With campus gender warriors expanding the definition of rape so far as to include virtually all drunk sex followed by morning-after regrets, some of us have long pointed out that under such rules men should get equal or near-equal time as victims.
After all, there’s more than 30 years’ worth of studies showing that when surveys include both sexes, large numbers of men as well as women disclose unwanted sexual experiences due to intoxication. (In one large 2005 survey at the University of New Hampshire, 11 percent of women and 8 percent of men reported having sex when “too drunk to consent” in the past six months.) So how long before we start seeing female students getting kicked out of college for sexually assaulting guys?
More often than not, schools have used blatantly sexist double standards. Testifying in one male student’s lawsuit in 2014, Duke University dean Sue Wasiolek explicitly stated that if both parties are intoxicated, “it is the responsibility … of the male to gain consent before proceeding with sex.” In a particular egregious case at Amherst College in Massachusetts, a male student was expelled even though his female accuser admitted being an active participant in sexual activity while he remembered nothing due to being blackout drunk—which should have made him the victim.
But now, it seems, gender justice is here at last: ladies, you too can have your lives ruined by a complaint over regretted drunk sex! Buzzfeed has a long article on the plight of a young woman identified only by her middle name, Rose, who was expelled from Washington State University after the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) concluded that she had subjected a male student to “unwanted, nonconsensual sexual contact” and was “a danger” to other students.
Documents published by Buzzfeed show that on a night in January 2014, when Rose was midway through her freshman year at WSU, she joined the complainant and several friends of his in drinking games a lounge at the dorm. After a while, Rose and her “victim” went back to her room and started kissing. Rose asked if he had a condom, and the young man went back to the lounge to get one from his friends; one of them later testified that “everyone in the room said, ‘You don’t want to do this,’” but he “laughed and then left.”
Back in Rose’s room, the pair made a fumbling attempt at intercourse and had mutual oral sex, then showered together and continued sexual activity in the shower. (The encounter was briefly interrupted when the male student’s friends knocked on the door to check up on him, ostensibly to say goodnight.) After the shower, the “victim” wanted to leave but Rose kept asking him to wait; eventually, he left to rejoin his friends.
Over the next few days, the young man was repeatedly teased by dorm mates about his drunken tryst with Rose—which Rose believes had to do with the fact that she is short and overweight. Facetious messages urging prayers for him because he’d been “taken advantage of” showed up on a couple of whiteboards on dorm doors. Eventually, this chatter reached a resident adviser, who was obligated to report possible sexual misconduct under Title IX regulations. After a meeting with WSU’s Title IX coordinator, the male student decided to file a complaint.
Rose—who unsuccessfully filed a counter-complaint asserting that she was the one too drunk to consent, though she admitted to Buzzfeed she did so solely to “prove a point”—was summarily ejected from the dorm. In August, she was found “responsible” for several violations of the WSU disciplinary code, including sexual misconduct, reckless endangerment, discrimination and harassment. She was expelled from the university and barred from its campus until 2020.
The letter Rose received from OEO states that the male student’s version was accepted over hers for several reasons. The witnesses testified that he was very drunk, to the point of “slurring his speech, having difficulty balancing, and [being] unable to form clear sentences.” (The letter skips over the fact that one of the three witnesses contradicted this description, saying the complainant seemed “fairly fine” when seen in Rose’s room.) None of them backed Rose’s claim that she herself was badly inebriated, stumbling and “walk[ing] against a wall.” Rose’s admitted clear memory of the night’s events was another strike against her; since the complainant had “at best, spotty” memories, he was judged to have been the more impaired of the two.
Oddly, Rose’s text messages to a friend later that night, confirming her intoxication and asserting that the complainant’s friends had been deliberately trying to get her drunk, were disregarded because, according to the OEO’s document, “it is not clear how the timing of the text messages corresponds to the timing of the events of that evening.” Rose also says that a friend living in the same residence hall who could verify parts of her account was never contacted. And the investigators seem to have given little weight to the fact that the witnesses testifying against Rose were all friends of the complainant’s who seemed disgusted by the idea of their friend being intimate with her.
In the end, the investigation found “insufficient information to determine the amount of alcohol consumed by” Rose—but concluded that, “more likely than not,” she was not too drunk to know what she was doing. On the other hand, the male student was judged to have been so intoxicated that he “lacked the ability to understand the nature or consequences of his actions”—even though he walked from Rose’s room back to the lounge to ask his friends for a condom.
Rose was deemed guilty not only of having sexual contact with the young man when she should have known he was incapable of giving consent, but of making repeated attempts to “isolate” her victim. How? Among other things, she opened the door only a crack when his friends knocked to say goodnight. (Who but a rapist would balk at letting three or four people barge in on a naked make-out session?) And, several hours after the encounter, she sent him a Facebook message saying “I miss you.”
The accounts by the complainant and his witnesses leave little doubt that his drunken tryst with Rose was a bad experience—perhaps especially sordid because, according to him, it was his first time. Both he and his friends said that he didn’t find Rose attractive and would “absolutely not” have had sex with her when sober; his friends testified that immediately after the encounter, he told them he had “screwed up” and “should not have done this.” The complainant himself told investigators he felt “uncomfortable” and “violated” afterward. But this seems to be a fairly clear-cut case of alcohol-clouded judgment, not incapacitation.
And what about Rose, who told Buzzfeed she’d had something of a crush on her “victim”? It’s pretty clear she behaved badly in her quest for his affections, even trying to entice him back to her room by falsely claiming he had left his student ID card there. But the evidence in the case files shows her to be socially awkward and needy, not predatory, and her punishment seems grossly excessive: after being expelled from WSU and having her appeal rejected, she was also denied admission to another nearby university because her record makes her a “risk.”
It is also worth noting that the “victim” in this case, who declined to speak to Buzzfeed, may not have wanted the “assailant” punished at all. He did not pursue a complaint until encouraged to do so by college officials (which is also true of many female accusers); he also asked OEO to drop the case twice, saying he simply wanted was no further contact with Rose. The request was denied.
When I was in college in the 1980s, students were generally expected to handle such unpleasant on their own. If you got drunk and had an awkward sexual experience that made you cringe afterwards, you dealt with it as best you could and chalked it up to a life lesson. To be honest, I still think there is something to be said for that approach. But if we must have parent-like interventions by colleges, surely appropriate intervention in a case like this is counseling for both parties, on everything from alcohol abuse to relationship skills and responsible sexual behavior. Instead, the current Title IX-based system forces schools to play detective, judge and jury and find a culprit and a victim. Then, the culprit must be punished, often with devastating consequences, while the victim is absolved of all accountability.
Perhaps WSU deserves to be commended for its gender-neutral approach. On the other hand, equal-opportunity kangaroo courts are still kangaroo courts. Buzzfeed quotes Colby Bruno, an attorney with the Victim Rights Law Center, as saying that “if the victim truly believed it to be nonconsensual … then expelling [Rose] was the right decision.” But if an offense is determined by the alleged victim’s subjective belief, we have gotten very far away from the rule of law.
Cynthia Garrett, an attorney and board member of Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), a group that champions fairness in campus sexual misconduct cases, expressed “dismay” at the young woman’s expulsion. Garrett, who stressed that FACE advocates for wrongly accused students regardless of gender or sexual orientation, told me in an email, “The facts as publicized indicate the encounter was, at most, a drunken hookup with both parties equally responsible. The case is particularly heart-wrenching because the reported circumstances indicate the young woman was targeted due to her weight, and the intent of the young man and his friends was to humiliate her.”
Most of the college-age feminists posting Facebook comments on the Buzzfeed article have been on the male student’s side, blasting Buzzfeed for its sympathetic portrayal of Rose and angrily insisting that there should be no gender-based double-standards for sexual assault perpetrators or victims. But it’s easy to support a male “survivor” in an isolated case. It’s hard to say what will happen if such cases become more common. Will the feminist establishment try to scale down Title IX overreach, or argue that “patriarchy” and “power dynamics” justify treating men and women differently?
Equal treatment under the law is a basic principle of true feminism. What’s more, there is no question that male victims of sexual assault—sometimes by female perpetrators—deserve more societal attention and support. But neither men nor women are helped by equating regretted drunk sex with rape. And there is something particularly farcical when feminist-driven sexual assault advocacy creates a situation in which a young woman is labeled a rapist for having sex while fat.