Dark Clouds on the Horizon: Campus Rape

I have finished my response to Writing 101 blogging prompt number twelve: Dark Clouds on the Horizon. I hope you enjoy the results.

I was standing in line at the grocery store last Friday. Couldn’t believe I’d chosen a Friday night to go. The store was so packed I thought it was a holiday weekend. I have become a lot more patient and tolerant over the years, but tonight was just a little rough. The lady in front of me in line kept backing into my cart as she talked to her daughter. There was a mother of three behind me. Her kids were about fed up with waiting, and kept demanding to leave. Then, suddenly, a baby in the next aisle started screaming. Her parents were very young. The father said, “Get her to shut up, will you!” I noticed the customer at the register was having a difficult time coming up with enough money to cover her order. The cashier began taking items off the bill, one at a time, checking the new total each time to see if the customer could pay.

So I decided to entertain myself while I waited my turn. One of my favorite pastimes is eavesdropping. I decided to ignore the craziness around me, zone out from the crowded store, and listen in on a conversation. I think this is one of the curses of being a writer. I read an article one time about listening to others for dialog ideas. The writer of the article said she shamelessly writes about friends and family. This has put her in hot water on several occasions. This is precisely what has stopped me from writing a memoir. How can I possibly be honest, open, and accurate without hurting or embarrassing someone?

I picked up on a conversation happening in the next aisle. Two young men were talking about a party they’d been to last weekend at a local university. Have you read anything about the new “standard” of “yes means yes?” It is a change in the law that is supposed to take all the mystery out of whether a woman wants to have sex with you in your dorm room after imbibing alcohol and stumbling into the elevator and wobbling down the hallway to your door. Before this new proposal, the standard was to stop if she said “no.” You were free to do anything you wanted to your date so long as she didn’t stop you. Silence was deemed to be implied consent. Of course, this has created a lot of problems. Depending on the amount of alcohol your date had consumed, having the presence of mind to know what was happening, and the ability to speak clearly, let alone say “no,” it was possible she would end up doing something she did not want to do.

These two young men inevitably talked about Cheryl, a girl they’d both taken to an off-campus apartment. Cheryl, they said, was smoking hot. She was brunette with dark brown eyes and a fabulous body. It seemed from the conversation that both men knew Cheryl before meeting up with her at the party that night. I was expecting their comments to be nice, flattering. No such luck. Given the things they were saying, it was almost as if they forgot they were standing in line at a grocery store. I, for one, like sex and I love women, but these two had me blushing. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was inappropriate! The longer they talked, the more it seemed to me Cheryl was in no shape to knowingly agree to a three-way sexual encounter. In fact, one of the young men said, “There certainly was no ‘yes means yes’’” It seems he was familiar with the latest controversy concerning college rape.

I took two steps back and peeked out over the top of the cold beverage cooler at the end of the check-out isle. I had to see these two guys for myself. Not that I would have recognized them. I was just curious what these obviously aggressive individuals looked like. On the surface, they seemed fairly harmless to me. Good looking men. Well dressed. Well groomed. The only thing noteworthy about them was the smirks on their faces as they talked about what they called their “tag teaming” of Cheryl. For some reason, that phrase made me wonder about Cheryl. What had she said when the two men started to undress her? Was she too drunk to know what was going on? Did she try to stop them? And the biggest question on my mind: Was she too intoxicated to give consent? Was I overhearing a conversation describing yet another campus rape?

I have never considered forcing myself on a woman. I am at a loss as to what causes a man to commit assault and rape on a woman. I think the incidents of campus rape have been on the increase. Unfortunately, one in four women in college today has been the victim of rape, and nearly ninety percent of them knew their rapist. I read a statistic that a woman is raped on campus every twenty-one hours. Alcohol use at the time of the attack was found to be one of the four strongest predictors of a college woman being raped. Of the college women who are raped, only ten percent report the rape. Unfortunately, college women are most vulnerable to rape during the first few weeks of the freshman and sophomore years. This explains why there has been a recent emphasis on safety officer training during orientation.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t sure what to do with this information. I stood there waiting to pay for my groceries, wondering if I should call the police. The young men did not identify the college they were attending. There are three in the area. They had indicated in their conversation that there was no clear indication of “yes means yes.” Indicating that Cheryl might not have consented to having sex with them. As if it were an omen, I noticed a local police cruiser driving by outside as part of normal busy Friday afternoon patrolling. You might not believe me, but that simply made me think that there’s really nothing to report. I had heard of no news stories about a young college woman claiming she was raped. Christ, that’s right, I remembered. Only ten percent of the victims report the attack. Still, I have nothing to go on but the boasting of two college students in the grocery line.

Just before loading my groceries onto the belt, I made a decision to contact the campus police at all three local universities and tell them what I’d overheard. It seemed like a good place to start. The campus officers have good relationships with student organizations and victim’s groups, and can do some checking. I’ll leave them my cell number in case they stumble on something and need additional information. Like what the two young men look like. I felt like at least I was doing something, but I will admit it didn’t feel like enough. So when I got home that evening, I posted a long comment about the incident on Facebook – a warning I guess you should say. After all, if we all don’t start getting involved in these incidents, they are only going to increase. As a lay in bed later, trying to read, my mind went wandering, ending up in some fictitious setting. There, I saw Cheryl laying on a bed, passed out, and the two young men starting to take her clothes off. I pick up the phone and called the police. Nothing like this should ever happen on our college campuses.

“Hello, 9-11, what is your emergency?”

“I’d like to report a possible rape at a local university…”