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Alcohol and Sexual Assault

One of the sad results of the Parker Gilbert trial is the ammunition that it now provides to foes of efforts to prosecute incidents of sexual assault. Many people still describe accusers’ complaints as no more than morning-after regrets of an evening gone wrong.

That said, it seems that almost all cases of assault on campus involve copious amounts of alcohol consumed by both parties. As we’ve written before, when two people hardly know each other, and when both are very drunk, consent is a something of an amorphous concept, at least from a legal point of view. This idea is hardly a new observation. At the British Museum’s Vikings Life and Legend exhibition, the curator highlighted an ever-true aphorism from the Hávamál, a compilation of Old Norse poems:

Viking Saying.jpg

Curiously enough, the press seems to take at face value women’s accusations of their victimization. One of the most prominent figures in the anti-assault movement is Tucker Reed, a former student at USC, who has filed suit for that school’s failure to prosecute her alleged rapist. Reed founded the Student Coalition Against Rape (SCAR) pressure group, and she is often mentioned in the press:

Time Tucker Reed Comp.jpg

And yet, the details of the rape that she alleges bear further analysis. In fact, both USC and the Los Angeles Police refused to press charges against her alleged assailant for want of evidence. Reed, in her own words, describes the incident here:

Tucker Reed.jpg

Reed went so far as to record a post-incident conversation with the fellow student whom she accused of rape, and she put up a website with his picture and the transcript of their conversation, excerpted here:

Tucker Reed Transcript.jpg

REED: I didn’t — I did not — I went — I had you come in with me, and we were naked, and I was gonna give you a blow job and I thought you were going to eat me out. That’s what I thought was gonna happen. And then all of a sudden you were on top of me, and you had your dick in your hands, and you were putting it in me, and it hurt so much, and I was saying, “Don’t do it.” (several sobs) I was saying, “Don’t! No, no!” (sob, sniffles) And you were on me and I was pinned like this. (rustling, gasp) And then I heard (gasp) those two girls come back, and I — I — I was so drunk, and (gasp) I thought, “No, don’t, don’t scream, don’t kick him off you — “
BEAN: We were — we were both so drunk and —
REED: “It will make — it will make noise and they’ll know that you’re a slut and they’ll think that you meant to have sex” and I didn’t, I didn’t! And I thought that it would just be better if it was just over, but you have so much fucking stamina, it went on forever. (three gasps)
BEAN: We — we were both really drunk, okay? (she wails) We were both really drunk, and it was a stupid mistake. It was something that was really fucking dumb.
REED: You didn’t listen to me, you didn’t care enough to listen to me, I was just a hole.
BEAN: I was drunk! I didn’t mean to, you’re not a whore, okay?

In legal terms — if you credit Reed’s description of events with 100% veracity — she was forced to engage in a sexual act against her will. Therefore she was, indeed, raped. Yet, by her own account, she was very drunk when she consensually removed her clothing with an equally drunk and very stimulated boy, and then invited him into her bed. From a moral point of view — as opposed to legal — should one come to the same conclusion of guilt? Without a doubt the rape statutes on the books require that an inebriated and aroused young man respect the law of consent quite perfectly. But is that entirely fair?

People on Dartmouth’s campus occasionally make analogies about sexual assault and car crashes. My contribution would be to suggest that everyone should have the good sense not to get into a car with a very drunk driver — or into bed with an inebriated acquaintance. This axiom applies to men and women both.

Beyond that rhetorical question, the events that befell Taylor Reed lead one to wonder about the Hanlon administration’s new rule of automatic expulsion in the case of rape. Should the College’s system of justice treat Reed’s fact set as equivalent to a case of forcible rape, one accomplished by a sober perpetrator using brute force. Should both crimes be punished to the same extent? Self-evidently there is no bright line in these situations; however, in California the state prosecutor and USC’s administrators did find a distinction as regards Tucker Reed. Do you?

Addendum: As is often the case in the law, we are faced with a language problem. How to define a rule about conduct like the above? Obviously, a boy cannot behave without limits once in bed with an up-until-then willing girl. But at the same time, two thoroughly intoxicated people in bed together are in a situation fraught with the potential for confusion and misunderstanding. Our system of law enforcement accepts that a statute or disciplinary rule needs to be interpreted and enforced on a case-by-case basis; it leaves some room for prosecutorial discretion. Dartmouth’s new policy does not seem to contain the same intelligent suppleness.

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