College Men: Stop Getting Drunk

It’s closely associated with sexual assault. And yet we’re reluctant to tell men to stop doing it.

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In one awful high-profile case after another—the U.S. Naval AcademySteubenville, Ohio; now the allegations in Maryville, Mo.—we read about a young man, sometimes only a boy, who goes to a party and ends up raping. As soon as the school year begins, so do reports of male students sexually assaulting their female classmates. A common denominator in these cases is alcohol, often copious amounts. But the obsessive focus on blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young men that when they get wasted, they are putting young women in potential peril.

A 2009 study of campus sexual assault found that by the time they are seniors, many college men will become rapists, overwhelmingly of a fellow classmate. Very few will ever be reported to authorities. The same study states that more than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol. Frequently both the man and the woman have been drinking. The men tend to use the drinking to justify their behavior, as this survey of research on alcohol-related campus sexual assault by Antonia Abbey, professor of psychology at Wayne State University, illustrates, while for many of the women, having been drunk becomes a source of guilt and shame. 

Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let men know that when they drink their decision-making skills into oblivion, they can do terrible things. Young men are getting a distorted message that their right to match each other drink for drink is proof of their masculinity. The real masculine message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will become the kind of person who, shall we say, doesn’t have others’ best interest at heart. That’s not saying all men are rapists; that’s trying to prevent more rapes.

The “Campus Sexual Assault Study” of 2007, undertaken for the Department of Justice, found that the popular belief that many young rape victims have been slipped “date rape” drugs is false. “Most sexual assaults occur after voluntary consumption of alcohol by the victim and assailant,” the report states. But the researchers noted that this crucial point is not being articulated to young and naïve men: “Despite the link between substance abuse and sexual assault it appears that few sexual assault and/or risk reduction programs address the relationship between substance use and sexual assault.”

“I’m not saying all men are rapists,” says one expert. “But when your judgment is compromised, your risk is elevated of perpetrating sexual violence.”

I’ve told my son that it’s his responsibility to take steps to not commit or enable rape. (“I hear you! I’ll stop!”) The biological reality is that women do not metabolize alcohol the same way as men, and that means drink for drink women will get drunker faster. I tell him I know alcohol will be widely available (even though it’s illegal for most college students) but that he’ll have a good chance of knowing what’s going on around him if he limits himself to no more than two drinks, sipped slowly—no shots!—and stays away from notorious punch bowls. If male college students start moderating their drinking as a way of looking out for their own self-interest—and looking out for your own self-interest should be a primary masculine principle—I hope their restraint trickles down to the women.

** UPDATE: Here’s a version of this parody with statistics about college males, drinking, and sexual assault.

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