I’m not a UW student, but I have a daughter who is… I have read some of your pieces and have been impressed by both the intelligence and bravery evident in your writing… My daughter is going on a spring break trip this year, and I would like to see a hip, common-sense guide to spring break safety that she and other girls can depend on… I think you would be a good person to write such an article, and that’s why I’m sending this email… Thanks for continuing to write your articles. I’m glad UW has resources like this available for its students.
Badger Mom, yours is a lovely email both in its intention and in its wording. However, while I am flattered and grateful, I don’t think I can do what I think you’re asking me to do. I get the distinct sense that what you’re looking for is the kind of “Watch your drink! Don’t go home with strange boys! Wear sunscreen!” article that tends to come around every year around spring break. But let’s be real. Those are really unhelpful safety tips (except sunscreen, sunscreen is very important and everyone should wear it all of the time). Every girl knows she should watch her drink, walk with a friend and blah blah blah. No “safety tip” I could possibly provide would be anything that any of us hasn’t heard a bazillion times before, and if those helpful tips were all it took to prevent rape, well, shit, that would be awesome.
But it isn’t. There are no inherent differences between the chick who has an amazing spring break having a shit ton of hot sex with the gorgeous stranger she just met and the chick who drifts in and out of consciousness while the rapist who deliberately got her that drunk in the first place assaults her. The first girl is not smarter, the second girl is not less socially savvy. Maybe the first girl watched her drink, maybe she didn’t. Maybe the second girl did, maybe she didn’t. The difference is the rapist.
Think about the drunkest you ever got. Since I have no sense of boundaries or propriety, I’ll use myself as an example. I wasn’t on spring break, but I found out I got into med school on a Saturday. As a foolhardy undergrad, I went to the place nearest my house that had a lot of cheap liquor—Wando’s. Fishbowls were consumed. Random people bought me shots and congratulated me. If you must know, I was wearing jeans, a cute purple top, and for reasons I can no longer recall, pearls. I stumbled out at bartime, ebullient about my sparkling professional future, slurring and maybe crying a little bit about how I was gonna be the BEST DOCTOR EVER.
I didn’t watch my drinks for most of the night. I accepted drinks from strangers. I hugged and high-fived boys I didn’t know. I smiled and laughed and told them all about myself. I went to the bathroom alone multiple times. I walked home on a dark side street with my male Ochem lab partner howling, “OMG I’m so DRUNK how did I get this DRUNK. FUCK.” I got what I deserved that night: A couple hours snuggling with the toilet bowl and a hangover that kept me in bed until 7 p.m. the following day. I dare you to tell me I deserved anything else. I dare you to tell any person who is raped—and did exactly the same things you, I or any one of a thousand other people who didn’t get raped that night did—that they deserved it.
This is why “safety tips” are a sham. Safety tips get trotted out as an example of how people who are assaulted deserved it or did it to themselves. Safety tips are used to justify sexual assault, as though the appropriate punishment for having too much to drink is getting raped. Safety tips get held up as a kind of rape life preserver when we want to believe it won’t happen to us. Every day of spring break, there will be people who do everything “wrong” and are still not assaulted. Every day of spring break, there will be people who do everything “right” and are still assaulted. Except when we rely on “safety tips” and are assaulted anyway, there is always something that we could have, should have, and should have not done to have prevented it.
When we rely on “safety tips,” it is impossible to do everything right. So, my spring break safety guide consists of this: Don’t fucking rape people. If you have sex with a chick who is too drunk to say no, you are not “scoring,” you are not “getting lucky”: you are a rapist. If you use alcohol in order to get people to do things you think they might not do if they were sober, you are not cool or slick or clever: You are a rapist. If you don’t bother to get consent, but you figure this person would “totally want it anyway” because you are hot or an athlete or in law school or whatever, then you’re a rapist. And you suck.
E-mail Erica at firstname.lastname@example.org.