The most honest ways of addressing sexual assault have very little to do with rules and punishment. They start with early education about consent and bystander intervention, two ideas that are in no way limited to preventing rape. Sex education should be frank, practical, emphasizing safety and pleasure. (As an undergrad girl told me easily, “If you’re drunk it’s not good anyway.”) In high school, a conversation about how alcohol will alter your behavior in college. In a dream world, a gradated drinking age where students can buy beer and wine at 18 so teenage girls won’t—not that I’m speaking from experience—rip six shots before leaving their dorm rooms to create a “buzz” that will last all night. In college communities, support for your friends who have been hurt, and uncompromising disdain for your friends whose behavior might hover near the line.
Because that’s how to stop a rapist in the Greek system: not to give his future victim an extra bottle of water, but to internally cut him off. Informal community policing works in the interstices that the criminal justice system will never be able to touch.
It’s telling, still, that the best and most practical idea I heard all weekend is predicated on the worst, most misogynist impulses. From a sorority sister of mine whose actual sister—also a UVA alum—is now a police officer who works with victimized women: “Make it a taboo for frat boys to hook up with blackout girls,” she said frankly. “Make it so that it’s a safety thing for them. Make it so they will do anything to avoid a girl ‘crying rape.’ Give them a hand signal they can use at parties. Make them say, ‘Bro. Protect yourself. She’s wasted. You never know what she’s going to say in the morning.'”
The two of us looked at each other, cringing.
“I was so offended when my sister brought this idea up,” my friend said. “And then I realized it doesn’t matter the motivations that would make it work, as long as it worked. As long as it made a difference in what actually happens at the end of a night.”
Picture: Aaron Josephson (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons