A Review: AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault

September 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

by MIRANDA

So! I am going to college very, very soon. In four days, actually. My school was one of many to assign the AlcoholEdu program to its incoming students. The website is a kind of alcohol orientation that combines videos, instant message chat, animations, and text to prepare you for a final exam. If you fail it, you have to complete the program again. The site describes itself as “an online alcohol prevention program used on more than 500 college and university campuses nationwide… designed to challenge students’ expectations about alcohol while enabling students to make healthy and safe decisions.”

AlcoholEdu has been the butt of many jokes among my peers. It’s true that its attempts to appear hip and relatable are nauseatingly earnest (really, an IM chat with your parents’ friend who is a doctor?) — though the creators seemed unconcerned with using actors who might be more relatable to students of color.

I expected the program to be rather tedious, and it definitely came through in that regard. What I didn’t expect was the site’s more-or-less-feminist, no-nonsense approach to sexual assault and its relationship to alcohol use. I was deeply gratified and relieved to discover this, because of, you know, the epidemic of assault on US college campuses.

The program started with lots of survey questions to assess our current knowledge. (My understanding is that one’s answers to the survey questions affected the presentation that followed; for example, if your survey responses indicated confusion about Blood Alcohol Content, the lesson that you were directed to would include more information about that topic. But, I’m not sure if this is entirely true. The program was not very transparent in terms of who was directed where.) The survey included questions like these:

When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “be taken advantage of sexually”?
When you drink, how likely do you think you are to: “take advantage of someone sexually”?

And this:

Rate how much you agree, on a scale from 0 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree):

  1. Women should take responsibility for avoiding sexual assault by drinking less alcohol
  2. It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if he was drinking at the time and his actions were not premeditated
  3. A person who was sexually assaulted should never be blamed for what happened
  4. A person who forces himself sexually on another person should always be blamed for what happened
  5. Many cases of so-called “acquaintance rape” are nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding between two people
  6. Without exception a person who forces himself sexually on another person should face legal consequences
  7. It really isn’t fair to charge a man with sexual assault if the other person was drinking at the time and led him on

Then, later on in the program, I was directed to these explanations regarding the question: “How does alcohol affect a person’s ability to give sexual consent?”

Alcohol and Consent

Consent is what a person says or does to give agreement for sexual contact, including sexual intercourse, to occur.

Alcohol can create a lot of confusion when it comes to interpreting whether a person has actually given consent. Because alcohol affects judgment, decision-making, and the ability to communicate clearly, drinking can seriously affect someone’s ability to give clear consent. Alcohol can also make it difficult for the other person involved to understand whether their potential partner has given consent or is even capable of legally doing so.

Determining Consent

In order to be sure that consent has taken place, people should keep in mind the following four standards:

Both parties should be unimpaired by alcohol or drugs: Both individuals should be able to control their own thoughts and know what is going on around them.

Both parties should be able to act freely: Both individuals must be free to change their mind at any time, and a person’s silence should not be misinterpreted as consent.

Both parties should clearly communicate their permission: Both individuals should discuss their willingness to have sex well in advance of sexual activity.

Both parties should be honest about their desires: Both individuals should be 100% honest about their feelings, and they should not convince their partners to have sex by being dishonest about their feelings or intentions.

Source: Berkowitz, A. B., (2002). “Guidelines for Sex in Intimate Relationships.” Campus Safety & Student Development. 4 (3), 49-50

Let me just say it: Hooray. I’m so glad that this was included, though kind of depressed that I was so surprised.

Later, I was shown a video addressing how to “intervene” if you witness “inappropriate” behavior. At a party, two guys were trying to get a girl drunk so they could “get her back to [their] room.” I was pleased to notice that a fat actress was chosen to play the target of this behavior — this choice directly counters the ridiculous cultural meme that only conventionally attractive women are “rapeable.”

I was also shown a video about how to help a friend who tells me she has been assaulted. The narration encouraged me to “believe her right away,” to “let [her] make her own decisions about how to handle reporting the crime,” and to “encourage her to seek counseling.”

In both of these videos, the viewer (me) was cast as a woman, the friend of someone in trouble — ostensibly because I’d indicated that I’m female at the beginning of the course. I’d be interested to see what the men on the site were shown: which videos, which statistics. I’m not sure how I feel about male and female students being shown different content, although I did appreciate the footnote attached to the question about gender identity:

* We recognize and appreciate that not all individuals identify within these binary constructs. The purpose of this question (and similar questions that will appear throughout the course) is to calculate your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), which is based on physiological variables specific to your biological sex and not related to your gender identity.

Overall, I was pleased with the way AlcoholEdu addressed alcohol safety issues, particularly sexual assault. However, I’m sure that a lot of students forgot what they’d learned as soon as the exam was over. I sincerely hope that the lessons introduced online are continued during orientation, ideally with a real-life, interactive workshop. I hope this isn’t the last that my peers will hear about these important issues.

Check out Jamie’s take on the site, too.

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§ One Response to A Review: AlcoholEdu and Sexual Assault

  • Dana says:

    Very cool! I’ve never heard of this program before. I wonder if they have in Canadian Universities? They should have this high school!!

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