College is an exciting time. For the first time, you are away from home - i.e. your parents - and, for the most part, free to do whatever you want. It’s liberating - the idea that you are “on your own” and able to party into the night with no curfew. Studies aside, the world is your oyster. You can come and go as you please. On a daily basis, you answer to no one. Let’s not lie; that’s awesome.
I also don’t want to lie to you about this: college can be dangerous. Generally speaking, one out of every three females will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. For males, that number is one in six. Those statistics are generalized, again. The truth is that the numbers are far worse on college campuses, where sexual assault and rape are epidemics. The occurrence of sexual violence is much higher in settings where drinking is actively taking place.
To be clear, drinking is not the issue.
The issue is when someone is sexually violated either against their will or when they are unable to legally consent. In no way am I saying that if you are sexually assaulted while drinking, it was your fault. However, the reality is that rape and assault are more likely to happen in an environment where alcohol is an active, large part of the culture.
Of course, the adult part of me wants to lecture you about how this is an important time in your life when you need to set goals and work hard toward them. But the friend in me wants you to have a good time. As long as you are safe, I say enjoy yourself. I don’t really condone underage drinking; however, I know that it happens. I did it. My friends did it. Shit, my parents did it. I understand. I just want you to be safe, so I am going to give you some advice and I hope that you take it into consideration.
- First and foremost, don’t assault anyone. Most often, a sexual assault victim is asked what they could have done to prevent what happened to them. They are raked over the coals - asked what they were doing, what they were drinking, what they were wearing - as if it is their fault that someone else violated them. The easiest way to avoid assaulting someone is to make sure you obtain consent every step of the way. A person can not consent to sexual activity if they are under the influence of alcohol. If you think that someone is so intoxicated that they should not be driving a car, then they are too intoxicated to consent to sexual activity. It’s that simple. Leave them alone.
- Protect yourself and others. If you are going out and drinking, keep an eye out for your friends and ask them to do the same for you. Don’t go to parties and drink alone. In a perfect world, you should be able to do that without worrying that someone is going to take advantage of you. But we don’t live in a perfect world. The statistics show that.
- If you see someone who is drunk and participating in a sexual situation, step in and check on them. Ask them if they are sure they want to do what they are about to do. If need be, tell them that you are concerned and that you think they should wait until a different time to have sex. No, you won’t be popular in that moment. But you never know if you could be stopping something terrible from happening. It’s much better to piss someone off in that moment than to live with the fact that you could have prevented an assault and did nothing.
- Drink responsibly. I know, I know. I sound like your Grandma right now. I get it. You’re at college. It’s time to get all of your partying in. But trust me when I say that you can drink responsibly and still have fun. A lifetime of regretting, blaming yourself, and living with the fact that you have been sexually violated is not really worth a hangover anyway.
- Keep your drink with you at all times. Don’t set it down, don’t leave it unattended. That way you know for sure that no one put anything in it that will render you unable to defend yourself from unwanted sexual advances.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is. If something makes you feel uncomfortable, then the situation is not right and you should not be in it. Do not be afraid to speak up and say, “No.” That is your right. If people get mad about it, that’s just too bad.
- Most importantly, never blame a victim. If you are the victim, never blame yourself. When someone does not respect boundaries - when someone hurts you - that is never your fault. It is never the victim’s fault. Partying, drinking, dressing provocatively, kissing someone - all of those things - never make it okay for someone to sexually assault you.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, reach out for help. Every college campus is legally obligated to have a system in place for reporting sexual assault. Familiarize yourself with that system so that you know what to do if you need to.
If you report an assault on campus and don’t feel that your voice is being heard, there is another option. You can visit centers.rainn.org and type in your zip code to get a list of the Sexual Assault Service Providers (SASP) in your area. A SASP is an organization that provides victims with short-term crisis intervention such as hospital accompaniment, advocacy, support in reporting, and much more. SASPs also help victims find long-term support in the form of counseling, therapy, or support groups.
The team at Project Consent wants you to enjoy your college years. While it is never a victim’s fault when they are assaulted, it’s important that you know there are things you can do to try to prevent yourself or someone else from being victimized. Keep an eye out for yourself and also for your friends. Remember that you are never alone and we support you.