People choose to go to college for a variety of reasons: solving the world’s problems, obtaining credentials to qualify for useful employment and getting out of your parents’ basement are usually high on the list. Meeting other people, often from different backgrounds, is another reason (this is much easier to do at a university than in your mother’s basement). There is definitely a social aspect to the university experience, even if reality is somewhat different than the Animal House movies.
Some of these new contacts may develop into sexual relationships. Normally this is not something the police department worries about (we honestly have other things to do), unless we receive a report of sexual assault, which means things have crossed the line from private business into police business.
So where is the line? In the state of Ohio, as in many states, the legal line is defined by the c-word: consent. Consent means both parties have agreed, either verbally or nonverbally, to what is going on. If consent is not given, then it becomes a sexual assault situation. Consent cannot be given by people under threat, people under a certain age, people with certain mental conditions or by people whose judgment has been impaired by a drug, intoxicant or controlled substance. Alcohol would fall into the intoxicant category. Which is another way of saying “we were both really drunk” doesn’t cut much ice in legal circles.
These are not hypothetical issues—Case Western Reserve University Police Department receives a number of sexual assault reports every academic year. They almost never involve assaults between complete strangers; they almost always involve issues of alcohol and consent. Many of them are situations that could have been avoided with the use of better judgment. So enjoy your university experience, and enjoy making and discovering new relationships—just keep the c-word in mind should it ever seem relevant.
On the Beat is a weekly safety column written by Sergeant Jeffrey Daberko & Officer Mark (The Crossing Guard) Chavis of CWRU PD. Send feedback to this or other columns at firstname.lastname@example.org.