I’m just going to straight up say this: We need to change the way we teach teens about rape. This is not an opinion, this is fact. If Steubenville didn’t convince people, if Daisy Coleman didn’t convince people, if unambiguously innocent kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart’s impassioned plea didn’t convince people, let this help to convince people. This is a question submitted to Yahoo!Answers: “How much can a girl drink before it becomes rape?”
Now, it seems clear that the asker — username James — is well intentioned here. He elaborates on the question by saying that “Obviously, if she's passed out that's not okay,” and says that “I'm not trying to take advantage of anyone I'm trying to have a good time but be responsible about it.” He genuinely seems to just be confused about the correlation between sexual assault and alcohol and is looking for answers. On the Internet, which might not be the best strategy, but hey, the Internet is where all the info is.
But. But. But. There are so many problems with this, none of which are really James’s fault if he is, as I suspect, a teenage boy who’s never had anyone actually explain this stuff. His post is far less objectionable than some of the answers he's gotten. Still, he also asks in the post “could I still be guilty of rape if she had second thoughts later?” Now while we like the word “guilty” instead of “accused,” the whole “second thoughts” thing is a problem. A big problem. Because the whole "rape is when a lady changes her mind" concept must be killed with fire — yet apparently it still lives on.
But moving beyond the specific problems with the post, the entire framing device is highly flawed, and not just because alcohol affects everyone differently and therefore there is no magic number of drinks. No, it’s a problem because the question makes it seem that consent can be implied up to a certain point. It’s a problem because this frames hookups as something you go for unless the girl puts the brakes on it or maybe is too drunk but who knows? It’s a problem because asking “How much can a girl drink before it becomes rape?” makes it seem like rape is something that happens accidentally, instead of something one person does to another, unintentionally or not.
It’s a problem because the word consent doesn’t appear anywhere in James’s question.
Which brings me back to the part where we need to start teaching kids and teens better. Because do I think James omitted the word “consent” in this post because he doesn’t care about it? No. I think it isn’t there because no one ever stressed this point to him. Maybe no one even taught him the word at all.
We live in a rape culture. This is fact. But maybe it will end when we start teaching kids that sex should not be something you win or achieve — it should be something you and another person decide on. That it’s not something one person does to another but something two people do together. That consent is not some magical formula involving the correct number of drinks and the right signals, but something a person gives because they chose to, and if they aren’t in a good place to choose that right now, you don’t have consent and you’re not having sex — you’re having rape.