The New Rules of College Sex

How the federal government and a Malvern lawyer are rewriting the rules on campus hookups—and tagging young men as dangerous predators

That’s because if you look at campus sexual violence through a victim-advocate lens, you have to believe vast legions of rapes and assaults go unreported. There’s no other way to explain why the Clery numbers are so low and the Justice Department’s so high. What’s interesting about the 2007 Justice Department report is that its researchers didn’t ask the 5,446 female students who took their online survey if they’d been sexually assaulted. They decided for the young women, who despite their on-campus training and support were deemed too ignorant to know.

Specifically, the survey asked whether students had experienced unwanted sexual contact, defined as forced kissing, grabbing, fondling, touching of private parts, and/or oral, anal or vaginal penetration via finger, mouth, tongue, penis or object. If students checked YES, as 1,073—one in five—did, that was deemed a sexual assault. Of those students, 682 were classified as having undergone attempted sexual assault, and another 782 completed sexual assault, with 651 of the latter saying they were passed out, drugged, drunk, incapacitated or asleep at the time.

“If drunken hookups are defined as sexual assaults,” a female colleague says, remembering her college days, “then I’ve been sexually assaulted 177 times.” Those peering through the victim-advocate lens, however, chafe at any suggestion this method is flawed. “As if there’s some sort of number that would be all right,” Sokolow sniffs.

Still, when researchers asked the young women themselves if they considered what happened to them “rape,” three-quarters of the “incapacitated” victims didn’t. Only three percent said they’d experienced physical or psychological harm. Only two percent reported what happened to campus security or police. Asked why they hadn’t, the women said they didn’t consider the incident serious enough (66 percent) and/or that it wasn’t clear a crime or harm was intended (36 percent). Half said they themselves were partially or fully responsible for what had happened. The gray looked pretty gray to them.

But the fact that the victims didn’t think of themselves as victims, Sokolow says, misses the point: “They have to learn to say, ‘This is something that was done to me, not something I did to somebody else.’”

Deborah Nolan says that in 25 years at Ursinus, she’s heard a ton of sexual assault stories, and only one didn’t involve alcohol. Drinking lowers inhibitions: “Sometimes we want to be coaxed into things. But it makes people irate when you say that.”

I have a college-age daughter. I tell Sokolow that if she got drunk and had sex with someone, I’d jolly well expect her to take responsibility. He isn’t buying it: “She should have the right to strip naked and run through the streets and be unmolested. She didn’t make that happen; the molester did.”

IN ITS 2007 REPORT, the Justice Department wrote that the primary implications of its study were the “relative rarity” of drug-facilitated sexual assault, meaning roofie-aided, and “the need to incorporate alcohol and drug messages into sexual assault prevention and risk reduction programming.” But remember that $300,000 grant Ives applied for? Its guidelines discourage programs that focus on alcohol use, because they “reinforce the myth that victims somehow provoke or cause the violence they experience.” In other words: The government knows what works, but won’t let you do it. How does Ives reconcile that with what she sees every day on North Broad Street? “Temple’s approach has been that there is an intermingling between mental health issues, substance issues and sexual violence issues,” she says carefully. She really does want that grant.

The trouble is, schools have no idea how to address their drinking problem. They’re afraid to take draconian measures—who wants to go to a college where you can’t get drunk? But while Diane may still be out there pre-gaming, as Sokolow puts it, “The game is different now.”

NCHERM’s founder defends schools against Title IX claims even as he represents assault victims, neatly playing both sides of the field. And his job’s been very good to him. In August, NCHERM hosted a seminar for college administrators on the role of the newly required Title IX coordinator. One hundred seventy people attended, at $2,500 a head. Gross revenue: $425,000.

Sokolow has been advising colleges that students found to have engaged in sexual assault should be expelled as quickly as possible, to guard against Title IX liability. He’d like to see a national database of offenders, so schools could check names and Social Security numbers when such students try to transfer. He’s not saying they’re all predators-—“I’m saying you can’t tell if they are or not.” Asked if he’d accept a transfer student who’d been expelled for sexual assault, Juniata’s Kris Clarkson says, “Oh gosh, no. How could I?” And yet, Deborah Nolan says, “I’ve seen these young men broken in ways that just break me, too. I see such shock and remorse and guilt. They want to make it right.”

Now, they won’t have the chance. “The number of expelled students is going to go way up,” Sokolow predicts—a prospect he’s looking forward to.

IT WOULD BE ONE thing if there were proof that the barrage of education and awareness being foisted on colleges has any effect on women’s safety. There isn’t. A major review of research on the subject concluded, “It does not seem useful to spend resources on attitude change programs as currently delivered,” and recommended focusing on self-defense skills and alcohol use instead.

Why, if researchers know what works, does the government require schools to do what doesn’t, promoting the erection of a monolithic assault-prevention infrastructure? Heather Mac Donald, who writes on the topic for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, blames “rape industrialists” who strip women of “volition and moral agency” by insisting they’re never responsible for what happens to them, even when they “drink themselves into near or actual oblivion before and during parties.”

There is something insultingly infantilizing about the Obama administration’s approach. You can’t possibly protect yourselves, the government is telling our daughters, so we’ll teach the men around you to protect you instead. Kris Clarkson’s seen the effects of such protectiveness: “Where students become fragile is that they’ve had so much of their lives organized for them. They’re just not good at managing themselves.” And they’re socially awkward: “The dating concept is lost. No one is having relationships; they’re just hooking up.” If they don’t even talk to one another, how will they ask for consent?

As for Jack, if the campus board finds he committed sexual assault, he’ll likely be expelled from school. He’ll lose his scholarships and financial aid, and end up sitting at home, desperately trying to transfer to another school. But every transfer application asks: Have you ever been expelled from a college? If so, explain. Explain? How is he even supposed to understand?

That’s not Brett Sokolow’s problem, though. “I’m enjoying the position of having a Title IX training program in place even before the need for the coordinators was announced,” he says from his couch. “Registration has taken off.”

So the leviathan grows. When I was in college, back in the heady ’70s—when we battled hard for the Equal Rights Amendment, when Ms. magazine was still new—I and the women I knew got drunk a lot, and woke up in bed with guys we didn’t always like or know. They never asked us, “Can I put my finger inside you?” We never accused them of sexual assault. We were, all of us, learning about limits and needs and wants. There were a lot of teachable moments along the way.

Those days are gone. I guess Joe Biden would rather talk about epidemics of sexual assault than a dearth of common sense.

To learn about some of the sexual assault education providers colleges use, click here

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