The Trouble with Coed Drinking

Libations and lamentations plague the campuses

As an 18-year-old Catholic school graduate away from home for the first time, Alana Maiello was navigating her freshman year at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

With nearly 30,000 students, the university has a population larger than her hometown’s.

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At an off-campus party with her roommates, someone handed her a drink, which she politely declined, having signed BYU’s “No-Alcohol Pledge.” But after some teasing, she decided to be “polite” and sip on it slowly for a while.

As she did, she said a warm feeling swept over her, and her inhibitions began to melt away.

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The cute guy she’d been talking with brought her another drink, and another. He kissed her. And that’s about all she remembers … until she woke up the next morning with blood on her sheets.

Binge drinking by women, defined as four or more drinks during a single occasion, is on the rise — and it’s making women more vulnerable to men.

She said she tried to piece together the events of that night. She remembers making out with the cute guy. She remembers not being able to locate her friends. She remembers telling the guy “no.”

Binge drinking by women, defined as four or more drinks during a single occasion, is on the rise, according to an April report published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Some sociologists say the increase is due to changing social norms that make it more acceptable for women to party like men. But the result is that women are becoming more vulnerable to men.

And it’s happening at a time of heightened — some say hyped — sensitivity to sexual assault on campus.

The recent “Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct” by the Association for American Universities questioned 150,000 students at 27 colleges and universities. The sample size was 779,170, but only 150,000 participated, even with a $5 incentive and a chance for prizes as an enticement for completing the survey.

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Based on this 19 percent response rate, the findings claim that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted while in college. Lost in the headlines over this prediction is the surreptitiously expanded definition of “sexual assault” to include everything from an unwanted kiss, to uninvited touching, to forcible rape.

Lamentable sexual encounters often occur when both parties are very drunk. In addition to the physical hangover, shame and regret fester the morning after. But the cloudy judgment — and memory — that alcohol brings also complicates allegations of sexual misconduct.

But the cloudy judgment — and memory — that alcohol brings also complicates allegations of sexual misconduct.

Despite this reality, rape charges against young men are on the increase, not only by female college students but by college administrators — even when accusers cannot remember the events because of intoxication. Concerned about appearing insensitive to victims, college officials forgo merely enforcing academic discipline, and many times bring on more formal, serious, and even criminal charges.

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The California Legislature even declared sex “a contractual event” and redefined consensual sexual relations as “rape” if it occurs on a college campus. A new California law says silence and a lack of resistance do not signify consent, and drugs or alcohol do not excuse unwanted sexual activity.

What is ignored in the political posturing is practical advice to young, vulnerable students about the dangers of drinking and intoxication in situations where they may be compromised.

Men often perceive women’s friendly behavior as sexual interest, even when it is not intended that way. However, intoxicated women are more likely to have engaged in consensual sexual activities than sober women, study after study finds. Intoxicated women are less likely to realize that by kissing the cute guy at the party, they are encouraging him to expect sex.

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Alcohol’s effects on motor skills limit a woman’s ability to resist physical overpowering or sexual assault. And studies have shown that sober victims are more able to find a way to resist or escape.

Looking back, Maiello agreed that alcohol made her more vulnerable to assault. But she also said she feels strongly that alcohol doesn’t excuse what happened.

“I did not choose to be raped by having a drink that night,” Maiello said. “I told him no.”

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