Saturday, 2 August 2014

A couple of drinks to take to a party + teenagers: How can parents not see that this can lead to sexual activity?

When I meet a parent who tells me that they have made the decision to give their teen a couple of drinks to take to a party and what are my thoughts, I have to be careful as to what I say. Every parent has to make their own decisions around whether or not to provide alcohol to their child or not - who am I to tell you what to do with your son or daughter? But when a mum or dad comes out with the ridiculous line of "At least I know what they're drinking - if they don't get it from me, they'll get it from somewhere else ..." it makes my blood boil! How you providing alcohol makes it any less dangerous is beyond me and when I hear this kind of statement from a parent of a 15 or 16 year old young woman I find it very hard to not want to shake them ...

How a parent cannot see that alcohol and sexual activity (whether it be consensual or not) are linked is beyond me! The evidence is quite clear that teens who drink alcohol are more likely to be sexually active at an earlier age, to have sexual intercourse more often and to have unprotected sex. Alcohol is a powerful disinhibitor - a couple of drinks, a teenage party or gathering and a whole pile of raging hormones - is it any real surprise?

The most disturbing part of what I do in schools is meeting young women who divulge to me that they have either been sexually assaulted or have had sex whilst intoxicated and have deeply regretted it afterwards and have no idea who to talk to about the experience. Sometimes I receive emails that not only tell a story (some of them truly horrific!) but also provide advice that they believe would be useful for me to deliver to students that may help prevent what happened to them from happening to others ... What I love about these emails is how practical and useful some of the strategies are that these young people come up with. Here is one such email that I received earlier this year from a Year 12 student - I have altered some of the details to protect her identity and also received her permission to use it here ...

"At the end of last year, three of my guy friends invited me to come out with them and celebrate their finishing of year 12 ... other girls were invited but none of them could make it. I'd known two of these three guys for about 4 years so I trusted them and agreed to it, not really thinking much of it. I  told them I wasn't going to drink and I had school the next day so I could not have a late night.

We walked to some park and they had some drinks I'd never tried before so they poured me a shot and I had some, it was nice so I had another, then the drinks started getting passed in 'rounds' and every time I'd say I didn't want anymore they'd say that if I stopped drinking they'd all have to stop because of me. So I ended up getting pretty drunk I don't remember a lot of the night. But I do remember bits and I know that the boy I didn't know that well left early and I remember that the two boys who I had been friends with for so long completely took advantage of me. 

I will just give a bit of context here, these boys were nice, I'd been friends with them for years, not particularly big or violent, smart boys from private schools. Nothing seemed like it was pointing to what happened, nothing at all. I should have easily been able to get myself out of that situation, but I didn't. And the main reason that I didn't was because I had absolutely no idea where I was and I could not get home unless these boys took me. They knew this and they used it against me, I remember crying and telling them I just wanted to go home and they would tell me things that I had to do before they would take me home.

People told me that I was stupid and what did I expect sneaking out with three boys and yes I admit it probably wasn't my smartest move, however I don't really think having another girl there would have made that much of a difference (if she was drinking too).

So yes sorry for the long email, but what I learnt, is no-matter how safe you think you should be with certain people, if you are drinking, none of you will be thinking straight so either
  • Be somewhere very close to home that you know how to get back from
  • If you are drunk try have a sober friend who will be able to use rational thinking to get out of bad situation
  • Have someone you can call that can come pick you up
And note that all of these require you to know where you are, as in street names so you can at least call someone and ask them to come and get you."
 
This story is horrific and the fact that this girl is using what happened to her to try to help others is incredible. The strategies she suggests are so useful, yet simple and practical, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we didn't need to provide information like this to our young women?
 
I could almost guarantee that the young men involved here wouldn't even believe that they did anything wrong - that "they were helping her get drunk" (you wouldn't believe how often I hear that from male students attempting to justify bad behaviour) - let's not forget that this is a crime! Having sex with a girl who is too drunk to consent is sexual assault - it's important to educate our daughters about to protect themselves but we've also get a message to our sons about what is appropriate and what is not. Sadly, too many young women I meet would never dream of reporting an alcohol-related sexual assault because they believe that it is just simply a part of the 'alcohol experience', i.e., that's what happens when you get drunk! This has to change ...
 
Does this story have anything to do with parental provision of alcohol? Of course not, but what it clearly shows is that alcohol was used by those so-called 'nice' boys to take advantage of this young woman and because she was intoxicated she was unable to protect herself appropriately. Put simply, the more available alcohol is, the greater the risk. A parent providing alcohol does not reduce this risk in any way. As she says in her email - "no matter how safe you should be with certain people, if you are drinking, none of you will be thinking straight" - I really couldn't say it any better myself!

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