As the mom to an almost teenage girl, one of the things I am told over and over again is that I have to tell my daughter not to drink alcohol so that she doesn’t get raped. And it’s not just drinking alcohol and getting drunk that I have to tell her to worry about, but that she shouldn’t leave her drink unattended in case someone slips something in it while she steps away. And it’s not just an alcoholic drink she has to worry about, a regular old soda or fruit punch should be suspect as well. In fact, she shouldn’t even accept an unopened drink from anyone anywhere at any time, just to be safe.
Think about that for a moment, that’s a lot of vigilance. A lot of fear.
It’s also a lot of pretending. Because that is what it is, pretending. We like to pretend that if we tell our daughters to do x, y, and z that they can keep themselves safe from sexual violence. But the truth is, when you find yourself in the presence of someone who intends to do another harm, there isn’t always a lot you can do to protect yourself. And statistics tell us that most of the time sexual violence happens at the hand of someone you know and trust. Think how determined - how premeditated - it has to be for someone to purchase and utilize date rape drugs, or any type of drugs, to make it so that the person you are with becomes so incapacitated they can’t in any real way consent.
Recently NPR had a panel discussing fraternities on the Diane Rehm show. One of the things I learned is that at some of these frat parties the punch will be spiked with 100% proof alcohol so that females become incapacitated, and more quickly. It’s not just that they may spike a drink with a roofie, it’s that female drinkers are being deliberately deceived in the types of alcohol that they may be ingesting. So while a girl may go in thinking I can handle 2 glasses of typical alcohol, they find themselves incapacitated after just one glass because of the type of alcohol being used. There is a deliberateness in which some men will try and manipulate the situation in order to deny women the opportunity to consent. And although the reverse does indeed happen, current statistics indicate that women are more frequently the victims of sexual abuse and violence.
But there are some expertly crafted scenes in young adult literature that can provide us with examples and guide us in conversation with teens as we discuss the role of alcohol in the topic of sexual consent.
The prologue scene to Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick (coming in October from Simon & Schuster, full review next week), which I just finished reading, is one of the most terrifying and yet illuminating examples on this subject. Lauren is in a bar, drinking. She wants to get lost in the fuzziness of it all, her attempt to get drunk is intentional and born out of a desire to escape. But something goes horribly wrong. One of her drinks tastes funny she thinks, bitter. She can feel herself slipping away as a man escorts her out of the bar. They arrive at a cabin with a pole. There is a camera. There are handcuffs. She wants to scream out no, but she can’t - her tongue has become thick and heavy. She can’t move her legs. And in this one scene, Fitzpatrick gives us an inside look at the fear and desperation that can happen when in one moment - everything changes. While Lauren thought one thing was happening, something very different was happening and she very quickly has gone from being in control of herself and the situation to being a victim. And we see it all from inside Lauren’s mind, fully feeling her very intense fear. Although Black Ice is not Lauren’s story, it sets the scene for the very intense thrill ride that follows as our main character Britt Pfeiffer tries to survive a snow storm while backpacking in the Teton Range.
" … she wanted to protest. But she couldn’t get her mouth around the words." - Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, page 3.
In Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt, Anna gets intoxicated at a party and she goes upstairs to an empty bedroom to sleep it off. Eventually, a boy creeps in. He sees her there, asleep. He knows that she is drunk. He knows that she is sleeping. But he doesn’t care, he starts to violate her any way. And in what is one of the most horrific scenes I have ever read, we see first hand what it is like to be in that type of a situation and want to say no, but be unable to. This scene, it ripped me to shreds with its frank and stark realism. And every time I hear someone say that a girl is partially responsible for her rape because she got drunk, I want them to read this scene so that they can better understand the dynamics of what happens. I want them to read what it is like inside the mind of Anna, struggling underneath the body of a boy who does not care that she can not say no.
In contrast, one of my favorite consent affirming scenes occurs in the book This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales (which I love by the way). In it, a group of teens participate in an underground club scene, and yes there is frequently drinking. In one scene, Vicky sees some boys literally holding up her intoxicated friend Pippa against a wall as they “make out” with her. Pippa is in the very literal sense of the word falling down drunk. Seeing this, Vicky approaches and tells them that they have to stop, that Pippa is too drunk to consent. This is a spot on conversation about what consent does not, in fact, look like:
"Thinking of Pippa, I glanced over at her. One of the tall guys who had been talking to her now had her pressed up against the wall. He was grinding into her, holding her head upright… .
Vicky looked over to where Pippa’s rag-doll body was stuffed between a wall and a guy groping her chest. ‘Shit,’ she said, and in about two second she was across the room grabbing the guy, pulling him off of Pippa …
And after the boy protests that Pippa wants this, that she is “fine with it”, Vicky replies:
'This is now what fine with it look like,' Vicky retorted. 'Girls who are fine with it are able to keep their eyes open without help, and they can speak in full sentences. I guess you haven't had much success with that kind of girl, and I can see why. You're a pervert.'” (This Song Can Save Your Life by Leila Sales, pages 80 and 81).
The first time I ever had an alcoholic drink was in my thirties. I was at a small home bible study group and I had a glass of wine with our dinner. Almost immediately, I fell asleep on the couch. Do you know what happened? Nothing. Someone covered me up with a blanket. And when I woke up 20 minutes later they made fun of me for “passing out” after only 1 glass of wine. But nothing bad happened to me that night, because there was no one in that room who decided to make something bad happen. The truth is, that scenario could have played out much differently for me if just one person in that house that evening had decided to take advantage of the situation. And do you know whose fault it would have been? His. 100% his.
So yes, I will tell my daughter the litany of rules about drinking to try and keep herself safe because if she gets lucky, maybe they will work for her. And we will read these books and use these scenes to talk about why we are having these conversations. They are important scenes that skillfully present the complexities of the situation and provide us with both good talking points and examples to discuss the role of alcohol and date rape drugs in sexual violence. At the same time, I refuse to ever concede that a woman may be partially at fault for any sexual violence committed against her because she chose to drink or maybe even got intoxicated in the same way I refuse to blame you for having a TV if your house gets robbed. By focusing on the victim we minimize the culpability of the perpetrator and we give women everywhere a false sense of security. The truth is, if you find yourself in the proximity of a man who wants to rape a woman or is willing to take advantage of an intoxicated woman when presented with the opportunity, well then all bets are off. And it will always be the perpetrators fault. Always.
And while I am having these conversations with my daughters, I also want us to be having these conversations with our sons. I want us to be talking about what consent is and what it looks like. I want us to be talking about how it is never okay to take advantage of a person who is intoxicated. I want us to be talking about more than just the fact that no means no, because sometimes out of fear or because of inability, we can’t always find the way to say the word no. Instead, we need to be talking to our sons and daughters about the importance of enthusiastic consent, where two abled people both say yes out of their own free will and desire.
Talking with Teens About Consent
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
This is What Consent Looks Like
The Curios Case of the Kissing Doctor and Consent
Sex/Romance in Fiction (including a Ted talk on Making Sexing Normal) by Carrie Mesrobian
The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21 (the Good Men Project)
Why Talking with Teens About the Age of Consent Matters
On Teachable Moments and Consent
How to Have the Consent Talk with Your Kids (Slate)
There are a variety of consent education resources and curriculums at The #SVYALit Project Tumblr as well
Original post: http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2014/09/the-svyalit-project-sexual-violence.html