The PJ Tatler

Colleges Struggle to Define Rape-ish

A college graduate going by the nom de plume of “Hot Piece” penned a story of a bad sexual encounter for her website Total Sorority Move. The Chronicle of Higher Education picked up on the story for its report on the changing nature of what constitutes rape on college campuses.

Hot Piece detailed a sexual encounter with a male student she referred to as a “friend” who she’d been “flirting with all” throughout college. Alcohol happened. Lots of it, apparently, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since Hot Piece “…spent her undergraduate years drinking $4 double LITs on a patio and drunk texting away potential suitors.” One thing led to another and talking about sex led to …sex:

Maybe I didn’t want to feel like I’d led him on. Maybe I didn’t want to disappoint him. Maybe I just didn’t want to deal with the “let’s do it, but no, we shouldn’t” verbal tug-of-war that so often happens before sleeping with someone. It was easier to just do it. Besides, we were already in bed, and this is what people in bed do. I felt an obligation, a duty to go through with it. I felt guilty for not wanting to. I wasn’t a virgin. I’d done this before. It shouldn’t have been a big deal–it’s just sex–so I didn’t want to make it one.

The “it’s just sex” mentality has created a legal nightmare for college campuses now responsible for policing the sexual activity of every student on campus. The Chronicle details:

Sexual interactions can be ambiguous, especially if students have been drinking but aren’t incapacitated. Research shows that women engage in sex they don’t want for a variety of reasons—including to avoid conflict, because they don’t want to be labeled a tease, and because they feel obligated. A response to the Total Sorority Move story on the website Her Campus says rape is “a big word,” but “‘less rapey’ situations” should still be acknowledged.

As campuses grapple with preventing and responding to sexual assault, how students and colleges define rape is pivotal. And the definition may be evolving. What some people, including researchers, have seen as unwanted sex, others may consider rape. But conflating ambiguous sexual encounters and misconduct, some observers say, dilutes the concept of assault, and makes it hard for students to learn where the boundaries are.

…The long-held notion of rape as violent is slowly shifting, says Estelle B. Freedman, a scholar of women’s history and feminist studies at Stanford University. “Most people think that to be raped you had to have bodily harm,” she says. “We aren’t quite used to naming coercive nonconsensual sex that doesn’t involve physical harm as a crime. It still has the aura of a bad experience.”

Campus men, beware: Women are waking up to the reality that sex is as much an emotional as it is a physical experience, and the only Plan-B they’ve been able to come up with to handle morning-after regret is to chalk their negative emotions up to being rape…ished.