“Watch out for the stupid girls,” I tell my son. “They are trouble.”
You know the type — the party girls, the girls who thrive on attention. The girls who will do anything to get a guy to notice them, as the pop star Pink riffs on one of her best-ever songs, “Stupid Girls”: “If I act like that, flipping my blond hair back, push up my bra like that … that guy will call me back.”
The problem is that all the kids in college are smart or they wouldn’t be there in the first place, as my dean’s list son likes to remind me. Admittedly, it’s a tricky conversation to navigate, but I’m not giving up. There’s too much at stake.
It seems nearly every week, we hear news stories about sexual encounters at parties where everyone is drinking — and a young woman says she was raped, and a young man insists the encounter was consensual.
Make no mistake, no woman — no matter how much she parties — is asking to be raped. But too often when heavy drinking is involved, the meaning of consent can be misconstrued on both sides. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, each year about 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. And those are only the cases that are actually reported.
So understandably, parents worry about how best to prepare their daughters and sons for college. We spend a lot of energy learning to navigate the academic and financial requirements. We give years of thought to which colleges are a best fit for our kids. Once they are accepted, we make sure our children are sent off to college with every overpriced, not-so-necessary item listed on the “what-to-pack-for-college” list. And just before we drop them off on campus, we make sure we have “The Talk” about focusing on grades and not getting caught up in the party scene.
In my case, I filled my son’s duffel bag with about 300 condoms and told him watch out for party girls but have fun; meet new people but stay focused on academics.
But I know from my own fun-filled years at Penn State that campus life can be confusing even for the best of kids. So I taught him how to do his own laundry, grocery shop and cook — just so he wouldn’t have to depend on anyone else to do those things. But lately, I’ve been worried that I left out one important piece of advice that is a must-do today:
Never have sex with a girl unless she’s sent you a text that proves the sexual relationship is consensual beforehand. And it’s a good idea to even follow up any sexual encounter with a tasteful text message saying how you both enjoyed being with one another — even if you never plan on hooking up again.
Crazy, I know, but I’ve actually been encouraging my son and his friends to use sexting — minus the lewd photos — to protect themselves from being wrongly accused of rape. Because just as damning text messages and Facebook posts helped convict the high-schoolers in Steubenville of rape, technology can also be used to prove innocence.
How to protect yourself from false rape allegations is a constant conversation among professional athletes. I’ve covered many rape cases over my career, including those of Kobe Bryant, the Duke lacrosse team, and many others that never made the headlines. Sports agents and athletes have tried everything from openly or secretly recording their sexual encounters, which is illegal in some states, to asking all women they have sex with to sign a pre-consent form. And though the public may scoff at stories of athletes who frequent strip clubs or solicit prostitutes, many athletes say they do this to avoid unwarranted sex assault charges.
NIAA research shows that more than 80% of college students drink alcohol, and almost half report binge drinking — five drinks for men, four for women, over two hours — in the past two weeks. And binge drinking can cause many of us, no matter what age, to make bad decisions.
Let’s face it, the sexual revolution is real — but because we still fail to discuss sex and evolving sexual mores frankly with our sons and daughters, all this freedom has led to confusion about the ever-changing rules of engagement when it comes to sex. But one thing is a constant: When a girl tells a boy no, he must always believe her and stop.
Parents need to step up. I’m doing my part, raising a son to respect women and himself by talking to him about how to navigate the freedom that comes with college life.
But we need to do more work to teach our daughters that women also have an equal personal responsibility to respect their bodies. And true equality means that we are also held accountable for our actions. Partying and drinking until you are no longer in control of your body or mind instantly sets you up to become a victim of rape or bodily harm — or even to die.
Nobody wants to be a stupid girl. It’s time for us girls to smarten up. And it’s time for guys to understand — when a girl is way drunk, it doesn’t make it open season on her. In fact, it’s just the opposite: If she’s falling down drunk, stay away, far away.
Editor’s note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women’s topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete,” (Random House) and CEO of Push Media Strategies.