Alcohol and Assault: Who’s to Blame?
This article has been written by Daksh Kadian (Batch of 2021). The cover picture is originally from NPR.
Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual assault.
It has been one month since I completed four years at the University. One thing I remember from my initial days is that alcohol was told to be the sine qua non of Law School life. I was told that my chances of getting through NLS without alcohol were bleak. However, my single kidney has been stronger than Law School influence. I just feel sad for the kidney to start with – when I was 10, the only pressure that this lone kidney felt was that of supporting a 6-foot body without a partner kidney. Never did the kidney imagine that 8 years down the line it would be bestowed with the task of endlessly fending off the societal pressure of drinking. Don’t worry, this piece is not about my journey coping with the Nashe, Liquor and Spirit (“NLS”) culture. It is more or less a Megha Mehta™ summary about and subsequent localisation of something I read during the lockdown, namely, a chapter titled ‘The Fraternity Part’ in Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.
The reason I chose to write for the first time for Quirk is that 40 pages of that book resolved my long-standing doubts regarding the relationship between campus drinking culture, sexual assaults, and quad parties. Some of you may choose to stop reading here. Why should you read about this from someone who has never tasted alcohol? Fair, but, let me tell you that my friends have been gracious enough to pass on their expanse of knowledge to me (not thankful!), which, I have studied with some rigour. I kid you not, my father is convinced that I am a raging alcoholic and my sister has proposed that I undergo medical tests as soon as possible to prove my teetotaler status. With this, I prove my locus and hope to have fulfilled the quirky threshold requirement to be featured on this blog.
Now, I will urge you to seriously read the remaining portion because it might help us improve as a community. Everyone is aware that NLS has had a fair share of sexual assaults fuelled by campus drinking at quad parties. For the longest time I did not understand two things: first, the real cause of such acts of sexual misconduct and; second, the standard for consent when alcohol was involved. I have spent a good amount of time pondering over these questions, but it was all in vain. I was able to draw clear linkages only when I read the aforementioned chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s book talking about a ‘Fraternity Party’ at Stanford University which sounded very similar to our very own NYP.
My only hope is that by the end of this piece you won’t be plagued by these questions. The purpose of this piece is to show that each and every Law Schoolite, present and past, is culpable for each and every act of sexual misconduct that has happened under the influence of alcohol on campus.
Let me start with some yes or no questions (the answers to which you have the full right to disagree with):
Is intoxication the sole cause behind sexual assaults in parties? No.
Is the lack of respect that a person holds towards women the sole factor behind sexual assaults? No.
Are the other people present in the party responsible for not having taken steps to prevent the assault? No.
You may be confused now, and wondering what it is that I’m trying to say. Who is really causing the assault then? Why did I make this tall claim of every Law Schoolite being responsible? Am I saying that there can never be consent when there is alcohol? You will have stick with me till the end to find the answers *sick move*.
Alcohol cannot be the sole factor leading to sexual assault. Interestingly, an indigenous group, Camba, in Bolivia drinks laboratory grade alcohol in groups. The Cambas have a solitary lifestyle except for on the weekends. They party every weekend, from Saturday evening to Monday morning. They pass out, regain consciousness, drink more alcohol, and pass out again in this time period. You’d expect that such a lonely life, when combined with highly potent alcohol, would lead to sexual activity on the weekends. However, there are NO instances of harmful sexual conduct. Why? Again, you will have to wait for the answer.
What exactly is driving the trend of sexual assault in NLS then? Is it the lack of understanding of informed consent? Or is it the character of the person responsible for such assaults? In the context of Law School, I will answer both these question in the negative. In my opinion, we are sufficiently made aware of what constitutes consent. Some may suggest that there is an understanding deficit given the absence of sex education in schools, and that navigating consent in a liberal space like our campus can be tricky. However, I do not endorse this view because I believe that Prof. Elizabeth’s session in the first year, substantive criminal law classes in the second year, and general discussions on campus are sufficient to equip us. Further, I also refuse to fully support the character theory, because I have observed that those accused of grave sexual misconduct have also been extremely aware and respectful in other instances, including when they were in an inebriated state. Thus, I do not believe that character can be the sole cause for inappropriate conduct as for some perpetrators, such behaviour is not repetitive. This does not mean that only repeat offenders are liable for their actions, I simply want to illustrate reasons in addition to character that contribute to sexual assault.
Now, let’s look at the NLS community’s role in promoting instances of sexually inappropriate behaviour. We are responsible – but not because we did not stop the act when it happened. We are responsible – but not because we failed to stop a student from taking someone to the washroom during a party. These instances could have happened and may happen without anyone spotting the act or the perpetrator.
We are responsible – but not even because we did not explicitly speak up when such an incident happened. The biggest disasters have happened when we have blindly believed the words and conduct of a person on the face of it (to explain this point, I will write an article some other time). Just because Modi says that he cares about minorities and considers them part of India, doesn’t mean he believes that. Hence, taking a stand may be of no relevance in a wider scheme of things. In my opinion, taking a stand could be just a convenient way to divert blame. Mere words are insufficient and silence in condemnation may not always mean ‘being an enabler’ – what we need to do is look around and go beyond performative activism. We need to take responsibility for the culture that prevails.
What we are responsible for is creating an environment of hypersexuality and alcoholism during our parties. The culture of hypersexuality when mixed with alcohol is instrumental, and is the trigger for all these sexually inappropriate behaviours. This culture has been passed from one batch to another. Hence, no Law Schoolite can be absolved.
To better understand this deadly combination, we will have to go a little into the science behind alcohol. To say that alcohol helps its consumers put down their guards and makes them happy is not absolutely true. What alcohol actually does is, after a certain level, induce myopia. Myopia has two components. First, the person is incapable of assessing the long-term implications of his act, and second, his acts start being dictated by his environment.
First Component: Short-sightedness
Myopia narrows our emotional and mental fields of vision. It creates, “a state of shortsightedness in which superficially understood, immediate aspects of the experience have a disproportionate influence on behaviour and emotion.” Alcohol makes the thing in the background less significant. It makes short-term considerations loom large, and more cognitively demanding, and longer-term considerations fade away. (Excerpts from: Malcolm Gladwell. “Talking to Strangers”). Alcohol incapacitates parts of our brain which handle complex, long-term considerations. In simpler words, a person is rendered incapable of assessing the long-term implications of his conduct. Potential police complaints or SHARIC proceedings do not threaten the person and are irrelevant considerations. This provides an answer to all those who have asked me why someone acted in such a manner even after knowing that there may be consequences. It also means that repeated amendments to strengthen the SHARIC Code may not yield substantial results.
Second Component: Acts Dictated by the Environment
Drinking puts you at the mercy of your environment. As previously noted, immediate and near considerations gain paramount importance in an inebriated state. It is on you as to how you structure your environment. If you were to drink alone, you are likely to feel more lonely. If you are drinking with your best friends and joking, you are likely to have a great experience. If you are going to drink in a conflict situation, you are likely to aggravate the conflict. Similarly, when someone is blind drunk, with people grinding on the dance floor who are hell-bent on going mad, then such an environment can possibly induce some short-sighted sexual consideration. This must also be seen in a broader framework, whereby hookup culture is glorified on campus. In fact, hypersexuality is inculcated within us on the very first day of college by asking our “Top 5”. Also, irresponsible drinking is the key defining feature of our NLS Culture. Be it Freshers, NYP, or SF, all I can see is people who are not really in their senses. Despite knowing the consequence, we boast about the unlimited alcohol availability at our parties and afterparties, and try to justify it with a 5-minute SHARIC Orientation parade.
The shortsightedness highlighted above, induced by irresponsible drinking and combined with a culture of hypersexuality, leads to the occurrence of grave sexual offences on campus. Even after knowing this, I am sure we won’t do much. Rather than addressing the issues of hypersexuality or irresponsible drinking, we will choose to cancel parties altogether or just blame those who may have committed such acts in the past and prevent them from attending parties.
Taking you back to the Camba, do you know why there is no sexual misconduct in their gathering despite them leading a lonely lifestyle? It is because they have used transformative power to create a healthy communal expression for themselves – they have used the myopia of alcohol to temporarily create a different world for themselves. They gave themselves strict rules: one bottle at a time, an organized series of toasts, all seated around the circle, only on the weekends, never alone. They drank only within a structure that had a world of soft music and quiet conversation: order, friendship, predictability, and ritual. This Camba society was manufactured with the assistance of one of the most powerful drugs on earth. (Excerpt from: Malcolm Gladwell. “Talking to Strangers”)
With that said, seniors should not and need not take pride in the number of first-years they help pass out in the Freshers Party. Similarly, there is no need for the DJ to play the “Manali Trance” song to make the party wild. Whenever college reopens, we must endeavour to have a more disciplined party culture, particularly involving clamping down on alcohol consumption. If you want the liberty to drink as much as you want, stay in your room. As I said before, alcohol by default does not lead to social pathology. The culture of hypersexuality is what makes it toxic. It is on us to control consumption and hypersexuality.
What I said may have been very obvious. If you thought it was, then you’re on the right path. However, connecting all the dots may not be that easy for everyone. By the end, all I have is three conclusions.
First, each and every Law Schoolite, present and past, is responsible for the instances of sexual assault that have happened under intoxication in law school parties. Even more than the accused, I’d say. Many of us may have made the mistake of facilitating an environment for such wrongdoing, but it is high time that we make amends. Let us moderate the alcohol and alcoholism, and bring down the hypersexuality. Second, writing a Quirk article when I am supposed to write a seminar paper is not a good decision. Third, my summary writing skills are not even close to those of Megha Mehta!
May we have safer parties in the future!
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