfriend sounds like she’s a bit ahead of the curve that way. Clearly she wasn’t ready to have sex with you and it’s too bad you both didn’t talk about it ahead of getting drunk (this is what Moriah was saying, that we need to “legalize” being able to talk about sex). If you had been able to talk about sex ahead of time, while sober, maybe one of you would have been able to say, “wait, this is the alcohol talking” instead of going forward and then breaking up over it.  I’m so sorry it happened this way and I sincerely hope things go better in your next relationship.  —Lauren

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