Alcohol, Drugs, and Rape

Alcohol, Drugs, and Rape 1

“We all know right from wrong. Yeah, maybe alcohol inhibits a person. But at the end of the evening, the little monster of shame, regret, or guilt is gonna be in your head saying ‘You really messed up, that was wrong.’”

Alcohol and drugs are inextricably linked to a large part of rape culture. And that applies to both perpetrators and victims—before, during and after sexual assaults. Anyone who has battled alcohol or drugs knows that substances impair judgment and create an astounding lack of impulse control. Memories can be unreliable or absent entirely.

For those of us who have limped our way out of blackouts and staggered in and out of recovery, we know the shame of finding out what we’ve done in a drunken stupor. Often, the only thing between me and a relapse are the all-too-vivid memories of wretched consequences. I’m no longer afraid to open my eyes in the mornings. When I don’t get high, I don’t awaken with a pounding headache and discover a stranger in my bed.

Roll Red Roll is a documentary about a high school in the hard drinking, football-obsessed town of Steubenville, Ohio. The film premiered to sold-out audiences at Tribeca Film Festival 2018. It has hit numerous venues since then, including Michael Moore’s Traverse City fest. It will continue to make the rounds throughout August and into October.

The doc is about “Jane Doe,” a 16-year-old from West Virginia. She’d attended a series of pre-season football Steubenville parties on the night of August 11, 2012. After downing too much liquor, she passed out. While unconscious, Doe was raped and carried around to more parties by several members of the football team. All evening the boys took photos and videos on their cell phones, then casually shared them on social media. Two of the youths—Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16—were found guilty. Mays was sentenced to two years and Richmond got only one. They did their time in a juvenile facility. Neither boy is on a sex registry due to their age. Both are now playing college football.

After watching Roll Red Roll, I reached out to crime blogger Alexandria Goddard, who is the heroine of the Steubenville rape story. After only a brief mention of the rape in a local media outlet, Goddard found the horrifying tweets and videos that had been posted. She shared them on social media. When she posted the Instagram photo of Jane Doe being carried by the boys, it caught the attention of the local community and the social justice hacker group, Anonymous.

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In our exclusive interview for The Fix, Goddard began with a question: “Would the perpetrators have behaved that way if they weren’t drunk? No, probably not. But the alcohol in no way absolves what they did.”

Goddard described Steubenville as “a sports town known for putting down women, talking about them like they’re meat. They show off for each other. Didn’t any of them have sisters? Mothers? The way they talked about her it was as if they forgot she was a human being. That was learned machismo.”

Goddard added, “We all know right from wrong. Yeah, maybe alcohol inhibits a person. But at the end of the evening, the little monster of shame, regret, or guilt is gonna be in your head saying ‘You really messed up, that was wrong.’”

Boys laughed on the video while talking about peeing on Jane Doe’s unconscious body. “But the girls in town were vicious, too,” Goddard said. “And the school staff. Coach Reno questioned whether it was even rape. You can see it in the film. He said, ‘Did they rape her? Or did they fuck her?’” (Warning: the linked video contains graphic content released by hacker group Anonymous)

Another booze-saturated rape case, People vs Turner (aka The Stanford Rape Case), is back in the news this summer. The victim was a 22-year-old woman (referred to as “Emily Doe”). In January 2015 she attended a few parties, consumed too much liquor and passed out. The defendant was Stanford University swimmer and Olympic-hopeful, Brock Turner, 20. He too had spent the night drinking. Turner was caught humping Emily Doe’s naked body behind a dumpster.

After he was convicted on three felonies of sexual assault with intent to rape, the not-so-Honorable Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to only six months. He was out in three. There was a public outcry that built over time. By June 2016, over one million people had signed the petition to remove Persky. In June of this year Persky was ousted from his judicial bench.

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And that’s not all…

On July 26, The New York Times wrote about Brock Turner’s lawyer, Eric Multhaup, who had argued that Turner should never have been convicted of “intending to commit rape” because the Stanford swimmer had only sought to have outercourse with “Emily Doe.”

I don’t know how Multhaup said that with a straight face. Twitter, of course, went wild over this outrageous claim. Thankfully, that appeal didn’t fly. The original decision still stands: Turner was guilty of assault with the intent to rape an unconscious woman. He was found guilty of using a foreign object to penetrate the victim. The definition of rape is: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” Rape with an object can be equally as traumatic as penile violation.

Amber Tamblyn and Jodi Kantor

Recently, I went to hear author-director-actress-activist Amber Tamblyn and reporter Jodi Kantor at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. The two discussed Time’s Up, a legal defense fund organization Tamblyn co-founded soon after the #MeToo movement showed the world how many women are sexually harassed on the job. On, the tagline reads: “The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.”

Employers are changing work policies. Companies are doing away with holiday work parties because serving alcohol practically ensures that boundaries will be crossed. Unlike in old movies, we’ve learned that there’s nothing funny about a tipsy coworker patting a woman on the butt or grabbing her for a kiss.

“Sorry I got so drunk last night” is no longer a viable excuse and companies want to avoid problems—especially lawsuits. Frequently workplace sexual harassment claims are linked to events where alcohol was available. In a recent article for The American Lawyer, reporter Meghan Tribe wrote that many big law firms are quashing boozy summer events. Behavioral health consultant Patrick Krill told Tribe, “In light of [the] #MeToo movement, an open bar at a summer associate event is potentially a tinderbox of liability.”

Other companies are trading open bar parties with drink ticket systems. Employees are limited to two drinks to avoid the sloshed sexual harassment issues. I also find it encouraging to see so many changes in New York State laws for employers that go into effect this year, such as sexual harassment prevention policies including training for employees.

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My own #MeToo story predates my work life. At age 13, while I was high on liquor and pot, I was sexually assaulted by local kids in my hometown, Port Washington, Long Island. Consumed by shame, I spent the following 13 years on a drug and alcohol-soaked binge. At age 26, I came out of a cocaine and rum induced blackout locked in a detox ward with no memory of how I had gotten there.

Currently, I’m working on a series about women who became addicted to drugs and alcohol after they were raped. One of the women I’ve interviewed—let’s call her “Navy Girl”—was not a drinker but, both times she was attacked, the men had been drinking. After the rapes, like so many of us, Navy Girl didn’t tell anyone. She developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic insomnia.

After years of not sleeping, Navy Girl saw a doctor. He prescribed 5mg of Ambien, the lowest dose. Already in her 30s, she’d never been addicted to anything but, within six months, she was hooked. Doctor-shopping worked for years. Then, when prescriptions went digital, she couldn’t game the system anymore and her doctors began cutting her off. Desperate to stave off withdrawal symptoms, she resorted to buying it from dealers but could not get enough for her habit. After attempting to stop for years, she finally found help in a 30-day drug rehab and has been sober for three years now.

Where will Jane and Emily Doe be 30 years from now? Will they be lost to addictions? I’d bet money that they will suffer for years with PTSD. Perhaps in the future perps will be held accountable and sentences will fit the violence of a rape crime. I pray pussy grabbers will no longer be eligible for political office and lawyers will be banned from asking survivors how much they drank. I look forward to the day when enablers won’t shrug and say, “Boys will be boys.”

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