Friend or Foe

In an era of hooking up, when does a date become rape?

She was also very straight about enjoying sex. "Did he get what he was looking for?" Mike's roommate remembers asking Sarah after one such encounter. "No," Sarah replied. "I got what I was looking for."

Through all of this, Mike and Sarah continued to spend an occasional night together. According to Mike, they continued to kiss and fondle each other. Mike told friends he hoped someday to have intercourse with Sarah -- a possibility that seemed more likely given her overtly sexual behavior with other men.

"If it wasn't ever going to happen, why did we ever fool around?" he wonders now. "It was just a matter of circumstance" -- a roommate present, maybe an argument -- "that we'd never had sex before. We joked around a lot about sex. We were obviously more than friends."

 
Geoffrey Grahmn
 
Mike Kochevar recovered his belongings from CSU last week, after the district attorney declined to press charges.
Anthony Camera
Mike Kochevar recovered his belongings from CSU last week, after the district attorney declined to press charges.

But Sarah didn't seem to take the sleepovers as seriously. "I never thought of him as a boyfriend," Sarah says. On more than one occasion, Mike's roommate reports, Sarah told him that she wasn't interested in developing the relationship with Mike beyond friendship. If she was going to have sex with Mike, she said, she would have done it by now.

Later, when asked to explain the relationship, Mike's roommate hypothesizes that perhaps Sarah viewed Mike as attractive at first but then changed her mind. He thinks Sarah saw Mike as just a friend, "even though there was always sexual discussion going on."


College is prime time for experimentation. Many students, young men and women who have had little or no sexual experience during high school, begin to explore once they are away from home and thrown together in coed dorms. Alcohol helps fuel their socializing. Despite the state's legal drinking age of 21 -- usually the age of a college junior -- university administrators, if they are honest, will acknowledge that many underage students drink on campus.

Sexuality and alcohol are a volatile mix, and university sexual-offense policies have struggled mightily to get a handle on how best to manage what can become a complicated situation. "Date rape" is a topic of constant and unblushing discussion on campuses. CSU distributes fliers to its 23,000 students that tout the 24-hour availability of its Victim Assistance Team and the Student Alliance for Gender Education. The school also hands out advice on precautions to take at a party ("Accept drinks only from the bartender or server") and how to comport yourself on a date ("Beware of 'power stares -- [a person] looking through you or down at you'").

Perhaps the most famous sexual-misconduct policy is that of Antioch College, a small private school in southern Ohio. Like most other school policies, Antioch's code revolves around the meaning of the word "consent"; Antioch, however, has taken the definition of the word to extraordinary lengths.

Under Antioch's very particular rules, two people simply agreeing to have sex does not necessarily qualify as consent. "Obtaining consent is an on-going process in any sexual interaction," the policy reads. "Verbal consent should be obtained with each new level of physical and/or sexual contact/conduct in any given interaction, regardless of who initiates it. Asking 'Do you want to have sex with me?' is not enough. The request for consent must be specific to each act." That means that in order to be considered appropriate, an evening of foreplay and sex requires an almost constant stream of questions and answers.

CSU's policy is not as precise as Antioch's -- although Benn, the school psychologist, says it ought to be. "Why not?" he asks. "We negotiate everything else. I've seen too many of these cases where the guy later says, 'I didn't know.' If he'd asked, he would have known."

Still, CSU's code does attempt to define consent. "Effective consent is informed, freely and actively given, mutually understandable words or actions which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity," the policy states.

CSU's code acknowledges that "mutually understandable consent is a subjective standard. Consent is mutually understandable when a reasonable person would consider the words or actions of the parties to have manifested a mutually understandable agreement between them to do the same thing, in the same way, at the same time, with each other."

College administrators across the country agree that trying to keep up with students' changing morals and behavior is an ongoing challenge. It's hard to imagine, say, a woman at a party in 1970 being advised not to accept a drink offered by her date. Or that, a generation ago, there would be any question regarding "effective consent" when a man and a woman decided to climb into bed together with few clothes on.

As campus rules became more specific, critics started arguing that they contained inherent philosophical problems. In their zeal to protect, these sexual-misconduct codes can subtly absolve women of responsibility for what later may be characterized as a sexual assault. Antioch's policy, for example, states that even though a woman does not say no or struggle with her partner during sex -- indeed, even if she says yes at the time -- she would still not be considered to have given her informed permission for sexual contact if she "is under the influence of alcohol or other substances supplied to her by the person initiating."

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