Tangled Webs Of Consent At College Parties

Thanks to Wikimedia and author RayNata for the image.

Consent is not always a clear-cut issue, especially when mind-altering substances like alcohol are involved. But the “party culture” on many college campuses confuses the issue of consent even farther, adding social incentives to get laid and muddying the premise of personal responsibility. This article from the Indiana Daily Student crosses traditional journalistic boundaries and provides a fascinating perspective on some of the problems with college partying.

The journalist was out during one of the most party-intensive weekends at Indiana University, the Little 500 bicycle race and its accompanying annual events, when she witnessed a girl too drunk to walk who was being kissed by a guy (also drunk) while her female friend stood nearby. Plagued by questions about the situation (as well as the fact that she was only supposed to observe, not intervene), the journalist later arranged to interview the three people involved. She also spoke with a health educator and a local county prosecutor.

If you want the full version of what happened, I recommend going and reading the article. I’ve spent my adult life in college towns pursuing my various degrees, and I’m still trying to understand the allure of the party scene in light of the obvious (to me) drawbacks: increased risk of sexual assault, the dangers of drunken decision-making, and so on. Yet since so many people engage in this behavior, there have to be rewards, even if they are counted in terms of social currency rather than tangible benefits.

The journalist’s investigation reveals some intriguing points: for instance, many college-aged guys in this party-heavy scene do not think of themselves as rapists, though their acts may be pursued legally as rape or sexual battery. However, the classification of the crime depends largely on the state one lives in; “sexual assault” does not exist as a legal category in Indiana, so a crime has to be prosecuted either as rape (which requires intercourse), criminal deviate conduct (in which someone is forced to submit to oral or anal sex or penetration with an object), or sexual battery (compelling someone to sexual touching by force, or sexual touching when the victim is unable to consent). In the instance of the drunk young women in the article, she could pursue a sexual battery case if she so chose. Overall, the need for greater sexual education for both men and women was one point the journalist touched on, arguing that damaging ideas about masculinity and sexual conquests should be addressed.

One of the article’s points that impacts everyone, however, was the emphasis on being contextually aware and making certain that you and your partner(s) are always in a position to give consent. Situations that discourage or limit these consent-seeking might be situations you want to avoid or think carefully about before entering.

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About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.