I think it’s because my first daughter has gone off to college. As I was preparing myself and her departure and trying to fit in all the last-minute words of wisdom , I found that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses was a bit of an obsession. We have all become highly aware following the media attention around the discredited Rolling Stone article. But my anxiety was originally triggered by an even older story I read about Erin Cavalier being raped by an acquaintance after she had too much to drink. Her story raised all sorts of issues about responsibility and judgement that get very clouded when alcohol is involved. I shared this story with my daughter as a great example of how easy it is easy to get yourself in a situation where you are vulnerable if you have too much to drink. Erin was asking for help from a friend to get home after a night of partying and she thought she could trust him. My warning to my daughter was to have fun but to stay in control. She should remember she has the right to say “no” at any point but saying “no” only works if the other person is respectful and capable of understanding.
I’m also the mother of a college-age son who spent three years as an RA in freshman dorms. I shared Erin’s story with him as the basis for discussion about the issue of consent. He had been told during RA training workshops on this topic that a person is incapable of consenting after three drinks. Since women don’t wear a tally sign on their forehead, we talked about the responsibility if both parties and how it really comes down to common sense and good judgement. He has told me stories of finding partially dressed, passed-out women in bathroom stalls during his rounds as an RA. I worry about the vulnerable position this puts him in because it again requires that the other person is respectful and capable of understanding what’s going on.
Now, amid all the Bill Cosby accusations, another article caught my attention titled: It should never be too late to tell your story of rape. Abigail Hauslohner’s story was disturbing because she was rendered out of control by something her “good family friend” put in her drink. I was struck because she admitted thinking that this kind of thing didn’t happen to smart, progressive, informed people like her. She was so young when her attack happened and because this was someone she trusted, her first reaction was to question herself. Just like Bill Cosby’s victims did. I empathized because I could absolutely see myself in a similar situation as this young woman when you are finding the
So now what am I telling my son and daughter?
- There are no hard-and-fast ground rules
- Girls are inventing products like date rape nail polish because drugs are being used on college campuses to incapacitate women and you should never put your drink down
- You may find yourself in situations that are not black-and-white and you should trust your gut. We are all born with a sixth sense and you need to trust it. I couldn’t always articulate why something didn’t feel right but when I doubted myself, I regretted it later.
- Watch out for those with a sense of entitlement. This is not just an unappealing quality, but a dangerous one too.
- Life is messy. Mistakes will be made. Let’s make sure they are mole hills and not mountains.