About midnight Friday, four college-age females wearing Playboy-esque bunny ears and skintight, black miniskirts sashayed toward a party pumping hip-hop music near Cal Poly.
They crossed paths with three other young women, one of whom stumbled along in high heels, eyes half-shut, as her friends propped her up.
Less than a week after a third alleged rape of a college-age student in a month was reported to Cal Poly officials, the party scene around campus and at downtown bars in San Luis Obispo was “popping” — as the crowd calls it these days.
Sexual assault happens with or without alcohol present. But the kind of partying where binge drinking takes place regularly on the weekends at and around Cal Poly has been strongly linked to rape and unwanted sexual advances, according to a long-standing body of research.
Police have said that all of the three recently reported rapes involved unconscious and intoxicated women — although they’ve declined to comment on whether the women were drugged.
On a short walk from campus late Friday night, the beats of Ludacris, Jeremiah and 50 Cent blasted across the neighborhood from the 1200 block on Monte Vista Place near California Boulevard. A DJ boisterously shouted to a crowd rejoicing in the final days of the school year, announcing his imminent graduation.
College-age students coming to and from the neighborhood revelry who spoke with The Tribune on Friday night and early Saturday said they were well aware of the two alleged rapes May 12 and 15 at a Poly Canyon Village dormitory and the alleged rape May 7 at nearby Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity on California Boulevard.
They were adamant that rape is never excusable even if a woman has been drinking. But they also voluntarily said women should exercise caution.
Two Cuesta College female students, standing at California and Foothill boulevards as they celebrated the end of their semester, said they’ve wondered about the situations that may have led to the alleged incidents. Police have not disclosed details.
“We know you have to have a swipe card to get in (the dorms), so I assume the girl knew the guy on some level,” Amanda Titus said. “And if that’s the case, any girl should know not to get drunk and pass out in a dorm room with guys or a guy around. That’s not to say rape is ever OK.”
The young women said they always try to watch any cups they drink from and never resume drinking from a container they’ve left on a table or counter to avoid being drugged.
And it’s a kind of “girl code” to take care of friends who are struggling with drunkenness and might be lured by an opportunistic male, they said.
“We always look out for any of our girlfriends who might have passed out or who can’t take care of themselves,” Lilliana Hicks said. “That’s just part of being a friend. In fact, we were pulling back a girl just last night that was starting to go off with this guy she didn’t even like. We’re like ‘Whoa, what are you doing?’ ”
Cal Poly freshman forestry student Grant Huhn, walking on California Boulevard toward loud music, said he’s seen many college students passed out from partying this year.
His comments echoed those of Cal Poly student body President Sarah Storelli, who Tuesday said she’s noticed through comments and photos on Facebook and Twitter that more unconsciousness from binge drinking has been going on in recent years.
As a male bystander, Huhn said he’d be willing to step in if he thought a girl would be taken advantage of.
“I’d definitely be willing to stop something that seemed serious,” Huhn said. “I think you’d have to. That’s not cool.”
Around 2 a.m., the night scene downtown included a young man and woman making out on the sidewalk in front of a Higuera Street bar and a male urinating in a dark corner near a downtown financial building on Marsh Street while a friend kept watch for police.
A small crowd near the row of bars on Higuera spontaneously began chanting “Let’s go Giants!” and a 20-something unsuccessfully tried to use his arms and legs to suspend himself off the ground between the two walls in Bubble Gum Alley.
About 50 yards away, sitting on a nearby bench on Marsh Street with a female friend, Stacie Athon said she carries pepper spray in her purse because “you never know when you’re gonna have to use it.”
The young woman commented that she’d just witnessed a girl stopping to vomit with a group of friends as she was winding down her night.
Athon and her friend were waiting for her boyfriend to get off work at MoTav nightclub for a ride home.
“I think it’s always important for any girl to plan how you’re getting home and check with your friends to make sure everybody knows what’s going on,” Athon said. “We’re just chilling out here until he gets done. It’s a little cold, but we’re all right.”