September 8, 2010

Friends Don’t Let Friends Hook up Drunk…Or Do They?

Is hooking up a "risky behavior" that needs to be avoided? Findings from a recent study seem to imply friends shouldn't let their friends hook up drunk...

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Blurry Decisions

In a recent article from Communication Education entitled Friends Don’t Let Jane Hook up Drunk, researchers examined college students’ responses to an alcohol/sexual decision making educational program called Let’s Talk about It (LTAI). LTAI presents students with fictitious scenarios involving a friend, Jane. [A summary of this article can be found on the Communication Currents website and highlight some points I plan to discuss.]

Jane is under the influence of alcohol (although it is not specified how much) and has been talking to her crush at a party who then invites her to go back to his place. In the LTAI program students are faced with the decision of what to do regarding letting Jane leave the party with this new acquaintance.

Survey Says:

39% of college students would try to persuade Jane to go home rather than to leave with her crush “by reminding her she may regret it” if she were to go with him. Another 39.3% stated they would make sure Jane got home safely. And 21.4% of students stated they would wish Jane a fun time. The authors indicated that these findings suggest that friends shouldn’t let friends hook up drunk.

A Good Effort, but…

I commend the LTAI program for tackling a really tough issue–personal responsibility. I often wonder to what extent should people step in and take responsibly for friends (or even people they don’t know) when it is obvious that this person is in trouble or may get into a potentially dangerous situation and to what extent should people be responsible for just taking care of themselves, ignoring the trouble of others? It is a tough issue, an issue that I think has been brushed under the rug due to the complexities involved. But I think researchers and educators need tread lightly because to me it feels like LTAI borders on victim blaming and also seems to imply that the hook up experience is always going end negatively.

What about John…?

The reason I think that LTAI may border on victim blaming is because the program focuses exclusively on Jane in the fictitious scenarios. I am left to wonder why students were not asked to respond to fictitious scenarios involving their friend John and his engagements involving alcohol at a party? LTAI seems to encourage friends to stop their female friends from leaving a party with a man with the implication that if she does she may get raped (which is entirely probable, unfortunately), but also that she may damage her reputation. I think such implications send a confusing message to men and women–women need to be cautious, men need not worry. Certainly women should be cautious, but shouldn’t we educate men on helping their friends avoid situations where a woman may be too drunk to really give consent? or he may be too drunk to be able to determine if she can give consent?

The article also states that: “there is an increased level of risk for women who engage in risky behaviors that involve alcohol and sex.”  While I do agree, women are often the ones who are at risk of getting sexually assaulted in college, I am frustrated by the constant focus on women’s behavior in most contemporary sexual assault education initiatives. The LTAI program focuses on teaching students a variety of communicative strategies to protect their female friends. This seems to imply that if women were to behave differently, they would not get assaulted. I continually advocate for the focus of such programs to be shifted. Certainly women can take steps to reduce the risk of being in situations where sexual assault may occur, but the only person who can prevent sexual assault from happening is the person who commits it. Therefore, it would be helpful if interventions spent some time educating John and his friends on how to deal with situations where alcohol and sex may lead to non-consensual sex too.

So, should friends let friends hook up?

Something that I think is lacking in this article is the idea that students can have a positive hook up experience…in fact, from what I can tell, many people have great hook up experiences! According to Kathleen Bogle’s book about the college hook up, many college students are active participants in the hook up scene. And from what I can tell, many students seem to enjoy meeting new people and engaging in casual sexual encounters with people they may see again and others they may not. I think the important thing is for all sexual encounters to be safe and consensual. So, if you see your friend leaving with someone who is too intoxicated to make a decision or they are too intoxicated to make a decision for themselves, maybe you should step in and try to stop them. But if everyone involved knows what they are doing and are in the right frame of mind to make decisions about their sexuality, like the other 21.4% of students in the LTAI study say, I wish you a fun time!