College culture and consensual sex

UF students start to take consent a little more seriously

By Sarah Stubbs

The floor is sticky. There are people packed into every space. It’s less than 30 degrees outside but it’s got to be more than a 100 degrees in this distressed, 3-bedroom college house. Sweaty students are pushing past you to get to dance floor – that Future song just came on and everyone’s going crazy.

It’s 1:30 a.m. and everywhere you look eyelids are heavy with drunkenness; but, the night is still young.

There’s that girl from your chemistry class you’ve been texting. You’re buzzed, but she’s gone. She grabs you by the hand and drags you to the dance floor.

Pretty soon people are planning their post-party moves. Some are coupling off, others decide to hit the bars.

Weekend after weekend, these are the moments that are relived on college campuses. These are the moments that sexual consent comes into play – whether students are actively thinking about it or not.

Post-party decisions made out of drunkenness often result in regret, but sometimes these decisions are a lot more serious than a walk of shame after a one-night stand.

In light of the federal lawsuit that has been filed against the University of Findlay, sexual assault and consent are hot topics on campus.

In Oct. 2014, two student athletes, Alphonso Baity and Justin Browning, were dismissed from the University following a sexual assault accusation and investigation.

On Dec. 23, 2015 Baity and Browning filed a lawsuit against UF, claiming that there was no due process in their investigation and that a thorough investigation would’ve revealed that the sex with the alleged victim was consensual.

Sexual consent is not something that is taught in a freshman seminar class. It’s not a part of high school curriculum and it is definitely not a topic of discussion with families around dinner tables. Sexual consent is learned, though, when events such as this take place.

Sexual assaults and attacks are happening more frequently on college campuses. A recent survey by the Association of American Universities says that in 2015 alone, 20 percent of female undergraduate students were victims of sexual assault. Most of those cases went unreported.

According to UF’s code on sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking, sexual consent is defined as “a knowing, voluntary, and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in a particular sexual activity or behavior. It must be given by a person with the ability and capacity to exercise free will and make a rational, reasonable judgment. Consent may be expressed either by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create a mutually understandable permission regarding the conditions of the sexual activity.”

Ohio law says that consent cannot be granted if one or both parties are intoxicated.

Ashley Ritz is the director of Open Arms, a domestic violence and rape crisis service in the city of Findlay, OH. She works with victims of sexual and domestic violence from the Findlay area, including UF students. She says she would simplify the definition of sexual consent.

“Willingness to participate by verbal or physical action. Silence doesn’t equal consent by any means,” Ritz said.

Defining consent is difficult, according to Ritz, because it is subjective and has a lot of gray area.

“I think everyone defines it differently. And a lot of people don’t say ‘Yes, let’s do this.’ So I think there’s more nonverbal than anything. But either way that could be interpreted differently as far as the length of action that somebody wants to go,” Ritz said.

Since so much of consent is nonverbal, it’s often argued that verbally establishing consent can ruin a mood. “Consent is Sexy,” a sexual rights awareness campaign, is one of many displays of activism, often occurring on larger college campuses, that works to make consent more explicit.

Laughing, Ritz recalls, “I don’t ever remember being in college and thinking ‘OK I need to get and give consent this evening.’”

She says it’s just not something that is actively on anyone’s mind. College students seem to agree.

With binge drinking and hook-up culture taking so much room in the college experience, and the blurry lines of consent and serious implications of sexual assault looming behind every corner, some students are starting to actively think about consent since the issues have hit so close to home.

Jaye Williams, freshman pre-law major and UF athlete wasn’t an Oiler yet when Baity and Browning’s sexual assault accusation took place. However, he says that he knows people who have dealt with the legal implications of nonconsensual sex so he takes consent seriously.

“If you don’t know anyone it’s ever happened to, you wouldn’t think twice about it. Like 70 percent of the football team probably wouldn’t take it personally, but I do,” Williams said.

Ritz argues that just about everyone probably knows someone who has been a victim or a perpetrator because sexual assault is so widespread and yet is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States.

Mitch Knotts, a former resident assistant and current junior nursing major said that his friends and former residents became nervous about the possibility of being falsely accused of sexual assault.

When the two separate sexual assault cases took place in the fall of 2014 (Browning and Baity in the first, Laceem McCall in the second), Knots was serving as an RA in the Village.

“Since this stuff has been happening on campus, everybody’s like ‘Man you better sign papers before she starts drinking if you’re going to have sex – make sure you have consent,’” Knotts said.

Knotts expressed that the alcohol factor of the consensual sex law doesn’t make sense to him. He sees it more of an opportunity for blackmail than anything else. This, according to Knotts, is where differences and double standards begin to come into play.

“It’s crazy because if you’re both drunk, like if he would’ve went first and said ‘Yeah, I was drunk and she did this to me.’ At what point are they like, ‘Well it wasn’t consent for the guy.’? Obviously there’s not a BAC there,” Knotts said.

Ritz believes that gender stereotypes are counterproductive and perpetuate rape culture.

“Most survivors of rape and sexual assault, people do not believe them. They automatically question them first. Which is often why rape is not reported – because there are so many questions to survivors,” Ritz said. “To say that a woman is believed over a man, I don’t think that is true or accurate.”

Ritz affirmed that just because someone gave consent in the past doesn’t mean that they will give consent in the future. All of the questions that victims are confronted with when they tell someone they were raped or assaulted keeps them from coming forward.

“That’s why survivors don’t report. They don’t want all the questions. They don’t want to be portrayed as the bad person. So what if I went out drinking? So what? That doesn’t mean I wasn’t raped,” Ritz said.

Knotts said that during his RA training, he learned from the professionals at the Cosiano Health Center on campus that even one sip of alcohol meant that consent could not be given.

“That’s what I don’t get. There’s such a big gray area. Obviously your partner or your girlfriend, they’re not going to say something at the time that you’re having sex when you’re drunk. It’s going to be when you break up and one of them get pissed. ‘Oh, you had sex with me when I was drunk. I couldn’t even think for myself,’” Knotts said.

Although firm in his beliefs regarding the fairness of consent when it comes to gender differences, Knotts was careful in his definition of consent.

“Obviously I don’t think you should have to use force at any time. Or if someone says no, obviously that’s clear-cut. Any kind of force – it’s not OK,” Knotts said.

Jessica Frost, a senior English education major, said that she takes sexual assault and sexual consent seriously and researches it often. According to Frost, the definition of consent isn’t gray at all. To her, no means no and nothing else.

“I truly believe that ‘no’ means ‘no’ with no questions asked, regardless of when it is said. If the condom is on and sex is one second from happening between two people and one person says, ‘I change my mind, I don’t want to do this,’ then that’s that. No questions asked,” Frost said. “We need to make that fact very clear to all men and women engaging in sexual acts.”

Williams’ definition was similar but straightforward in addressing the issue of alcohol.

“I never mess with a drunk female. Because I feel like when you’re drunk, your mind’s altered. So you can give consent, but that’s not necessarily all you. I don’t think you can be under the influence and give 100 percent consent,” Williams said.

Williams said that when he was at UF over the summer for football camp, he and his teammates sat through presentations and discussions about consent.

“[We learned that] if you see one of your teammates walking off with a girl that’s completely blew out, you should try to talk him out of it. It’s not even worth it,” Williams said.

Aside from efforts made to educate athletes about consent through their individual teams, and campus leaders through their individual programs, efforts from the University to educate the entire UF population has been limited to mass email. Knotts confessed that he wouldn’t be informed on the issue at all had he not been an RA.

“We talked about it a lot. Just because when situations like that happen we have to be able to handle them — like how to report it,” Knotts said. “I just remember learning that it was really gray.”

Knotts believes that the University needs to do more. He said that his RA trainings were a huge wakeup call and other students should be able to have that experience, too. After his trainings on Title IX and the Clery Act, Knotts said if he didn’t trust a woman and wasn’t dating her, he wouldn’t do anything.

“If any alcohol is involved, don’t ask the question, don’t bring it up, don’t make that decision,” Knotts said. “So, I think if we properly educate students and inform them better maybe they wouldn’t have these sexual assault cases.”

Williams on the other hand, thinks that it’s the individual who must take a personal interest in the issue for any real change to happen.

“If you don’t care about it, you’re not going to pay attention. I always felt like ‘It could never happen to me’ – that’s how a lot of people feel – but there’s people around me that this has happened to before so it’s bigger in my eyes than in other people’s,” Williams said. “You see articles all the time if you watch CNN or even get on social media – this stuff happens every day. So if you’re not going to educate yourself you obviously don’t care for it. Letting the whole school know – I don’t think that would do anything.”

Frost felt similarly. She also thinks that it is unrealistic for the University to reach every student by expecting them to show up to a guest speaker or a seminar. Frost said that people wouldn’t attend an event like that unless they have dealt personally with sexual assault issues.

“I think a more realistic way to conduct this education would be to possibly have professors or designated speakers to talk about it during class times. The students will (for the most part) show up to their classes,” said Frost. “There have been so many times when guest speakers come into a class to pitch about a dinner or a sorority/fraternity, so why not do the same but with sexual consent/assault education?”

Frost said that sexual consent education should be mandatory for each student.

“Even if it hasn’t happened to you, it still applies to you, and being educated can’t do any harm, it can only do good in my opinion,” Frost said.

Ritz said that if she was a student at the University, she would definitely be paying attention, even if the current educational projects were inconvenient and voluntary. She says this is where the University’s role comes into play, though, for those who might not have that personal experience Williams finds so important.

“If it’s something they expect you to abide by, they should really be telling you more about it besides an email,” Ritz said.

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