"Dude, you're drunk. Leave her alone. Eat this pizza."
November 30, 2014 7:12 PM   Subscribe

Nudging College Students to Prevent Rape and Sexual Assault: Would serial offenders have a harder time if more men and women felt personally responsible for stopping them?
An unusual feature of residential life at Pomona was the "sponsor program," wherein two sophomores (one male and one female) are assigned to live in every freshmen hall. Sponsors didn't enforce rules like residence advisors. Indeed, sponsors often used their upperclassmen friends to get fake IDs or knowledge of local liquor stores to help their new freshmen friends to obtain alcohol. But part of sponsor training involved being taught how to help or intervene in circumstances as varied as clinical depression, alcohol poisoning, an eating disorder, or a drug addiction. For the most part, you avoided butting into anyone's business on campus, even if that person was breaking rules. But you also did your best to prevent anything catastrophic from happening, being just slightly older and wiser. Even a light touch could accomplish a lot. "Dude, you're drunk. Leave her alone. Eat this pizza."
"Don't get raped" education is tired and unhelpful. "Don't rape people" education is (many claim) pie-in-the-sky idealism. What if the education focused on bystanders instead? Conor Friedersdorf writes about his own undergraduate experience and whether something like it might be expanded to other colleges.
posted by Lexica (78 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'd mandate that every fraternity designate a board of eight members—two from each pledge class—charged with ensuring that no one is sexually assaulted by their frat brothers and that any assaults that do happen are reported promptly.

So every fraternity comes with a baked-in conflict of interest. I'm sure they'll all understand which of the two is more important when the time comes...
posted by pwnguin at 7:32 PM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


An unusual feature of residential life at Pomona was the "sponsor program,"

Er, isn't that just a fancy name for a resident assistant? Aren't those at like every university?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:34 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bystanders? Like that turkish girl in Germany who was beaten to death by the men she stopped from attacking some 13 year old girls? Yeah, great.

oh wait even better, the plan counts on frats self-policing. lol.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:36 PM on November 30, 2014 [21 favorites]


Er, isn't that just a fancy name for a resident assistant?

The article explains the difference. In fact, the paragraph quoted here on the front page explains the difference.
posted by msalt at 7:37 PM on November 30, 2014 [49 favorites]


So every fraternity comes with a baked-in conflict of interest

Something I've been noticing in some of the greek leaders quoted in articles about the UVa scandal is that some (but clearly not all) of them have clearly figured out that having frats becoming primarily associated with rape is not good for their future career prospects, and they are not on board with continuing to shelter and help the perpetrators. Whether or not that becomes the majority view I don't know, but when even the frat leaders are looking uncomfortable with the status quo, I'm hopeful that change is possible.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:40 PM on November 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I read the summary and the article, but aside from having them be mixed gender (which does seem like a good feature, of course) it sounds like an RA. Our RAs had to take a pretty comprehensive course on the topics Friedersdorf mentions.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:43 PM on November 30, 2014


I recently graduated from Pomona. (Why do I only seem to comment when my college is mentioned?) I think the distinction is that sponsors have no authority to enforce college policy themselves. It makes for a different dynamic. You have no incentive to hide anything from them, for example.
posted by iktomi at 7:50 PM on November 30, 2014 [28 favorites]


OK, I see how that might change things. Thanks.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:53 PM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


oh wait even better, the plan counts on frats self-policing. lol.

Part of the process of changing a predominating culture is putting into place that members of the culture might actually speak out against the dominant current of said culture.

This is likely not going to be the program to create the social change required, but it's certainly one of the steps along the way. Let it reach for the stars -- it will lay cobblestones along the path to the stars regardless.
posted by hippybear at 7:57 PM on November 30, 2014 [17 favorites]


I think that any effort to stem the rape crisis that's going on in this country is a good idea. Whatever the fuck we're doing now sure as hell is not working. But I also wish people would realize that rape is so broad. There are many, many kinds, and many many causes. And trying to find one cure-all to stick over the whole problem like a band aid is just not gonna cut it. We need specific, context-driven solutions and discussions.

This solution will not work in cases where rape is in conjunction with spousal abuse, employed as a tactic of war, in cases of incest, occurrences of stranger assault (as poffin boffin pointed out. The woman in question is Tugce Albayrak, in case anyone wanted to read up on her story), etc.
I do realize that the author was specifically speaking about assault at universities. But even on campuses-not all rape is the same. You've got situations where men are doing it because they are entitled and they want to feel empowered, because they are so far gone down the patriarchy rabbit hole they see women as literal objects, because the girl is too intoxicated to give proper consent, because the man is too drunk to realize the cues from the woman.
Which of these will a bystander have any affect? I mean having someone as a second conscious when one or both parties aren't sober is probably a great deterrent. But as for the others, and what I assume is the cause behind frat rapes (peer pressure, toxic masculinity, etc), I don't think a single outsider's opinion is going to matter much. There's too many other outsider opinions (read as:our entire society) that's telling the rapist the opposite.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:59 PM on November 30, 2014 [8 favorites]


18 U.S. Code section 242. Give the rapist the choice of expulsion and prosecution via the state system or face possible life in federal prison. State DA doesn't want to prosecute? The offender will be begging them to.
posted by Talez at 8:01 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I admire these young people -- when I was in college I was barely keeping myself situated. I did not have the intelligence / emotional intelligence to recognize, "oh this is a bad thing," and "I should do something," and figuring out the something. I could do it now, I think.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:11 PM on November 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Maybe it's time for explicitly teaching children every year that women are not objects and non-white people and non-Americans are not animals. Every year from kindergarten just like fire safety.
posted by bleep at 8:15 PM on November 30, 2014 [44 favorites]


And trying to find one cure-all to stick over the whole problem like a band aid is just not gonna cut it. We need specific, context-driven solutions and discussions.

Well, Friedersdorf does say "These suggestions are hardly cure-alls. But I submit that they're worth trying as part of the broader effort...." I think this is exactly the kind of "specific, context-driven solution" we need to discuss in order to attack the problem... one of the many.

...because the girl is too intoxicated to give proper consent, because the man is too drunk to realize the cues from the woman.
Which of these will a bystander have any affect?

I strongly suspect that this kind of bystander intervention is what got Peter Yu kicked out of Vassar a couple years ago. That case is controversial (so controversial it's a bit difficult to find links that aren't from right-wing websites). But I suspect the case hinged on bystander intervention and testimony that Yu was reasonably sober while the woman he had sex with was falling-down drunk.

I mean that's just one of many cases. To change the culture, you have to start raising students' awareness--not that rape happens (duh), but about the myriad ways it happens and what the warning signs are. I like how Friedersdorf explains how his own perspective shifted just from his freshman to his sophomore year.

It's been said many times here (probably most recently by me, yesterday!)--but bystander education/intervention is one of the top methods RAINN recommends for reducing campus sexual assault.

Interesting link, Lexica, thanks.
posted by torticat at 8:21 PM on November 30, 2014 [11 favorites]


I don't think a single outsider's opinion is going to matter much.

Maybe, but I think it's worth trying, at least. God knows schools have been doing basically the same thing since I was in college 25 years ago and things don't seem to have changed a whole lot.
posted by rtha at 8:24 PM on November 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't think a single outsider's opinion is going to matter much.

Maybe, but I think it's worth trying, at least. God knows schools have been doing basically the same thing since I was in college 25 years ago and things don't seem to have changed a whole lot.
posted by rtha at 1:24 AM on December 1 [+] [!]


I agree, rtha, which is why I started my entire comment with "I think that any effort to stem the rape crisis that's going on in this country is a good idea. Whatever the fuck we're doing now sure as hell is not working. " The part of my comment you quoted wasn't meant as a standalone. The sentence right after it was meant to bring up a wider-ranging problem- it's not that one bystander or one rapist is the cause or the solution to the issue, it's that society-at-large has the wrong mentality, and we also need to be addressing that.
posted by FirstMateKate at 8:33 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


The sponsor thing is a good idea, but there needs to be more boots on the ground. I'm a 32 year old woman, and I know at some point in college I read (in a magazine? RAINN literature? I have no idea where although it certainly wasn't encouraged by the school or any policies) a suggestion that women should check in with other women they see out at bars who are clearly drunk and make sure that they have a safe way home. There were several times that I saw a classmate at a bar, completely wasted, and I non-creepily made sure she was OK going home with the guy she was hanging onto or asked if she wanted to split a cab or crash on my couch. No one ever took me up on it but all I ever got was wildly enthusiastic thank yous for my concern and huge hugs. I like to think that maybe they remembered me asking and paid it forward to someone else.

I mean, I find it kind of horrifying that we live in a society where an acquaintance needs to ask you "Hey, are you OK going home with that guy?" - it shouldn't be my business. But I think the reason I got hugs instead of "fuck offs" is because women realize that it is an effective safety check and reinforces the "Yes means Yes!" mentality where women control their own destinies by making affirmative choices as opposed to having things just happen to them.
posted by gatorae at 8:38 PM on November 30, 2014 [45 favorites]


The part of my comment you quoted wasn't meant as a standalone.

Sorry, yeah - I didn't mean to imply that it was. I was more jumping off from it, but re-reading my comment, that's unclear.
posted by rtha at 8:47 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


[The "the rape victim should have done x" line of argumentation is one that generally doesn't fly in polite company, sorry. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 9:00 PM on November 30, 2014 [25 favorites]


I think the distinction is that sponsors have no authority to enforce college policy themselves. It makes for a different dynamic. You have no incentive to hide anything from them, for example.

Yes, with the caveat that they are presumably going to be mandatory reporters, just like RAs are. (The ambiguous status of RAs as both employees and advocates creates some controversial situations, however.)

But while that arguably weakens the argument for creating these "sponsor" positions in dorms, it suggests that requiring frats to have a bunch of mandatory reporters (perhaps all elected officers?) living in the frat and at all frat events might be a very good idea. That creates significant legal liability for the university and for those individuals if they do not follow through on that duty when they hear or see something bad happening, which currently is not happening at all with frats.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:06 PM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


Encouraging bystander intervention is a good policy, but it's not attacking the root of the problem. All-male fraternities are given monopoly control over all opportunities to socialize with alcohol. You cannot curb the misuse of fraternity power unless you break the back of the monopoly that makes their power possible.
posted by jonp72 at 9:31 PM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


There's a comment that I can't seem to come up with the right set of keywords to search for where someone mentioned that their college would hire older folks from the community to have someone to sit at the front desk 24/7, partly to be on hand for emergencies but also just to provide the feel of some kind of adult presence.

Obviously neither that nor the "sponsor" system is a total solution, but having people who have some training with intervention but who are still "cool" enough to be present at events involving alcohol is a step forward.

(that said, I remember discretely warning a female "sponsee" that a particular guy who'd cornered her at a Halloween party was sketchy and best watched closely. was where I was like "oh this is a dude writing" and scrolled up to check, because, seriously, I can't imagine a woman ever naming this as an accomplishment instead of part of everyday college life ahahaha everything is terrible.)
posted by kagredon at 9:47 PM on November 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think that any effort to stem the rape crisis that's going on in this country is a good idea. Whatever the fuck we're doing now sure as hell is not working.

Interestingly 2003 - 2010 the number of reported rapes in the US dropped from 94k to 87k, and there was a 60% decline in sexual violence against women from 1995 - 2010.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:57 PM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Sebmojo, with respect, so fucking what? Is 87k not a "crisis"?
posted by kagredon at 10:11 PM on November 30, 2014


I think maybe Sebmojo is trying to suggest that something somewhere is working, a tiny bit?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:16 PM on November 30, 2014 [16 favorites]


ok, fair enough. Sorry.
posted by kagredon at 10:21 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Bystander intervention is a good thing, but nudging is and will remain a stupid idea pushed by bureaucracies without the will or the money to actually tackle a problem at the root.

Rape and sexual assault needs to be handled like drunk driving was handled twenty-thirty years ago, by enforcing existing laws against them better, writing better ones and making thoroughly clear that any kind of sexual harassment is immoral.

With drunk driving, we went from widespread tolerance of it while paying lip service to the idea that driving drunk is bad -- but I don't do that, you're not drunk on just a couple of pints -- to wide acceptance of the idea that any alcohol before driving is too much. It's far from perfect of course, but strict enforcement of drunk driving laws as well as large scale campaigns about it did result in a sea change in attitude.

The same can and should happen with the idea of sexual assault: instead of thinking about it only in terms of strangers down dark allies getting used to the idea that any sort of pressuring people into sex is not done as well as coming down hard on rapists. Currently it seems we're still not in a situation in which even blatantly obvious rape cases get prosecuted consistently, let alone more subtle forms of sexual harassment, which needs to change first.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:59 PM on November 30, 2014 [33 favorites]


Here's my suggestion: Lower the drinking age to 16 and raise the driving age to 21. While the latter has some logistical issues in terms of insurance and how you learn, the main point would be to have young adults develop a more healthy relationship with alcohol while (normatively) they are under the supervision of their parents. Given that intoxication is a large factor in many of these cases of rape, college students that have already had an opportunity to test their limits and aren't running hog wild with the combination of being out of their parents immediate supervision and a new found easy access to alcohol might make better choices when drinking in social situations. It would also mean such activity had to be "underground" to a certain extent.

The driving thing is mostly because I don't want someone who's inexperienced and just started drinking behind the wheel of a car for my own selfish reasons of not wanting to die. But there might also be some practical effects in limiting the mobility of people just starting to acclimate their bodies to drinking.

Just a thought.
posted by FlowerPuppy at 11:27 PM on November 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


2003 - 2010 the number of reported rapes in the US dropped from 94k to 87k

Emphasis mine.

In that same period of time, the internet as brought us much closer together. I wouldn't be suprised if that also meant an intensifying of the social pressures women feel that have lead up to 95% of rapes going unreported.
posted by Reyturner at 11:49 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think maybe Sebmojo is trying to suggest that something somewhere is working, a tiny bit?

Or maybe women aren't reporting it as much anymore.
posted by discopolo at 11:56 PM on November 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


With drunk driving, we went from widespread tolerance of it while paying lip service to the idea that driving drunk is bad ..... strict enforcement of drunk driving laws as well as large scale campaigns about it did result in a sea change in attitude.

But MartinWisse, enforcement of drunk driving laws is based on measurement. The cut-offs are necessarily arbitrary, though based on knowledge about which blood alcohol levels cause how much impairment--but BAL is measured for purposes of enforcement nevertheless.

That's not a possibility with matters of sexual assault, where testimony instead of measurement plays the larger role in enforcement. Sure, harsher penalties cut down on drunk driving. There's a fairly easy mechanism for that. Where are the easy mechanisms for determining whether sexual assault or rape has happened (especially, not to mix your metaphors, where alcohol is involved)?
posted by torticat at 12:00 AM on December 1, 2014


FWIW, the fact about sexual assault rates declining 60% is supported by RAINN, who I doubt would tout that fact if they had any reason to believe that it was due to lower reporting rates.
posted by lunasol at 12:11 AM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


I feel like maybe the internet bringing us closer together is a force for good, here. Not just the proliferation of awareness around social justice issues and rape culture in general, but as a place for victims of assault to find support and strength with each other, that may well lead to increased reporting rates even as overall numbers are declining.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:17 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


In that same period of time, the internet as brought us much closer together. I wouldn't be suprised if that also meant an intensifying of the social pressures women feel that have lead up to 95% of rapes going unreported.

That's an interesting perspective, Reyturner. I would have thought the opposite--that those numbers probably represent a brighter picture than the stats suggest--because the number of reported rapes has gone down at the same time that reporting has gained social support AND the definition of rape has expanded to include types of assault that in previous decades rarely would have been reported (marital rape, date rape, rape under the influence).

I tried to figure this out a bit looking at the page sebmojo linked but had a hard time arriving at any conclusions. BJS reports that sexual violence against women declined 64% from 1995 to 2005 and then held steady until 2010.

The study also says:
In 1995, 29 percent of rape or sexual assault victimizations against females were reported to the police. This percentage increased to 56 percent in 2003 before declining to 35 percent in 2010.

How do they determine how many assaults are NOT reported? And do they adjust the numbers to arrive at the general statement "sexual violence against women declined 64% from 1995 to 2005" to account for the varying percentages of assaults reported in each of those years?

I was interested to see that the percentage of "stranger danger" rapes has remained constant. I would have thought that with increasing attention to date rate and marital rape and incapacitated rape--Seems like the percentage of stranger rape should be falling as these other forms are increasingly reported.
posted by torticat at 12:24 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


How do they determine how many assaults are NOT reported?

I think the usual method is to compare anonymous surveys/contacts with RAINN e.g. with police statistics.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:28 AM on December 1, 2014


And then there's some kind of metric they use, pulling all that together, to build off reported assaults and reach the number of total assaults by which they claim assaults are down 64%? I'd like to see that spreadsheet. Not sure I trust that number at all.
posted by torticat at 12:35 AM on December 1, 2014


Sweden is an interesting study, and I'd love to hear from any Swedish Mefites on this subject. As I understand it, Sweden's rape stats have shot up over the past decade as the country has expanded its definitions and law enforcement has taken the issue seriously enough to count each individual case rather than counting by victim. I'm not clear on which of those has contributed most to Sweden's high rape stats, but I can't think of that approach as anything but good. Since I think we all know Sweden probably doesn't have a disproportionate number of rapists, it's good to see they are honestly labeling the ones they have--even when it makes the country look bad compared to others.
posted by torticat at 12:48 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


Couple articles on how they're calculated: 1, methodology used by the BJS, more from the BJS (2013 report highlights and changes; PDF), another PDF from BJS, and a study from Kent State in the mid 80s for comparison.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:49 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


'Dude have some pizza' is unfortunately an anecdote that marginalises the real problem, which is that colleges in America are failing to teach personal responsibility.

The key question to ask is "who benefits from rape culture?"

I have a feeling that the answer starts with the colleges themselves. Not intentionally, of course, but they are very adept at managing complexity, navigating regulation, balancing finances – essentially running small cities.

Why does 'rape culture' exist? The clean answer is 'because it is allowed to exist'.

The answer to the next question, 'why is it allowed to exist?' is much more difficult because it requires looking at a variety of stakeholders, many who make great profits from university culture as it is today.
posted by nickrussell at 1:26 AM on December 1, 2014


As a foreigner who knows little I find it hard to understand why fraternities even exist.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 AM on December 1, 2014 [6 favorites]


2003 - 2010 the number of reported rapes in the US dropped from 94k to 87k

I also would wonder if this was about a drop in reporting rather than a drop in incidences. But then in the UK there was a recent story that 1 in 5 crimes that are reported aren't even recorded by Police in England and Wales. 26% of sexual offences which are reported are not recorded. 37 rape allegations were not recorded as a crime. I don't know if it's possible that this is also happening in some places in the US.

As to the FPP, it definitely seems like a small step towards what feels like a necessary collective responsibility for dismantling rape culture. The onus has to shift towards protecting each other and calling out/shaming unacceptable behaviour, and far far away from victim-blaming.
posted by billiebee at 3:21 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


While the latter has some logistical issues in terms of insurance and how you learn how large numbers of Americans get to school and work

But yeah you're not wrong, the whole intersection of drinking age and driving age is problematic. OTOH, driving age is drifting upwards with the latest teen cohort who seem to find it too much hassle to start driving at 16.

As a foreigner who knows little I find it hard to understand why fraternities even exist.

American colleges are a lot more residential than European colleges (which are more often in big cities and students don't live "on campus") and I think that's a big part of it.

But also, money. And alumni donors.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:42 AM on December 1, 2014


As a foreigner who knows little I find it hard to understand why fraternities even exist.
posted by Segundus at 1:29 AM on December 1 [1 favorite +] [!]


This article goes into the history and problems deeply. But basically the Greek system is as old as most American universities. Frats provide/provided tangible benefits like housing as well as things like alcohol, social status, and supposedly career connections. A few colleges and universities have banned them but most won't, not least because lobbying has ensured that public universities are obligated not to restrict membership in social organizations.
posted by vogon_poet at 5:24 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


In line with the excellent rape prevention video from New Zealand that (I think) was posted here last year.
posted by gaspode at 5:30 AM on December 1, 2014


American colleges are a lot more residential than European colleges (which are more often in big cities and students don't live "on campus") and I think that's a big part of it.

Oxford and Cambridge both have a culture where students associate themselves with a "college" within the university. The colleges are not only a residential thing but also have professors associated with them; they have very strong identities and the students have to apply to and be accepted by a college rather than the university itself. I'm not aware of any unusually rapey associations of these places - that is to say, not more so than the average university environment.

Other campus-based universities here often attempt to emulate the college system because of the prestige associated with it, but to my knowledge it mostly falls flat and the students ignore it entirely.
posted by emilyw at 5:33 AM on December 1, 2014


> How do they determine how many assaults are NOT reported? And do they adjust the numbers to arrive at the general statement "sexual violence against women declined 64% from 1995 to 2005" ...

Seems like the percentage of stranger rape should be falling as these other forms are increasingly reported.


The BJS is using data from an ongoing national survey of US residents, the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). They're not going by reports made to the police. They arrived at their figures for the percentage of rapes reported to the police by asking victims if they reported it.
The NCVS is the largest data collection on criminal victimization independent of crimes reported by law enforcement agencies ... During 2010, about 81,950 households and 146,570 persons were interviewed for the NCVS. The NCVS is a self-reporting survey with the first interview conducted in-person. Follow-up in-person or telephone interviews are conducted every six-months for three years.
The NCVS data is available here, along with more info about the survey.
posted by nangar at 5:34 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think maybe Sebmojo is trying to suggest that something somewhere is working, a tiny bit?

Not to be a downer, but I don't think those figures show that anything is working, or at least not specifically in terms of sexual violence. Violent crime as a whole has been on a decline since the late 1980s, due to any of a number of factors, of which decrease of lead in the environment is considered a cause. Sexual violence seems to have fallen at the same general rate as everything else, and as a number of recent FPPs have shown, both reporting from survivors and the (in)action of law enforcement is still a huge factor in justice being served.

Sweden is an interesting study, and I'd love to hear from any Swedish Mefites on this subject. As I understand it, Sweden's rape stats have shot up over the past decade as the country has expanded its definitions and law enforcement has taken the issue seriously enough to count each individual case rather than counting by victim. I'm not clear on which of those has contributed most to Sweden's high rape stats, but I can't think of that approach as anything but good.

One of the Holder DOJ's more impressive achievements has been the expansion of what constitutes sexual violence for federal law enforcement and judicial offices away from the "forcible" definition so beloved amongst Troglodyte-Americans. Many states have incorporated similar language into their own laws as well, although it appears to be too soon to tell whether the US will see a similar uptick as Sweden did. DC may be a leading indicator though, because the year after adopting the new definition, they saw a 67% increase in reported rapes, and would have seen 22% more the previous year under the new definition. Part of that is attributed to a rise in the percentage of survivors reporting, which is a small step in the right direction. While any reduction is good, I think there is still a very long way to go before we can say that anything is having a significant impact on lessening the prevalence of sexual violence and the acceptance of it in our culture.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:41 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, teaching people how to not rape, coerce, or pressure sex out of unwilling partners-including teaching that heavy drinking can result in certain people losing control of their better judgement and committing acts of assault without even realizing it is extremely important.

Heavy drinking is really a pretty toxic behavior, not just because of the health effects but because people who drink to the point they do not have full control of their faculties can be dangerous to themselves and others. I sort of think we should switch from having bars to baby sitting facilities, where people who want to drink to a stupor can, while being supervised.

Of course I see so many problems even with that idea because humans are just so terrible-- who will be doing the supervising and how do you make sure the supervisors don't abuse the people who are inebriated? Cameras?

I mean, I get that heavy drinking is a critical part of life fora lot of people, especially at college age, but I sort of question if that's really true or if it's just true at the time? Or if there's a way we could do this as a society that would allow heavy drink under supervised conditions? Make all cars unable to start unless someone passes a breathalizer test? And while we're at it measure WHO passed it so that if some truly sick individual fake passes the test so a drunk person can drive they can be held accountable because that would be horrible.

Now- granted I think there are a LOT of rapes that are carried out by deliberate repeat offenders from some research, and helping people not "accidentally" rape others will not necessarily stop that but it will make it harder to excuse rape behavior as stemming from ignorance or drunkeness.

Also I since human brains don't even develop fully til 32 on average, I sort of wonder if we are pre-emptively giving a lot more responsibility than kids can handle either to not rape or get raped or not drunk drive. Maybe humans should be living at home during college years? I think the problem is that parents have enough of a hard time controlling teens who have the physical capacity to do what they want. But we could start looking at college kids as... kids... and treating them as such? I know some individuals mature faster than others, but I think we are therefore giving all people a lot more freedom than many can handle, and I wonder how many actually are as mature as they thing they are vs simply feel that way?

I don't know these are just random ideas. I mean, I think fraternities are too toxic to be redeemed personally, but since they do still exist I support all positive changes that can be made. But yeah they also need to be teaching everyone in the frat house how not to rape, that heavy drinking might put you at risk of raping someone and if that happens you still have to go to jail, just because you were drunk does not mean it is ok. If you are not comfortable putting people who drunkenly raped or drove drunk in jail than perhaps you should not be advocating anyone drink heavily especially unsupervised. Choosing to get shitface drunk is sort of a sociopathic decision in a lot of ways, but humanity at large still celebrates it so I understand why the youth think there's nothing wrong with it.

And then people feel bad for rapists because they think "what if I had done that while drunk,and I didn't even mean to?" or "what if I pressured someone but I didn't mean to hurt them, I just wanted sex"?

I actually feel really bad for people who commit terrible crimes for Reasons, and there are often Reasons, that a person who committed a crime may not have meant to cause the terrible damage they did or their instincts/ignorance/lack of insight and awareness into the welfare of others overpowered them. All of which we could be doing better at looking at clearly in advance of those causes bringing about terrible actions in people and safegaurding against them. Because many of the ideologies and cultural practices that drive harmful and wreckless and negligent behaviors are celebrated in various cultures and could be dealt with at the level of ideology and cultural behaviors before they become harmful actions.
posted by xarnop at 6:45 AM on December 1, 2014


Other campus-based universities here often attempt to emulate the college system because of the prestige associated with it, but to my knowledge it mostly falls flat and the students ignore it entirely.

Well, the money certainly helps. Some of the colleges have huge endownments (Trinity College Cambridge is the obvious standout, but some of the others are also very rich) & not only spend the income internally but also distribute some of it to the other colleges, so there's a fair amount of extra money that flows into the colleges which gets spent on grants, fellowships, food for the fellows etc etc.

But my impression is that most of the universities that go down this route fail to go far enough - OxBridge colleges are legally independent institutions in their own right with their own playing fields, dining facilities, residential accommodation for both undergraduates and research staff, bars, social clubs and so on. Some teaching is also carried out by the colleges themselves - lectures and practicals are carried out by the university but tutorials generally happen within colleges, usually taught by research fellows or post-grads who are members of the college in question. Each college also generally has 24-hour supervision of the college buildings by (usually ex-military in my experience) regular staff who are employed on long term contracts.

The result of this is that, whilst I'm not going to pretend for a second that OxBridge colleges are some kind of sexual assault free paradise, there is at least a mix of people of all ages and on-site supervision by college authorities which hopefully goes a long way towards reigning in the worst excesses that I've read about in US frat culture.
posted by pharm at 6:46 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


I also think our society has created a system where almost deliberately there is no one specifically in charge of teaching kids values. The school and society in general thinks that's the parents job, but society instills the idea that all parents should be working a full time or longer schedule and many just don't have that much time or energy left to build meaningful relationships with their kids, not to mention, having not been taught much about values themselves they might not even know what that would look like or what to teach. Our culture values don't build the time and resources to do this into the ideal structure.

We have largely culturally agreed here in the states that the churches no longer should be in charge of human development and the teaching of ethics, however where it's supposed to happen instead has not really been implemented. And if we don't prioritize supporting this happening with structural supports and funds for someone to do it (be that parents or in schools or ideally both), it will not just spontaneously happen. Life is hard and many are struggling with their own demons. We are stronger when we seek to work on cultural issues like this together.

Americans also have a really strong resistance to the idea of morals and norms that oppress the freedom to do whatever we want regardless of who we harm or fail to aid by choosing the path of our own urges over working together. There is a balance there between ideologies that sound like screechy teens demanding the right to party and watch porn, and oppressive dictatroships where every aspect of life is controlled and great suffering results. Either end of that is very unpleasant.

I like freedom, but with the power of freedom comes great responsibility... and our culture really prioritizes freedom for everyone not just those who are responsible with it. Something to examine a bit, maybe. We have a hard time imprisoning rapists and dangerous people because we think maybe being imprisoned is worse than being raped or assaulted- and when conditions are bad enough in prisons it's possible, though I have not examined any attempts at just measurement, that is the case (in terms of physical and psychological damage done in the long run). If so, we should make prisons as humane as we possibly can- and start getting more comfortable sending people there when it's needed. And also get square the reality of how many people endure lifelong damage from sexual assault and rape.

We send people mixed messages because often we want to send public messages to survivors of hope, that everything can get better and be fine-- but this sends a message to people AROUND survivors that everything can be fixed if you just do the right therapy or have the right attitude and this is sometimes, but certainly not always, the case, and some forms of damage from trauma may have biological long term effects even when the person is functioning pretty close to normal.

I think a lot of people are in denial of how grave and serious the long term effects are that we're talking about for many, and it's hard to figure out how to get the public to understand that and prioritize preventing assault without also making things worse for survivors because those who are seen to have "damage" often thus receive stigma from many in society. It's a difficult balancing act.
posted by xarnop at 7:11 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


xarnop: "But we could start looking at college kids as... kids... and treating them as such? I know some individuals mature faster than others, but I think we are therefore giving all people a lot more freedom than many can handle, and I wonder how many actually are as mature as they thing they are vs simply feel that way?"

I dunno, I went to a college (with no frats) that still had a strong in loco parentis ethos, down to nuns in the dorms, and there was a huuuuuuuge problem drinking culture there. In fact I think it was enabled by treating college kids as "kids" because we existed in a sort-of consequence-free state where there was still a parent available to fix all problems and very few actions had real-world consequences.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:39 AM on December 1, 2014 [3 favorites]


I haven't known nuns to teach responsible drinking very well in my experience with 10 years in the catholic school ...

I mean... maybe harm reduction and responsibility rather than abstinence/shaming would help a bit with that? Also the church in general has failed abysmal to teach about healthy sexuality and I would never want them to be entrusted with that. Starting with the concept that sex is impure, holy people must stay "pure" and bad sinners can do bad sex as long as they marry and keep their dirty little secret unspoken and shameful.

I completely agree with you that a consequence free environment is problematic, however how much power to harm innocent people do we need to give young people so they get to learn- by hurting innocents, about their own power to harm? And does hurting OTHERS actually cause that learning to happen better? Most learn at least a bit when they hurt themselves but often when they hurt others they don't innately have an incentive to fix it if they don't feel like it (here is where consequences fits in).

While at the time the drinking problem culture was an issue-- have all of those kids grown into adults with drinking problems or did they outgrow it? I mean does letting people get hurt make them into better people, and which innocent people do we want to die in car crashes or get raped so that young people get these apparently necessary learning experiences?

I agree with you eyebrows the model you describe sounds problematic in some ways but I also find the church problematic to begin with so I'm not sure which part of it actually makes the idea problematic.
posted by xarnop at 7:50 AM on December 1, 2014


I guess what I mean is, is it really bad for young people to have a safe space to get drunk and do some stupid things without any terrible consequences happening until they mature a bit more to really understand those consequences? Will having that safe space cause them to stop maturing or could that have actually turned out to be a good thing for everyone involved? I would be willing to bet that even without witnessing deaths and lifelong prison sentences, most of those people managed to mature and grow and even gained in empathy and an understanding of ethics and consequences. I would be interested in studies though. Maybe witnessing horrible tragedies and lifelong consequences (obviously to someone else because if your life is ruined your learning process is no longer really an issue) but so someone else has to go through those consequences in front of you for you to learn to respect they exist.

Maybe so. They die and live lifelong sufferings for us to learn that some actions cause death and lifelong suffering. I also feel like that's a self repeating cycle. Or we could just seek to minimize cultural practices that lead to early death and lifelong suffering. But there are people we are choosing to expose to danger for the sake of everyone one else, and something about that really sucks. I hope some day we learn how to teach ethics without deliberately using real world suffering and death as our only method of achieving such learning.
posted by xarnop at 8:06 AM on December 1, 2014


I also think our society has created a system where almost deliberately there is no one specifically in charge of teaching kids values

We had institutions and traditions that grew up over thousands of years, which served to transmit society's values between the generations. But when we invented mechanisation and contraception and relatively safe childbirth, we changed so fundamentally what it means to be human, and particularly what it means to be a male and/or female human, that many of our values became meaningless, and our traditions were suddenly outdated or even harmful. The act of preserving the old values became the act of resisting necessary changes in society, and our institutions have been lucky to survive at all.

What use is a protestant work ethic, when automation means there is less and less of what we call "work" to go around? What use is protecting the women under your care, when the consequences of people's natural desires are no longer so viciously damaging to women? What use is "family values" in the sudden absence of deep biologically enforced gender divisions? What purpose does the class system serve now, or even the capitalist system?

When society becomes relatively stable, then perhaps we can have relatively stable values and we can form new institutions to convey them down the ages. But I don't think we're done changing yet.
posted by emilyw at 8:19 AM on December 1, 2014 [13 favorites]


Oh I agree- teaching empathy does not mean dictating rules, but generating awareness of the experience of others. I don't think people naturally do this, we often need a bit of help to grow this trait and the logic and self-awareness to seek facts and understanding of diverse needs and experiential states and how to best support them in ourselves and others. If ethics means dictated behaviors, there is no way to set such things into stone and have them promote well being or harmony or love. But to teach ongoing engagement with the welfare of ones inner self and body and the welfare of those around you who may have different needs and experiences along with the knowledge of how to promote that- that will probably be a good thing even alongside large changes we are going through culturally.

Compassion even now can endure, but it's form must match the needs of the person or entity you are seeking to provide it to.
posted by xarnop at 8:30 AM on December 1, 2014


Sorry to be mildly off-topic (I think I'm on the shoulder of the topic here -- maybe even on the rumble strip), but can someone explain why fraternities have a "monopoly on social events with alcohol" on college campuses? I'm not familiar with this aspect of US undergraduate life. What stops anyone from throwing a party with alcohol? And if everyone is not allowed, why are fraternities exempt?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:32 AM on December 1, 2014


If only I had a penguin...: "can someone explain why fraternities have a "monopoly on social events with alcohol" on college campuses?"

You can't throw big parties in a dorm room (well, you can, but not as big as you can in a house), and when you're in school-provided housing, like dorms, there are swipe cards and guards and rules and you may face losing your housing if you're caught underaged with beer.

Freshmen, who are 18, typically are required to live on campus at residential colleges (i.e., the types of places with frats). School-sponsored events will be "dry" because the majority of students are underage; privately-run events using school facilities will also be "dry." (The school does not want to pay the insurance on events with alcohol, basically.) Frats own their houses and so don't have to have "dry" events. Freshmen (in particular) who want access to alcohol either need a fake ID or access to older students and their alcohol; frats are pretty much the only "open access" place to go party where underaged students can drink. Otherwise you're going to need to know the person throwing the party, or you're going to need a fake ID.

There's typically some security theater frats perform to show they're not giving alcohol to minors (wristbands at the door! dry events!), but it's totally security theater. Around here the cops bust up frat parties a couple of times a year, just to show the neighbors they're doing something, but your chances of getting caught drinking are way, way higher if you're hitting the local bars with a fake ID. Bar owners don't want to lose their liquor licenses for serving minors too obviously.

There was an interesting article not too long ago on mefi about how national fraternities structure themselves to basically completely avoid financial liability for illegal underage drinking; that option isn't available to the college itself or to bar owners, so they have considerably more incentive to police underage drinking.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:49 AM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Bystanders? Like that turkish girl in Germany who was beaten to death by the men she stopped from attacking some 13 year old girls? Yeah, great.

No kidding, let someone else be responsible for you and your actions. Takes the responsibilities right out of the rapist's grubby hands. "Well, no one stopped me; so it is someone else's fault."

I don't know when society just decided to be passively immoral, but this tripe is just disgusting. You have a serious problem here and no "education campaign" is going to get a single person to change his or her ways.

Attack it head on, period with actions that have real impact and consequences. Almost every university has a psychology department -- let's make use of those studies so we can justify why we have those institutions around in the first place.

Because if they can't solve that problem, what else can't they solve?
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


What happened in Germany is a tragedy. My understanding of what colleges are now attempting, in an effort to prevent sexual assaults, is not what, traditionally, others might understand as bystander intervention. It isn't running in, hands on hips, yelling "You shall not pass!", but instead redirecting (Dude, have a piece of pizza) and interfering in small and very subtle ways. Essentially, rather than asking students to do something that, in their eyes, might be seen as asking them to be the "bad guy," instead, asking them to have just enough courage to take a step toward making sure someone is less likely to be in danger. I don't know enough about fraternity culture to know if even these small steps are too much to ask of "brothers."
posted by youdontmakefriendswithsalad at 10:16 AM on December 1, 2014


Fraternities also seem odd in that they're (generally) male-exclusive organizations that have persisted in having both high profile and social importance. Outside of fraternities, it seems like most male-only organizations have faded in importance or operate outside of public scrutiny as much as possible.

Why is it still acceptable for college fraternities to operate in this way, where there's been social pushback to male-only organizations elsewhere? There's been some, but clearly not enough to actually impact the practice. Is it because college fraternities aren't seen as important enough to merit that kind of pushback?
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:40 AM on December 1, 2014


I don't know when society just decided to be passively immoral,

Basically when we fell out of the trees, maybe before. Sexual assault and abuse of women and girls is not some OH MY GOD NEW thing that a suddenly immoral society just invented. There was not some golden age when there were "real impact and consequences" for raping and assaulting women and girls.
posted by rtha at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2014 [10 favorites]


Would serial offenders have a harder time if more men and women felt personally responsible for stopping them?

YES, YES, YES!!!! Just heard about this research today on SiriusXM Public Radio. Until they mature, adolescents and young adults are hugely influenced by peer expectations and approval. The majority who don't think it's all right to rape need to be encouraged to pressure and monitor the small minority who do or who might.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:13 AM on December 1, 2014 [7 favorites]


And on the flip side, groups of adolescent boys -- such as in frats -- tend to egg each other on to be more "outrageous" or extreme until someone crosses the line, and then they laugh and talk about it. Simultaneously, they're trying to show they're men and define that in terms of sexual prowess. It's an age-specific and toxic dynamic that dovetails horribly with frats, with an us-against-the-world mentality.

Speaking as someone who went to an all-male high school that integrated just as I was graduating, it's really interesting to imagine what the Greek system would look like if it went co-ed.
posted by msalt at 11:27 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Why is it still acceptable for college fraternities to operate in this way, where there's been social pushback to male-only organizations elsewhere?"

Partly because they provide housing, and most Americans think college students should at least have access to single-sex housing, if that is their comfort level. People don't get as upset about the male-only social club aspect because it's so tightly intertwined with the male-only housing.

Also, I assume, because sororities are seen as giving women the same benefits, removing inequality in opportunity. Which, I don't think it does, but ...
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:01 PM on December 1, 2014


This may have been said up-thread, but making the legal drinking age 18 would vastly diminish the power of frats in college social life. And just generally be a good idea.
posted by ohisee at 12:24 PM on December 1, 2014


The drinking age was 18 for a long time.
posted by brujita at 12:28 PM on December 1, 2014


The drinking age was 18 for a long time.

And, unfortunately, we don't know if the rape rate was higher or lower then, because the culture has changed so much and even now reporting is nowhere near 100%.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:30 PM on December 1, 2014


I can see one major snagging point of adoption for this kind of bystander intervention. Most of the guys engaging in this reprehensible behaviour would view bystander involvement as cockblocking, with a social cost stemming therefrom.

That isn't to say this is a bad idea or it shouldn't happen! It's to say that being the cockblocker--again, this is not how I see such actions, but how many of the men involved would--needs to be made to be seen as a major social good. I can also see a tension with the approbation against 'white knighting.' These tensions can be resolved, I'm just not sure how.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:31 PM on December 1, 2014


Sorry to be mildly off-topic (I think I'm on the shoulder of the topic here -- maybe even on the rumble strip), but can someone explain why fraternities have a "monopoly on social events with alcohol" on college campuses?

They don't at all schools. I drank *a lot* in college but never went to a frat party. I was in a college music scene so we had keg parties in off-campus houses with loud bands.

I don't think it does college women any favors to be reductionist about their college experiences the way this debate has been lately.

I've also been pondering about who is speaking up for young victims of assault who *don't* attend college. Makes me sad.

My sexual assault in college was by my boyfriend, in his room in an off-campus house. Bystanders would not have helped.

As for childhood education, I've had this sort of idea about how we should teach "body sanctity" to kids. Someone could probably come up with a better term. But to teach kids that we don't ever, ever touch other people without their permission would be great.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:36 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Having only gone to schools in large urban areas (well, Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis) I think that the sway of fraternities is really only a problem if the school dominates the town (so, schools in the middle of nowhere). If there are plenty of ways to get drunk and hook up without going to a frat, people will do that. There are still fraternities at schools in cities, but they don't dominate the social scene as much.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:52 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


Having only gone to schools in large urban areas (well, Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis) I think that the sway of fraternities is really only a problem if the school dominates the town (so, schools in the middle of nowhere).

This jibes with my experience at Penn State, a school that's definitely in the "middle of nowhere" category. I was a member of a social fraternity, albeit a bit of a special case in that we had no greek letters, and had enough of an academic mission that people often lumped us in with the non-greek service/professional fraternities.

I do think the fact that my fraternity existed for something other than having keg parties (although we did our share of those) helped us avoid some of the problems other houses at Penn State had with hazing, sexual assault, etc. while I was there. It's not a panacea, of course, but with the increasing attention being paid to the outsized role fraternity members have in sexual assault statistics, I don't see how purely social drinking clubs can survive if they don't shift their focus at least in part toward something other than being a destination for people to come and drink their beer. Organizing around field of study, shared interests, cultural group membership, etc. seems more sustainable to me.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:28 PM on December 1, 2014


It's to say that being the cockblocker--again, this is not how I see such actions, but how many of the men involved would--needs to be made to be seen as a major social good.

I that's exactly the point of these campaigns. Bystanders aren't necessarily going to stop serial predators from "hunting" but they will make it less acceptable to brag about getting someone totally wasted in order to fuck them. Right now, one way in which predators thrive is though social narratives that support their sense of entitlement to other people's bodies. So, it's totally true that predators are going to keep thinking that they have the right to do what they want, but ideally the culture will change around them so others can avoid them.

It is like "white knighting" in that anytime someone uses that term, I see it as code that that person is an asshole who I probably don't want to talk to. If bystander intervention programs are successful, "cockblocking" will be a similar warning signal that a person isn't safe to be around.
posted by ohisee at 4:29 PM on December 1, 2014 [9 favorites]


I wonder if someone is clever enough to design a PSA that converts cockblocking into rapeblocking.
posted by msalt at 5:10 PM on December 1, 2014 [4 favorites]


Having only gone to schools in large urban areas (well, Pittsburgh, Boston and St. Louis) I think that the sway of fraternities is really only a problem if the school dominates the town (so, schools in the middle of nowhere).

Apparently they still find a way to pitch in:
Mr. Trosclair was no different. He got an ID, not a very good one, from a fraternity brother his freshman year. When he tried to use it at a liquor store, it was confiscated. Later that night, he was caught trying to slip into a bar. He was arrested and sentenced to community service.

While serving his 20 hours, he met a fellow student with a fledgling fake-ID business. The two became friends and, eventually, partners, with Mr. Trosclair using his student-loan money to help purchase a printer that could produce high-quality forgeries. He made back his loan money and more in three days.

Mr. Trosclair is 23 now, and still baby-faced. He didn’t set out to be the center of a crime ring, he says. He just wanted some spending money, and an ID for himself. Selling a few, he figured, would help him cover his fraternity dues, $1,500 a semester, and put some cash in his pocket when he headed downtown.
posted by pwnguin at 6:31 PM on December 1, 2014


"But to teach kids that we don't ever, ever touch other people without their permission would be great."

The other thing is that when someone indicates they aren't interested it may come off gently. "I don't feel ready" or something like that. We also need to teach that a deflected statement of "not now" indicates the person is trying to be gentle with the no, not that they need to be pressured to change their answer to a yes. I used to try to tell people no nicely or deflect the situation because so many guys suddenly become angry and hateful if you tell them no-- and this would result in thiry minute/hour long conversations where someone is all up in your space trying to break you down continually "Discussing" why you should have sex with them or why you should be ready or maybe you have issues and are too uptight or maybe you need to open your mind (and vagina?) more or maybe you're sexually repressed and you need to accept that sex is good, like RIGHT NOW!!

OMG it was so fucking exhausting, and yes many of them one the prize, fine here have the fucking sex and get the fuck away from me and leave me alone. All of it sucked and really even when I managed to get away from them without having sex, the experience itself was unspeakably gruelling and whether we did or did not have sex I still felt broken down, and dehumanized in a really horrible way.

That whole dynamic needs to be taught is lame and don't do that to your fellow humans. If you start trying to make out with someone and they say "Oh... hey let's watch movies" and scoot away that does not mean they need to be taught why your penis needs to be inside them. It's also fine to be like "Oh.. man I am super horny and I probably better go do something else if you're not into the idea"... like as the guy (or lady) you can remove yourself if you need to, but try not to use the "I'm leaving unless you put out" move because that is also lame. If they aren't into it that's nota starting point for negotiation, just assume for that night it's not happening and unless they come to you enthusiastically later, it probably needs to be dropped. "Get back to me if you ever want to do this!" is about all you might say to indicate you'd be interested later.
posted by xarnop at 5:32 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also while it's good to teach ladies to say no more firmly, it would also be good to educate men about how aggressive and sociopathic some men are about receiving no and that women have good reason to fear being that assertive with men. The pressure needs to be on men stopping this aggressive pressuring and reactive anger to someone indicating they don't want to have sex rather on blaming women for not being assertive enough, when they already face enough repercussions even for the slight assertions they do try to make.
posted by xarnop at 5:35 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I strongly suspect that this kind of bystander intervention is what got Peter Yu kicked out of Vassar a couple years ago.

Hm I said this upthread but I was just sent this link which tells a very, very different story about a more recent incident at Vassar. I'm having trouble squaring the two.
posted by torticat at 9:03 PM on December 3, 2014


Also while it's good to teach ladies to say no more firmly, it would also be good to educate men about how aggressive and sociopathic some men are about receiving no and that women have good reason to fear being that assertive with men.

This. I agree, xarnop.
posted by misha at 9:46 AM on December 4, 2014


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