I’ve watched way too many Law & Order: SVU because I’ve become deathly afraid of rape. Not me being raped, but me being accused of rape. Now, none of this is meant to make any fun of rape – this is a serious social ill that needs to be eliminated just like racism and sexism need to be eliminated. But I know that I’m prone to poke fun, so that’s why I’m saying it now – this isn’t meant to be funny.
That disclaimer aside, I’m watching an episode of SVU where the problem of date rape, or more specifically, alcohol and possible rape, is the driving issue of the episode. The “he said, she said” type of case, except that the young woman was apparently drunk and the alcohol content of the accused young man isn’t verified. I have two points to make about this:
– How many times does this setup happen every Friday and Saturday night? Truth be told, it’s tough to sometimes be able to tell if someone has had too many and can’t consent. The safe bet is to back off in those cases, but it is difficult to know if someone can’t consent. And I really, really want to stress that I’m not trying to trivialize these matters or make fun of them, but we can normally see the extremes – someone’s totally fucked up or had a drink or two. The in between stages? It’s a lot harder to tell. I’ll use myself and a very good friend of mine as examples. I can hold my alcohol. Is it obvious when I’ve had three beers compared to six beers? Possibly, but am I capable of consenting? That’s where alcohol influence, technically, overrules any ability to consent (when drunk (or is it drinking?), you can’t legally consent to sex). Since I’m a guy, my chances for being a rape victim outside of prison are (my guess is) significantly lower than females. So how about my very good friend? She’s a very attractive woman who I have known for years – and drank with for years. She was the first female to drink me under the table, and I wasn’t the first guy who suffered a defeat at her hands. She can hold her alcohol…but I’ve seen her when she’s a bit drunk. I tried not to interfere with her if she was enjoying herself with a guy, but many times I’ve asked myself if the guys ever took advantage of her. I didn’t think that ever happened, because I do keep my eyes on her in case (and in recent years, she’s had a boyfriend many times so I could play cockblocker on request and not feel bad for anybody involved). I can personally attest to just not knowing, and if someone is capable of making their own decisions, I don’t want to impede on their independence. There’s a pretty tough line to distinguish, however, of how many has been too many for that type of consent.
That said, I’ve generally applied this set of rules: If she’s obviously drunk, keep away. If the two of us have been drinking together then if she’s OK, it’s OK. If she’s not OK, it’s not OK. If I’m sober and she’s been drinking (and even if it’s my girlfriend I’m cautious about this) then it’s normally best to back away. Basically, unless I’ve been drinking with her or I’m also intoxicated, it’s probably best to back off.
– The flipside to these unfortunate scenarios is the also unfortunate scenario of “buyer’s remorse,” wherein the following day, week, etc., one of the participants from the sex claims it wasn’t consensual on his/her part, and that it was rape. Genarlow Wilson might be one of the most recent high-profile cases of this, and it’s been a common thing that is cited when discussing (informally, of course) why Black men shouldn’t date white women. Historically, because of the taboo of interracial dating, some white women would say that their consensual sex the night before was rape because they didn’t want their fathers to know (Freud would have a field day, no?). The problem with buyer’s remorse? There’s no way to prevent it. If I drew up a legal document saying that the sex was consensual and she willfully agreed to sign it (while sober, prior to the sex act) and the following day, she claims I raped her, even if it’s thrown out I’m screwed as a potential rapist that didn’t even know it. I sure as hell don’t want to be falsely accused – nor do I want to accidentally rape (if that’s possible?) or rape without knowing (is that also possible?)
Clearly, I’ve got some issues to be resolved surrounding sex and rape, but I wanted to point out something – the line between able to consent and not able to isn’t drawn clearly, and it receives a brief cameo in the 40-Year-Old-Virgin.
Early in the film (which is a funny movie, for those of you who haven’t seen it), the 40-YAV goes with his new set of friends to a club/lounge/bar to meet women and try to pull off a one night stand to get the virgin monkey off of his back. The advice given to him? Find a drunk girl, but not a wasted girl, so that she’s easier to sleep with.
Aside: Let’s be real – this is how a lot of guys approach their club hunting. A little bit of liquid courage for everybody loosens things up, but I have known guys that look for the girl who’s been drinking (but isn’t sloppy drunk) as a prime mating target for the night. This happens and this advice is dispensed regularly.
Back to 40-YAV: The first girl our awkward Virgin sees is passed out in a chair in the club (and everybody’s seen at least one passed out person in the club), and his friends steer him away (“Too drunk, but you got the right idea.”) thankfully. Later on that night, he did meet and drink with a woman who had been drinking prior to them meeting. She offers up sex, and we get a funny scene where the girl drives hammered, pukes on him, and then says, “I’ll still have sex with you if you want.” The Virgin politely refuses, and doesn’t lose his virginity until the end of the movie with the woman he loves and it’s all nice and stuff.
This cameo on how to pick up women in the club in the modern era shed a smidgen of light onto the reality that both of those situations could have been much, much worse. It’s one of those things where we have a theoretical perfection but a difficulty in real world application. No means no, for example – a theoretical perfection that should be easily applied to the real world. But I will never forget the day when both men and women told me that, “No doesn’t always mean no. Sometimes it means yes, and you need to be able to tell the difference.” It feels like there’s a sense in which if I attempt to make the difference, I’ve been brave by putting myself and my intentions out there. On the flipside, it also feels like that exact brave move of putting myself out there leaves me totally vulnerable to catching a case because even if no originally meant yes, it can be redacted to mean no (which is too damn confusing for my taste).
Maybe I have concerns that I shouldn’t have. Maybe this comes from the wrong place. Maybe I’m just fucked up. But I do think that these gray areas aren’t nearly as black and white as they might originally seem. Perhaps more importantly, these areas deserve more consideration about what protocol is. I don’t think I’m the only person who wonders about these things.