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Friend or Foe

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

Yet as Katie Roiphe, author of The Morning After: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus, noted in an essay several years back: "Why aren't college women responsible for their own intake of alcohol or drugs? A man may give her drugs, but she herself decides to take them. If we assume that women are not all helpless and naïve, then they should be responsible for their choice to drink or take drugs. If a woman's 'judgment is impaired' and she has sex, it isn't always the man's fault; it isn't necessarily always rape."

In other words, even though sexual-harassment codes may claim a modern sensibility, stripped of their legalese, the words suggest little more than the old, passive-voiced excuse "He got me drunk."

Coming up with a clear, effective sexual-offense policy -- one that defines and regulates the behavior of hormonally charged teenagers, many of them away from home for the first time, working to figure out their own limits -- is a tall order. In the situations the rules are designed to control, the background can easily turn gray. It is not uncommon for all parties involved to behave a little carelessly, perhaps even stupidly.


On Tuesday evening, October 2, Mike was hanging out with a friend and fellow cheerleader. According to the friend, Sarah called Mike and asked if she could come over; Sarah claims that Mike called her. In any case, by 9:30 p.m., Sarah and a friend of hers were in Mike's room. A little later, Mike's roommate showed up.

By all accounts, Mike and his roommate were incompatible in many ways. Mike was into cheerleading, socializing and the fraternity he'd pledged the first week of school. His roommate played in the school band, was less social and was uninterested in sports. On at least one occasion, the two had argued over Mike's drinking and partying in the room. The roommate later told a university administrator that he didn't have a very high opinion of either Mike or Sarah and didn't care if he saw either of them again.

About an hour after Mike, his friend, Sarah and her friend had gathered in Mike's room, they decided to go find some alcohol. All were underage, so they walked over to Mike's fraternity house, where they easily convinced an older student to buy them beer. They returned to Mike's room with a thirty-pack of Busch Light.

Although memories vary with regard to who drank how much, no one was showing great restraint that night. (Police recovered only six full cans from the room.) Sarah claims she drank five of the beers; Mike remembers her having only three or four. Both Mike and Sarah agree that Mike drank about seven or eight.

As they had in the past, Mike and Sarah started talking about sex. At some point in the evening, both were looking at Mike's computer, where he'd stored some two dozen files of cyberporn.

Mike's friend remembers Sarah starting the computer session. The two had looked at porn several times prior to that evening, Mike says; in fact, some of the files had been downloaded by Sarah at those earlier viewings. (Computer records show that a half-dozen porn sites were downloaded on Mike's computer late on October 2.)

Sarah viewed the sites alone for a while, Mike and his friend both remember, and then called the others over to see a picture of a man with a nipple ring. Sarah and her friend agreed that the look was attractive, and they urged Mike and his friend to get their nipples pierced. "If you got it done, Mike, I would play with it all the time," Mike's roommate remembers Sarah saying. (Sarah's initial account of the evening doesn't mention the cyberporn. In a later interview, she admits she liked the way the nipple ring looked -- although in retrospect, she says, she found the pornography gross: "I didn't say anything, but I thought it was disgusting.")

As the night wore on, the four split into two couples. While Mike's friend chatted with Sarah's friend, Mike began a personal conversation with Sarah. Mike's friend says it looked like Sarah and Mike were enjoying each other's company. "There was definitely some flirting," he recalls. "I could tell something was going on."

The party began to break up about 1 a.m. According to Sarah's friend, the two women went to the bathroom together; while there, she asked Sarah what she wanted to do. Sarah said she wanted to spend the night with Mike, her friend remembers.

Sarah, however, remembers "passing out" on the bed, then being woken up by her friend as she was leaving. "Since Mike and I were such good friends, and I was so tired, I decided I would just stay the night there," Sarah says.

By about 1:30 a.m., only three people were left in the room: Mike, Sarah, and Mike's roommate. In his account of the night, Mike's roommate remembers Sarah returning from the bathroom and sprawling on Mike's bed, "taking up as much space as possible." Although Sarah was "tipsy," he says, "it didn't seem like she passed out or anything."

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