Defining sexual violence involves many gray areas

Noah Brown

Sexual violence is not a popular topic of conversation, but that does not mean that no one talks about it. What do students think when they hear the word rape? It turns out that the answer to that question may be a much stricter definition than what South Dakota law has to say. The difference between fun and games and a felony might be not as far apart as you think.

SDSU’s definition of sexual assault in the Annual Security Report for 2011 begins with this sentence: “Sexual assault/rape is the subjection of another person to any sexual act against that person’s will, without one’s consent, whether forcible or non-forcible.” This is a concept that everyone is familiar with: “no means no.” The concept begins to enter a gray area when alcohol and drugs are involved.

South Dakota defines rape in the fourth degree as occurring, “If the victim is incapable of giving consent because of any intoxicating, narcotic or anesthetic agent or hypnosis.” This goes against the common misconception that the only rapists are hiding in some dark corner with a knife. While the world is not completely devoid of that kind of person, it could also be someone at the party, or an abusive boyfriend or husband.

“There is a direct tie from sexual violence to alcohol education,” said Dean of Students Sam Jennings II. “90 percent of rapes involve alcohol.”

At what point is someone too intoxicated to give consent? The SDSU Student Code (section 01:10:02:01) says, “Persons who are under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other illegal substances at the time they are subjected to the sexual act shall be presumed incapable of effective consent.”

Is one beer considered “under the influence”? That determination must be left up to each individual.

“Any student who feels victimized should talk to someone,” Jennings said.

An argument can be made that under this definition, a large amount of rapes  that occur in Brookings go unreported — something that Jennings hopes will change.

“I feel like there are more things happening than we are aware of,” he said.

There is a support system in place to help make it easier for survivors of sexual violence to get help. When an allegation is made, Student Affairs determines if it is of a sexual nature, then launches an investigation. If the claims are found  to be true, eventually the issue will come before the Student Conduct board. From there, disciplinary actions will be taken.

The survivor also is given the option to involve the police if so desired, but they don’t have to if the misconduct happened on campus. Whoever gets involved, Jennings said, the important thing is to tell someone.

“They should go anywhere,” Jennings said. “For goodness’ sakes, tell somebody; don’t get wrapped up in procedure.”

There are many people on campus with the ability to help students who feel like they have been victims of sexual violence. Residence hall staff, professors and university police officers are trained to help students find help and react to situations.