The Sex Files #15: The Bystander’s Guide to Partying

Your favorite song comes through the speakers.  The music is blasting, the drinks are flowing, and you and the cutie across the room have been eyeing each other all night.  You move closer, and closer, and closer, and – then what?
With the predominance of parties as college social interaction and the general abundance of alcohol on campuses nationwide, the line between “innocent weekend hookup” and “potentially dangerous situation” has become increasingly blurred.  And while dining hall retellings of the previous night’s festivities – the guy she shouldn’t have “hooked up” with, the strange place he woke up this morning, or the overall uncertainty of what, exactly, happened last night – are often brushed off as comical side effects of the “so college” lifestyle, when do next morning regrets indicate something more sinister?
We at BCSSH, along with our friends at the BC Women's Resource Center, think it’s important to recognize that parties and hooking up can lead to more serious situations, like sexual assault, intimate partner abuse, and rape.  Since we don’t want those things on our campus, we’ve broken it down into four simple steps to keep yourself and others from becoming victims or perpetrators of these hazards.

Step 1:  Accurately identify sexual assault.
Any unwelcome sexual contact or threats constitutes sexual assault.  This includes but is not limited to:

  • Rape: unwanted sexual intercourse under physical or psychological force or threats
  • Intimate partner abuse: physical, emotional, or sexual abuse between partners

Though the terminology can get confusing, avoiding these situations can be very simple.  Consent, or agreement to a specific sexual activity, must be given before every sexual act, no matter what.  Yes only means yes when it is given freely, enthusiastically, and with a clear head.  If you witness someone saying “no”, or someone who is drunk, acting uncomfortable, or being threatened by a potential partner, it’s time to step in.
Step 2:  Prevent inappropriate behaviors that lead to sexism.
Maybe you were a little miffed at someone who made an inappropriate or sexist comment.  Maybe you let it go because it was “just a joke.”  Sexist language that objectifies men and/or women is never okay, as it contributes to sex crimes and skewed attitudes about sex.  Letting someone talk about a person or group of people as if they were objects makes them think they can treat them like objects.  And that’s never okay.
Step 3:  Recognize your role in stopping potential sexual violence.
As silly as it seemed in grade school, the buddy system is essential to partying, especially in college.  Make a plan with your friends before you start drinking, and stick to it.  Promise to stay together, moderate your own and one another’s drinking, and keep an eye on each other at all times.
Still, the people that you entered the party with aren’t your only “buddies.”  If you notice someone in a dangerous situation – maybe they’re obviously uncomfortable but aren’t sure how to say “no,” or maybe they’ve had a few too many drinks and are being led into the bedroom – speak up.  Get a few friends to go with you to confront the pushy partier.  Distract the potential victim, and give him/her an opportunity to escape.  Pull him/her away if they’re unable to fight back.  Just do something.  When it comes to sexual assault, there is no such thing as an “innocent bystander.”  Every bystander has the ability to look out for classmates and friends.
Step 4:  Understand that you don’t have to do it alone.
You are never alone in acting to create a more secure college environment.  A number of organizations exist to act as professional bystanders, and you can always call them if a situation seems too great to handle, or call them to report an incident.  The BCPD, BC Sexual Assault Network, and BC University Health Services are all trained to deal with these issues.  These people cannot be everywhere, however, and it is important to remember that every person is responsible as the first line of defense against sexual assault.

Hopefully, with this information and a little bit of hard work, we can all party safer this weekend.  Every time we go out should be with increased awareness of and concern for the safety of our peers and our campus.
Peace, love, and lube,
BC Students for Sexual Health
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