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Book excerpt: Party culture or booze cannot be an excuse for sexual assault

In her debut collection of essays – One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter – Scaachi Koul writes about growing up in Canada, her fear of flying, the rape culture, dealing with social media trolls, and other challenges of modern life.

books Updated: Jul 20, 2017 11:51 IST
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Have you heard of “party culture”? It’s one of many false culprits that rapists blame for their actions, as if party culture influences them to assault an unconscious or drunk woman. Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer found guilty in 2016 of sexual assault, argued that alcohol and party culture were to blame for what he did to a drunk, unconscious woman. It somehow strips away every modicum of morality or ethics you have. It’s not his fault; it’s just that they were both drunk.

Turner’s blaming booze is hardly the first time alcohol has been considered a bigger factor in an assault than the formulaic, intentional calculation of a rapist. In 2012, seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, killed herself after she was gang-raped while intoxicated and the photos of the assault were circulated online. That same year, in Steubenville, Ohio, a high school girl was raped by her classmates while she was drunk, then photographed. In 2013, Vanderbilt University football players were accused of raping an unconscious twenty-one-year-old student in a dorm.

What a coincidence that rapists so frequently seem to find women who are drunk.

We know being drunk doesn’t mean you deserve to be assaulted, and we know that there are plenty of men who can drink without raping someone. When we think of rape, we tend to think of coordinated calculation: Men who drive around in unmarked vans with duct tape and chloroform in the back. Men who follow women around, tracking their daily moves, catching them at their most vulnerable. We think of rape in terms of how men create intricate plans for hurting women, for sexual violence at its most gruesome, men who use physical force to hold women down. But we don’t, for some reason, associate it with a man who surveils you in public, maybe for an hour or two, to see if you’re getting drunk on your own or if he needs to help you along by buying you a drink. These types of rapes—rapes where women are too drunk to consent, or unconscious, or when no one bothers to ask for consent in the first place—are considered accidents. Everyone was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Youthful indiscretion. Party culture. It’s the wine’s fault. We forget that there’s calculation, that he walked up to you because you were teetering and he thought it would be easy.

Pickup-artist culture is most obviously dedicated to monitoring women, to tracking their moves and how the little ways we let our guard down may benefit a man. Roosh V, a pickup artist perhaps best known for saying rape should be legal, gives tips on his site for which girls you should pick up at a bar: “I look for girls who are drinking . . . It’s possible to have a one-night stand with a sober girl, but a few drinks in her makes it easier.”

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays
By Scaachi Koul
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 256
Price: Rs 399

But we see it in far less insidious places too, normalized in what we consume as entertainment. On the U.S. version of The Office, Michael Scott spent much of the first few episodes sexually harassing his boss, Jan, ignoring her when she said no and following her around. After a night of drinking, they slept together, but she still rejected him the next day. He continued to harass her at work and monitor her actions to see if something suggested she didn’t mean it when she said no. How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson had pickup techniques that, if displayed in the real world, would get him arrested. Plenty of Mad Men episodes were about getting women drunk in order to take them home.

Surveillance feeds into rape culture more than drinking ever could. It’s the part of male entitlement that makes them believe they’re owed something if they pay enough attention to you, monitor how you’re behaving to see if you seem loose and friendly enough to accommodate a conversation with a man you’ve never met. He’s not a rapist. No, he’s just offering to buy you a beer, and a shot, and a beer, and another beer, he just wants you to have a really good time. He wants you to lose the language of being able to consent. He’s drunk too, but of course, you’re not watching him like he’s watching you.

The first time I was roofied, I was barely eighteen, and as I walked home from one bar I was swept into another by a man who promised me a glass of water and a comfortable seat. “I’ll get you some water and then you’ll be able to get home okay,” he told me. I said okay because I didn’t have the language for, “No, please get me a cab.” He was nice to me and he had a soft, French accent and he was cute. (I think he was cute. I just remember a vague brunette blob holding my hand and guiding me to a table.)

He put a glass in front of me and I drank greedily, until my brain got foggier and my limbs felt weak. He sat next to me for most of the night, he watched me tip the glass to my mouth, he waited for my words to become more and more indistinct. He turned his back for a second and I stole away to the bathroom because I knew something was wrong with my body, knew that my brain couldn’t send a message to my legs to stop shaking or my heart to beat slower. It was a distress signal I had heard about from other women who always told me to be careful with my drinks, to cover them up, to drink out of bottles if possible, to avoid a drink that might be fizzing unnecessarily. It was the first time, and yet, familiar: I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror—hair matted, forehead beaded with sweat, lips dry and cracked—before my legs locked and I collapsed.

Outside the door, a woman heard me fall, and she came in and picked me up. She asked me what my name was and where I lived and I don’t remember telling her anything. She carried me out front, through a snowbank, and into a cab. The guy who had spent the night with me, who was running around the bar trying to find me, rushed up before she could close the door. “Wait,” he said, “she’s with me. I’ll take her home.”

The woman turned to him, blocking me from his view. “Okay,” she said. “What’s her name?”

My name is difficult enough for the sober, for people I have known for years, never mind a stranger at a bar, someone who I do not think ever asked me what my name was. He backed off immediately, and the woman handed my cab driver some money and put my seatbelt on for me. “Take her straight home and make sure she gets inside,” she said. “And if you don’t, I will find out, because I’m a lawyer.”

I woke up the next morning on my kitchen floor in my penguin pyjama bottoms.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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