In the course of my career, I have responded to the hospital to investigate a report of sexual assault hundreds of times. Here is the down and dirty bottom line regarding 90%+ of reported adult sexual assaults: It’s the alcohol. Period. Full stop.
Of all of those hundreds of reported sexual assaults that I have responded to over the years, I can count the number of substantiated incidents of what Whoopi Goldberg so inartfully once termed “rape- rape” on both hands without taking off my shoes. I’m talking about the full on stranger rapes, the “Jack the Ripper drags a helpless woman into an alley” type of scenario that pops in most peoples’ minds when they hear the word “rape.”
Section wide, we probably average less than ten of those “nightmare” rapes a year in a city of 300,000 people. The rest of them, the overwhelming rest of them, are acquaintance rapes. And alcohol is at the bottom of the vast majority of those.
People who are removed from the social scene of young adults today can’t really comprehend how out of control alcohol abuse is among college students and other young people looking to party. I went to a “party school” myself and there was a lot of drinking in the mid- nineties. Thursday night was the big party night and I had a lot of classes on Friday mornings that were mostly empty.
But these kids today don’t want to just drink to get buzzed and have a good time. They drink with the goal of a black out. It starts with the “pregame.” Prior to going out to hit the bars with your fraternity bros or sorority sisters, you meet at someone’s house and have a couple of drinks there before you even leave. The idea is that you get a little buzzed before you leave, so you won’t spend as much money on overpriced drinks at the bars.
Of course, it doesn’t actually work out that way. They have two beers at home and then three, five, seven more at the bars. Plus the two shots that somebody bought them.
So by last call, they’ve had anywhere from five to God only knows how many drinks in about a four hour period. In a 115 pound sorority sister, that’s a hell of a lot of alcohol.
Oh, and did I mention how many of them are on medications that are contraindicated for alcohol? Given our pill-popping culture in general, I’ll just round up and say that all of them are. Especially mood altering medications and most especially Ambien.
Ambien, my God, the Ambien. Maybe it’s a regional thing, but sometimes it seems like they get it given to them like candy around here. Ambien, of course, intensifies the effects of alcohol, yet these kids pop their daily prescribed dose before or during the pregame, effectively “roofieing” themselves before they even leave the house.
And I’m still mostly talking about the women here. The men, the accused suspects, are usually drinking even more then the girls do. Judgement gets impaired all around.
Now, this self-intoxication by the victims does not excuse rape. But what gets reported to us isn’t “rape- rape” most of the time.
What gets reported is “Well, me and my girlfriends met at Lisa’s apartment to pre- game. I had a beer and a shot there. Then we went to This Bar and That Bar and I had three shots at the first place and an Appletini at the second place plus this guy gave me half his beer. So, we were dancing and then Lisa and Cindy left. So the guy who gave me half his beer said we should go to This Other Bar to meet his friend and we did. And I had two shots and then he bought me this mixed drink… I don’t remember what it was called or what was in it. And then I had another beer and we danced and I remember we were making out at one point in the bathroom and I gave him a blow job. Then I remember we left This Other bar-”
Needle scratch. Wait a minute. You gave him oral sex?
So, back to our narrative, our victim and the guy she just met “hook up” consensually and close down the bar and now its 2 AM and she can’t really remember much after that, just bits and pieces, until she woke up in a strange place next to a strange man.
And there’s your other big piece of the reported sexual assault puzzle: Hook up culture. Everything up to PIV (penis in vagina) is on the table when you’re hitting the bar scene. It’s almost a given.
The twist? It’s not the guy she was dancing with and gave oral sex to. It’s his roommate. She thinks she had sex, but she can’t remember. She went home and talked to her roommate and her roommate talked her into coming to the hospital.
So she has the exam and she’s got no physical injuries because nobody beat, punched, or choked her. And we talk to the guy and the roommate and their story is that she came home with them and she and the roommate sat up talking and smoking weed after the guy she came home with passed out in the living room and one thing led to another and the roommate had consensual sex with her too.
And out of this morass of bad decisions and contradictory claims, the social justice types want us to present a viable prosecution? Ain’t happening.
This story plays out with subtle variations over and over and over again. At the bottom of them all are “Demon Rum” and Hook- up culture. In some cases, the suspect’s behavior is more egregious, but not usually. Physical evidence, including DNA, isn’t the answer. Most of the time all a sexual assault examination proves is that the alleged victim had sex. It doesn’t prove whether or not the sex was consensual. There are no injuries because the body parts used for sexual relations are made to be stretched. It still almost always comes down to “he said- she said.”
At the end of the day, you end up with a mess that you can’t prosecute. And, in all fairness, I shouldn’t want to see it prosecuted. Probable cause is a pretty low standard. It doesn’t take much proof for me to arrest you, but when it comes to sexual offenses, I’ve always felt I had a duty to make sure I went beyond mere probable cause before I charged. The reason is that even if a suspect ends up beating the charge at trial down the road, all his friends and family members will know that he got arrested for rape for the rest of his life. That’s a stance that’s gotten me in Dutch with rape crisis counselors and the like a time or two over the years.
But no worries, because most of the time, the victim flakes out within a week, calls you up, and says she doesn’t want to proceed with the investigation anymore. So you pend that case and forget it and wait for the phone to ring again.
This is why I called my years primarily investigating adult sex crimes as “purgatory” at the beginning. So many cases end up being so pointless. It gets really hard when you’re dealing with people that we have legally declared to be “adults’ by virtue of their age who are still making terrible choices.
I’m afraid it sounds like I’m faulting the victims. And I guess I am, to a certain degree, but it’s a bit more nuanced than that. I have sympathy for these women and I believe that the vast majority of them do truly believe that they have been wronged. (An email about the ones I’ve come across who make false allegations out of spite, jealousy, or mental problems like the girl at UVA would be at least as long as this one.) On a moral and ethical level, based upon quaint standards of chivalry and gentlemanly behavior that no one seems to practice anymore but that the Disney corporation told these women from a young age that they should expect, they have been wronged. But that doesn’t mean a crime has occurred.
Years ago I took a class on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design. One of the illustrations that the instructor used was that of the “Triangle of Crime.” In order to have a crime, you need three things: A Criminal, a Victim, and a Place for the crime to happen. Eliminate any one of those pieces and no crime occurs.
Eliminate the binge drinking and hook- up cultures that a vast, vast majority of reported sexual assault victims willingly participate in, and you would eliminate practically all reported sexual assaults in this country. Eighty percent of them at least would disappear because you would eliminate the victim side of the crime triangle.
We do not do our young people, be they men or women, any favors when we shrug off self- destructive behavior as just “sowing wild oats” in 2016 because it is well beyond that in our fallen and broken culture. Young people, though they may be of legal age for a lot of this activity, still need guardrails.
I don’t have a whole lot of hope personally that will change before I retire in a few years. I suspect it will get much worse.
I feel like I should close by mentioning my perspective on the Stanford sexual assault case. That case is not the typical drunken victim scenario that I’ve been going on about here, even though the victim did drink a lot. She had apparently moved past “blackout” to full- on unconsciousness and there’s no way that the suspect can claim some kind of misunderstanding or miscommunication. I would have killed to have the facts of that case during my time in purgatory, which I realize is a weird thing to say. Only a very grizzled veteran sex crimes detective can hear a story like that and think “What an awesome rape case to work! Witnesses! Suspects caught fleeing the scene! Beautiful, I tell you!”
That victim by all accounts is, for lack of a better term, a true victim of “rape- rape.” The judge’s sentencing decision is horrible. For one thing, it’s a very difficult thing to get a successful prosecution on a sex offense through a jury trial. There’s almost always one nut on a jury who thinks all women are asking for it or just can’t bring themselves to decide that the clean cut young man in the suit at the defendant’s table could have actually done something so horrible that will hang your jury.
My professional advice to anyone who is a victim of a sexual offense or who has a relative who is a victim of a sexual offense who has a case that is getting ready for a jury trial and the prosecutor comes to you and says “The defendant is willing to plead to a lesser offense, but it’s up to you if we make the deal or not,” is to agree to the deal. Juries are just completely unpredictable, especially when it comes to sex offenses. I’ve seen it happen too many times where a victim has to endure the public spectacle of a trial only to have the defendant acquitted, found guilty of a lesser offense anyway, or the jury hung. It’s very tough. Take the deal.