Dear Stanford Offender, Alcohol Doesn’t Excuse Sexual Assault
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” the survivor read to her attacker.
“It wasn’t rape because we were both intoxicated.”
“I assumed she meant yes, since she didn’t say no.”
These are lies. Beautifully fabricated, well-told lies. Lies that stem from tales of back-slapping college encounters and alcohol-laden rendezvous, often laughed off as ‘normal rites of passage’. There’s only one thing eerily missing in these lies: consent.
If you were to understand this fully, look no further than Stanford sex offender Brock Turner’s statement of defence (delivered during his trial):
“At no time, did I see that she was not responding. If at any time I thought she was not responding, I would have stopped immediately.”
This statement, of course, takes no account of the fact that the woman he sexually assaulted was, at the time, unconscious and so utterly incapacitated by alcohol that she lacked the ability to ‘respond’.
For anyone not in the know, a 23-year-old woman was sexually assaulted in January 2015 by a 20-year-old Stanford University varsity swimmer. ‘Sexual assault’ in this case, is an umbrella phrase for an encounter that involved an unconscious woman, naked to her boots with her clothes wrung around her neck, while a 20-year-old college man humped her behind a dumpster and digitally penetrated her.
She was discovered by two Swede men. According to the powerful letter that the 23-year-old survivor read out in court at the time of sentencing, one of the Swede men “was crying so hard he couldn’t speak because of what he’d seen.”
Abrasions, lacerations and dirt were discovered later, in her vagina.
The case came to a widely decried end last week, when the judge sentenced Turner to just six months in jail and three years of probation. The judge believed a sterner punishment would have a “severe impact” on the 20-year-old, who was once an Olympic hopeful. This, of course, in complete mockery of any ‘severe impact’ a woman discovered with her clothes undone and no memory of a sexual encounter could possibly have.
Alcohol Did Not ‘Cause’ the Rape
The question to ask, is this: how many Brock Turners get off scot free because their crimes are shrouded in the well-woven narratives of victim blaming, founded on the refuge of alcohol?
Alcohol is not an excuse – can never be. To borrow from the words of the Stanford rape survivor, alcohol does not make one strip someone’s underwear, wring her clothes around her neck and fondle her breasts. Alcohol does not MAKE you do these things – you do them yourself. When did the narrative of a guilt-ridden man waking up the next morning to mumble, “the whisky made me do it” begin anyway?
The Stanford case may seem far away, for a country half a timezone away – but here’s the thing: the details are all too familiar, the blame game just as pervasive.
I was once told by a friend how it had ‘happened’ to her. As we swapped horror stories – stories of ‘obvious sexual assault’, she offered hers – a tale just as common, but that remained in the dark alleyways of ‘ambiguity’ and alcohol-befuddled memories.
She had been flirting with a man at a party, she said. She had too much to drink, she said. The last thing she remembered, she said, was passing out, alone, on an empty bed at the house of the host. She’d half-woken up in the middle of the night to feel the hands of the man caressing her, fondling her – in an all too familiar fashion.
“He was convinced it was the right thing to do,” she remembered. “because I had been flirting with him before it had happened.” Too drunk to visualise clearly, too drunk to even offer physical resistance, she’d mumbled ‘no’ – till the hands stopped. “I only remember relief washing over me when the hands stopped,” she said. She passed out the very next second, waking up the next morning fearful and violated, while the stranger had long disappeared. No one remembered who he was – but she let it go.
“I thought I had brought this upon myself,” she confessed years later. Despite knowing better at the time of the recounting, the feelings of conditioned victim blaming were too hard to ignore.
The ‘Assumption’ of Consent is Not Consent
When I read the Stanford story, a thousand infinitesimal details washed over me in a blurred kaleidoscope of images and sounds. Of the time that a relative dismissed the story of an Uber rape survivor, declaring “but that one was bound to happen – she was passed out in the back of the cab.” (because raping a non-drunk girl would have been more sympathy-inducing.) Of times that girlfriends have shared stories, months, often years later, of ex-boyfriends, of men they’d flirted with, of strangers – fondling them as they lay drunk and incapacitated. Here’s the thing: the inability to voice ‘no’ does not translate to a ‘yes’. The assumption of consent is not consent.
When you make distinctions between cases of sexual assault as those “obvious” ones – the ones that you picture happening with the screaming, protesting victim and the violent perpetrator (both in their senses) – and the ones that happen far more stealthily, under the clandestine covers of alcohol and alcohol-induced amnesia, you are basically saying that one kind of rape is okay while the other absolutely is not.
Why is the Stanford case any different? Why must we make excuses for anything that ‘sounds like, looks like’ consent, but isn’t ACTUALLY consent?
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