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VIDEO: When is consent really consent?

It is freshman orientation week at colleges across America. Freshman orientation is now focused on “campus life” rather than academics and one of the first orientation sessions is devoted to questions of what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual consent. It is comforting to know that on most campuses there are still some ethical limits to the hook-up culture.

In Oregon, we begin to tackle these questions well before our students graduate from high school. At the 2014 taxpayer-funded Oregon Adolescent Sexuality Conference in Seaside, in a workshop titled “Is It Rape? How Youth Make Sense of Unwanted Sex Involving Alcohol, Lauren Lichty, PhD, Stefanie Murray, MPH and Kris Gown, PhD, EdM explained that the difference between sex (which is good) and rape (which is not good) is consent.

At the ASC workshop it was difficult to draw clear lines and it is equally difficult to draw clear lines at college orientation sessions.

There are other legal issues as well. Is a minor even legally capable of consent, and if so, under what circumstances? In Oregon, having sex at 10 is not a crime unless the person one is having sex with is over 18, in which case it is statutory rape on the part of the legal adult. And of course, in Oregon there is a legal prohibition against people under 21 drinking alcohol. That prohibition is widely ignored. We know teenagers drink – some to excess. Technically, however, the victims of the alcohol-induced rape, unless they were drinking unknowingly, are themselves guilty of breaking the law.

For sex to be morally and legally acceptable to the workshop leaders, all parties to the sex must have consented, but how does one determine when an inebriated person has or has not consented?

The workshop could not come up with a definitive answer to that question. In a situation where everyone is drunk, is anyone capable of consent?

Almost every culture has a carnival – a festival where people drink, party, disguise their faces and perhaps their sexual identities, and indulge in all manner of excess. Carnival is a time when people are released from many social constraints. Mardi Gras is an example of Carnival. In America, Spring Break has become a sort of week-long carnival.

In such environments, alcohol and other forms of drug intoxication will often lead to some violence— including rape. Mistakes will happen. Lives will be tragically impacted. People do stupid things when they are in stupid situations. In most traditional cultures, the community as a whole is actively committed to reducing violence during carnival and the expectation is that sex between unmarried people will result in marriage.

Perhaps most importantly, carnival lasts for at most one or two days a year. There are very good reasons why every day is not carnival. There are very good reasons why college should not be a four-year alcoholic and sexual orgy.

Life is not Spring Break.

When sober, a responsible person knows how to distinguish between consensual and non-consensual sex. Drunk, all bets are off. Even the sexologists at Seaside have a great deal of trouble determining what is and is not consent when people are intoxicated.

So where do we draw the red lines in our brave new sexually free world?

Featured image from U-Choose Education video. 

U-Choose Education Forum

Our goal is to educate Oregonians on issues. U-Choose Education Forum is dedicated to education about principles, history, and current events. We offer information and learning by providing speakers (Speakers Bureau) for forums and workshops and objective analysis (Articles and Op-Eds), enabling individuals to participate more effectively in our representative republic.

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