After seven years in the higher-ed administration industry, during which I largely dealt with “Title IX” issues, and having largely shepherded my own kids through college unscathed, I now have nieces and nephews on their way into the Octagon that is college life today. I doubt I’ll have a chance to tell them what they need to know, but I might be able to tell their parents.
I want to write something that explains to them what is happening on campuses today, the dangers it poses to their kids, and what they can do to make themselves safe. I’d start with four suppositions:
1. College-age kids, on the whole, have been raised with the assumption that men and women view sex the same way, as the goal of any relationship;
2. College-age kids have been raised in a culture drenched in pornography, and as a result, have very strange ideas about the nature of sexual relationships between adults;
3. Supposition No. 1 notwithstanding, college-age women, in particular, have been raised to believe that sex is scary and dangerous; and
4. College-age kids today have been denied, by overprotective parents, the opportunity to develop the skills needed to negotiate their way through the tangles of human relationships.
This is a recipe for disaster. If you throw raging hormones and free-flowing alcohol into the mix, and toss in the occasional sociopathic predator who hunts for those who are weak and disabled by booze, you will, in the end, find all the tragedy you might want.
Finally, if you add in the belief, apparently common among those coming of age today, that nothing is their own fault and anything bad has to be fixed for them, and for good measure toss in strict instructions to colleges from the Department of Education demanding that they do, in fact, fix anything bad related to sex, because bad things related to sex are seen as discrimination on the basis of sex … well, things get very, very toxic. And kids are not prepared for it.
So, how do you keep your kids from becoming the victim of this toxic culture or the sex police we’ve set up to deal with it? What can we teach them that will keep them safe when we send them off to college? To figure that out, we have to take a look at what leads to the typical Title IX claims of sexual assault, non-consensual sex, stalking, and so on. The variations are endless, but there are a few basic fact patterns.
The single most common complaint by students against students is this: a young woman walks into the Title IX office at her school and announces, “this creepy guy keeps talking to me.” Creepy Guy is a fellow student. They are probably in a class together. The girl probably initiated the relationship by striking up a conversation with this harmless-looking fellow. Creepy Guy is usually socially awkward, sometimes on the autism spectrum, unused to relating to women, unsure of how to proceed but, given that she showed some interest, desperate to do so. He overplays his hand and comes on a little strong, or keeps trying after she initially rebuffs his advances. This makes Creepy Guy, in modern eyes, practically a serial killer. The girl, therefore, is now afraid. The fact that she is afraid, regardless of whether it is reasonable, turns “this creepy guy keeps talking to me” into a claim of sexual harassment or assault, or stalking, under federal law as interpreted by the Department of Education. Cases following this basic fact pattern probably account for a quarter of all incidents reported to Title IX offices.
The second-most common fact pattern involves alcohol consumption leading to apparently consensual sexual activities. The complainant, in heterosexual hook-ups this is almost invariably the girl, is extremely upset that this happened, and claims she was not capable of consenting because she was incapacitated by alcohol. The law in most states and most school policies define incapacitation as a level of intoxication beyond mere drunkenness; intoxication, in fact, to the point of losing the ability to understand where one is and what one is doing. However, common usage among college women seems to define incapacitation as that level of drunkenness where one is likely to do something one wouldn’t do while sober. The allegation that incapacitation rendered the consent invalid must, under federal rules, be investigated. The respondent, almost invariably the boy, is now facing an investigation into an alleged violation of the school’s Title IX policy, and the local police may also be investigating it as a rape. The complainant may demand that the Respondent be removed from campus while the investigation is pending so that the complainant is not made to feel unsafe by the presence of her rapist.
If you are already in this situation, get a lawyer, one who knows this field. But what can you tell your children to help them avoid getting there? I’d like to hear what the Ricochet community thinks. Trust me, I’ve already got “keep it in your pants” and “don’t get sh*t-faced drunk with strangers” covered. I’d like to hear other suggestions, or hear your questions or comments. I think best, and write best, when I am responding to others. Please help me out here.