Slice of Life: A call to step up and take responsibility

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what I see as a personal responsibility gap when it comes to facing the morning-after consequences of drinking too much.

Boy, did that get y’all stirred up. Letters to the editor and e-mails keep rolling in.

Some readers saw the column as it was intended: a call to step up and take responsibility for our actions.

Others thought my mention of sexual assault meant I blamed all rape victims for being raped and let the perpetrators off the hook – certainly not my intention.

One adoring fan called my column “disgusting.”

The response to my column shows that the issues of drinking and sexual assault deserve more attention.

I asked Katie Bean, assistant director of GW’s Center for Alcohol and Drug Education, about the relationship between drinking and rape. The statistics were shocking.

Roughly 80 percent of all sexual assault occurs when the victim and perpetrator are under the influence of alcohol. Getting drunk greatly increases your chances of becoming either the victim of sexual assault or the perpetrator.

I’d always thought of the typical rapist – if there is such a thing – as being some gross, burly guy hiding in a back alley waiting to prey on innocent women.

But perpetrators of sexual assault can actually be normal folks who have way too much to drink and then do something they normally wouldn’t.

“Just like people think they normally wouldn’t get up on a bar and dance, but after a few drinks, there they are on the bar dancing, people start to drink and do a lot of things they normally wouldn’t do – like sexual assault,” said Bean, who has worked as a rape victim counselor.

Perpetrators can find themselves permanently branded as rapists because they drunkenly take things too far, she said.

Rape is sexual intercourse against the will of the victim, according to the Department of Justice. And Bean said that sexual assault can be as simple as unwanted touching.

Being convicted of sexual assault isn’t something that can be erased from your record by sweet-talking SJS. And rightly so: It’s a serious criminal offense.

But victims are not always without responsibility. You can put yourself at risk by drinking to the point of losing control of the situation. You also pick the company in which you drink.

Think of it this way – if you leave your laptop sitting out at Starbucks for a few hours and someone steals it, who is responsible?

The thief who takes the laptop is clearly a criminal. But should you have left your computer sitting out in the open?

This gets back to the core issue – taking responsibility for your own actions. As we all know, alcohol seriously impairs your judgment. Alcohol is the No. 1 date rape drug, Bean said.

That doesn’t mean we should stop drinking. But as adults we have to be aware of the potentially dire and irreversible consequences of binge-till-you-drop drinking.

By understanding the potential risks, we can take steps to avoid putting ourselves in situations where we could become victims – or perpetrators – of sexual assault.

It is a dangerous and unfair world out there. And at the end of the day, we have to be responsible for ourselves. If you drink away your ability to control yourself, that’s your choice, but be prepared that the morning after may leave you with more than a hangover. You may have long-lasting emotional scars or even a permanent criminal record.

Is it really worth the risk?

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