“Look, guys — all you guys in the audience — no matter what a girl does, no matter how she’s dressed, no matter how much she’s had to drink, it’s never, never, never, never, never OK to touch her without her consent. This doesn’t make you a man, it makes you a coward.” — Vice President Joe Biden, in an April address to students at the University of New Hampshire.
The vice president’s message isn’t new or especially profound, but in view of the three rapes reported to Cal Poly police in the course of nine days, we believe it bears repeating — again and again and again.
And it isn’t just college-age students who need to hear it. Judging by the number of “they were asking for it” comments that have been circulating, we could use a community-wide refresher course on the difference between consensual sex and rape.
Implying that a young woman bears some responsibility for a sexual assault because she had too much to drink is another way of saying that an assailant isn’t completely at fault.
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After all, she puts herself in a vulnerable position by drinking, knowing full well what might happen, right?
That regressive mindset sends boys the absolutely wrong cue that they aren’t entirely responsible for their actions. Instead, we should be reinforcing the unequivocal message that it’s never OK to touch a woman without her consent. And to state the obvious, someone who is passed out is in no position to give consent.
Are we saying that young women should go ahead and get rip-roaring wasted?
Of course not.
Binge drinking poses numerous dangers for both young men and women — among them alcohol poisoning and even death, as we saw in the sad case of the death of fraternity pledge Carson Starkey.
We agree that Cal Poly — and the entire community of San Luis Obispo — must continue to address the problem of binge drinking and underage drinking.
But we must also take a close look at what more we, as a community, can do to prevent sexual assaults.
Certainly, we should continue to teach young women about the preventative steps they can take, but we also must enlist young men in stopping sexual assaults from occurring in the first place.
Ideally, that effort should start long before college.
Two years ago, we wrote about MyStrength, a program offered by the Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Center (SARP) of San Luis Obispo County. The 10- to 16-week program is for young men, 14 through 18, and teaches them, among other lessons, that silence doesn’t equal consent and that it’s not OK to use alcohol as a means of persuading a girl to have sex. It also counsels them to speak out if they hear their friends say such things.
Unfortunately, the program has not been quick to catch on.
“We sometimes have a hard time getting into local schools because people don’t want to acknowledge it (sexual violence) is a problem,” said Kristy McCray, executive director of SARP.
Funding is an issue as well. SARP offers the program at no cost to schools, but at this point, isn’t in a position to greatly expand it.
We hope that will change.
We strongly urge local middle schools and high schools to find a way to integrate the MyStrength program, or one like it, into their curriculums, and we urge the community to step up and offer financial support so that SARP can expand its outreach efforts.
We also urge Cal Poly, if it hasn’t done so already, to take a close look at its programs to ensure the message gets through: No matter what a girl does, no matter how she’s dressed, no matter how much she’s had to drink, it’s never, never, never, never, never OK to touch her without her consent. Period.