Consent Speaker Engages Students
by Nina Taneja on Friday, November 6th, 2015
On October 21st, Milton’s hallways were abuzz with talk of a nationally debated issue: consent. The American Association of Universities reported last month that 27.2% of female college seniors have been sexually assaulted. This statistic is one of the many reasons that consent is such a major issue in today’s society.
During the preceding week, Affective Education classes held discussions on consent in preparation for the annual Talbot Speaker for Counseling and Community Issues. This year’s speaker, Dr. Daniel Swinton, is a managing partner of The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, a legal counselor, and a frequent speaker at many colleges and high schools.
His speech started with the description of a scenario: Amy, a freshman at college, “pregamed” before going to a party with her friends. Prior to the party, Amy established a buddy system with her friend, Sarah. The two agreed to prevent each other from drinking too much or engaging in impulsive sexual encounters. However, after downing three beers at the party, Amy met Todd, a co-host at the party, who proceeded to give her four Everclear jello shots (each the equivalent of two beers). Todd himself consumed a few beers, but cut himself off early in the night. Overly intoxicated, Amy eventually threw up. Todd accompanied Amy back to her dorm, where she threw up again and fell unconscious. After waking up, Amy initiated oral sex with Todd, and the two engaged in intercourse. However, Amy had already fallen into a state of intoxication called “blackout” and did not remember the details of the event by the next morning. Amy was distraught by the news that she had unknowingly lost her virginity the night before and the case soon became a criminal investigation of Todd.
Under national law, it is illegal to give consent while “incapacitated” or while “blacked out”. But did Todd know that Amy was unable to give consent? Should he have known? In the student’s trial, the jury decided that Todd either should have known or did know Amy could not legally consent. He was convicted with second degree sexual assault, and was sentenced to three years in prison and was required to register as a sex offender for life.
The ambiguity around the line between consciousness and incapacitation while under the influence of alcohol was up for debate in assembly as students and faculty alike shot several questions at Dr. Swinton. When asked about the verdict after the assembly, Ms. Marianelli said that in her perspective, both Todd and Amy made several mistakes but she was more shocked by the “subtle nuances of the law.” During the Q&A session in Straus after the assembly, Dr. Swinton revealed that since Todd was a licensed bartender, he definitely would have known how much alcohol Amy drank, and should have stopped her before the situation became unsafe, verifying many people’s opinion that Todd was guilty of sexual assault.
Many in the Milton community seemed to agree that Todd was guilty under the law but thought his punishment was too extreme for one instance of possibly predatory actions. Spencer Graham (III) said that while Todd was “guilty and deserved jail time, the sex offender label ruined Todd’s life which seemed a little too much.” Likewise, Ben Stewart (III) offered that while he thought Todd was guilty, he “shouldn’t be placed in the same category as someone who raped another person by physical force” in terms of punishment. Many other students declined to comment on their personal decisions, saying they didn’t want to get into the topic or felt they would be judged.
The assembly itself taught the laws and repercussions of consent. Often, terms like “yes means yes” and “no means no” are heard around campus when it comes to sexual assault, but Swinton offered an example requiring thought with a conclusion that wasn’t necessarily concrete. It united the school in contemplation of a common, real life case. Ms. Marianelli offered, “if the assembly helped even one person in the Milton community to make the right decision in this sort of situation, then it was a success.”
Short URL: http://miltonmeasure.org/?p=7373