This is a guest post by Michelle Acciavatti. Michelle is a neuroscientist and free-lance science writer interested in clinical ethics.
As someone who was raped after a party, I often find myself falling for rape-apologist language. The guy that raped me would be most likely be horrified if I had accused him of rape. The guy that raped me is a good person. In fact, the guy that raped me was someone I found sexually attractive and had been flirting with for several weeks. I remember accepting his invitation for a ride home from a party. I don’t know what I was thinking. I do know that as a chronic drinker it is nearly impossible for others to tell when I’ve had too much. So, doesn’t my drinking to excess, and accepting a ride home from this guy make me at least a little culpable? If I’d driven home in that state and killed someone in a car accident I couldn’t use the excuse that I was too drunk to make the right decision about getting behind the wheel to not be charged with vehicular manslaughter. I’d have made the decision to drink and drive. Period. Impaired judgment would never enter the conversation.
It’s taken me a long, long time to realize that the drinking-and-driving scenario is not analogous to drinking-and-getting raped. To this day I have a hard time not accepting responsibility for my actions that night.
But I am not responsible. I did not make the decision to go out and get raped.
I am sure the guy that raped me didn’t make the decision to go out and rape either, and that’s when I get sucked right back into the apologists rhetoric.
Because alcohol (or any other drug) does make consent difficult. And it is putting a lot of responsibility on one party to make them decide whether or not their sexual partner is capable of consent. Especially when that party may be impaired themselves.
Because, as my Dad tried to teach me, if it seems like a good idea tonight, it will still be a good idea in the morning.
I didn’t listen to my father, I didn’t listen to most of what I learned in sex ed. But, I try not to walk alone at night. I moderate my drinking when I go out to unfamiliar places. I use the buddy system at parties. I make friends with my bartenders and bouncers. I never leave my drink unattended. I never let someone buy me (or bring me) a drink. I have listened to the lessons of rape culture.
And I am sick of it. I am sick of being the one responsible for not getting raped. I am sick of “responsible” and “rape” being used in the same sentence.
It is time to start talking. Not about why people rape, or get raped, but about consent. Just like turning your keys in when you know you are too drunk to drive, when you go out to get impaired you need to turn your sexual expectations in. Any night when you get impaired the only thing you should go home with is a phone number and the excitement of maybe getting a phone call.
When you make the decision to get “fucked up”, then you also need to make the decision to not engage in sexual activity. You have to give up your right to consent, because you can not be responsible for someone else’s ability to consent.
This conversation needs to start happening as soon as sex ed does. Consent is not just “yes” and “no”. It is not a “mess”. Consent is awareness of all consequences of the intended action. Consent requires sobriety. It is that simple.