When Deputy Chief of Police Carol Dedow was a student at Western Michigan University over 30 years ago, the drinking culture was more relaxed. Alcohol was easier to get for underage students and the Minor in Possession by Consumption law didn't exist yet.
The national survey on drug use and health revealed that 59 percent of college students drank within the last month of the survey and 39 percent binge drank. This is the difference between then and now, Dedow said. What she describes as black-out binge drinking, and continuous partying every weekend is a newer practice among today’s students.
According to the Department of Justice and the National Collegiate Date of Acquaintance Rape Statistics, the perpetrator was intoxicated in one-third of sexual assaults, and 90 percent of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol. Today’s heavy drinking culture can make the already risky party scene far more difficult to navigate for students and police alike. However, alcohol is not to blame for the perpetrator's behavior, Dedow said.
“Just because the suspect had been drinking doesn't negate the fact they committed a crime,” Dedow said. “They can’t use that excuse. People try and say ‘I wouldn't have done it otherwise.’ Yes, you would have. It’s a crime of power and control.”
Women are thought to be the typical victims of sexual assault, as one in five college aged women face it, according to the DOJ. However, male students also face assault, but it typically involves couples as opposed to acquaintances and strangers, Director of Title IX Compliance for WMU Felicia Crawford said.
“When we see female students that are respondents and males as complainers, it’s usually intimate partner violence,” Crawford said.
Intimate partner violence, like sexual assault, is also against University policy and illegal. Crawford said student safety is important to WMU administration and assaults both types are taken seriously.
“We put resources behind taking care of the needs of our students," Crawford said. “We are pretty advanced as far as implementing policies and having a response. We’ve been doing alcohol and assault education for years.”
Currently, FIREPlace in Sindecuse Health Center provides peer support and education on sexual assault.
WMU’s sexual misconduct policy doesn't allow for sexual consent during incapacitation from alcohol, FIREPlace and Sexual Assault Prevention Coordinator Amber Mosley said.
This has been the attitude of WMU since Dedow’s days as a student.
“Even back when I was 19, the university has always been proactive in terms of how to treat a victim,” Dedow said.
Following graduation as a young police officer, Dedow was sent away to be trained in sexual assault investigations. She attended acquaintance rape instructor training and became a seminar facilitator for both males and females. She’s been working closely with sexual assault cases since then,during her 32 years as a Kalamazoo Public Safety officer.
“The goal is asking, how can we get victims where they feel comfortable in reporting it? We want to make sure they’re getting checked out physically and getting assistance with any issues that may come about after an assault as well,” Dedow sid.
Dedow said intoxication would never affect the results of reporting a sexual assault for a survivor.
“Sometimes, they feel they are so intoxicated that they can’t legally report it.” Dedow said. “Just because you’ve been drinking, doesn't mean that you’re not going to get an MIP.”
To prevent vulnerability, Dedow recommended watching the amount of alcohol consumed at a time.
“The more you drink, the less you are aware of your surroundings,” Dedow said. “It’s just like with people driving. You’re impaired. Walking, driving, or just sitting with people.”
Dedow also suggested utilizing a buddy system, something she did during her time at WMU.
“If you see one of your friends getting really drunk, keep an eye on them. Don’t let them go away with someone they don't know,” Dedow said. “A guy kept grabbing on one of my sorority sisters and I told him to leave her alone. He said ‘what are you, her mother?’ I said yes. Tonight, I am her mother.”
Mosley said a big sign of oncoming sexual assault at parties is isolation and agreed that a buddy system like Dedow’s is a highly effective preventive measure.
When sisters of Alpha Phi party together, no woman is left alone at any given time. Their buddy system is strictly followed.
Using group messaging apps, sisters of Alpha Phi will also volunteer to stay in and provide safe rides home.
Alpha Phi’s risk manager Sarah Maulbetsch said partying and going out as a woman can be difficult even without alcohol involved.
“Being sexualized is a hard part about being a woman. Guys think just because a girl is wearing a crop top, they’re looking for more. Also, when guys follow you around at parties, that’s intimidating,” Maulbetsch said. “That scares me.”
Freshman Connor Brandsetter said it’s students’ job to keep an eye out for that sort of intimidation toward fellow students.
After returning to his dorm one night, Brandsetter's roommate informed him he and some friends thought a sober male student had brought an intoxicated female student back and was taking advantage of her. This set Brandsetter and others on his floor into action. They knocked on the door to confront the male and evaluate the situation.
In this case, the commotion on his floor turned out to be a misunderstanding. Behind the door, the young woman was safe. If he could go back in time, Brandstetter said he and his friends wouldn't change a thing.
“We’d try and stop it again,” he said. “As a student, it’s our responsibility.”
For LGBT students, scenarios like this aren’t always so easy to spot when male-female interaction standards no longer apply. OUTspoken co-president and junior Mackenzie Marts said the added layer of ambiguous sexuality also makes meeting partners different for LGBT students.
“For LGBT people, it’s more common to use apps to meet,” Marts said. “It’s not always a matter of going out, it’s a matter of getting on your phone.”
This can pose a new type of threat, Marts said.
“You don’t know who someone is until you’re in the same space as them,” Marts said. “At that point, It might be harder to back out as opposed to if you just met them while partying, where it would be easier to slip away.”
Marts supports online dating, but warned students to be cautious.
“It’s the only way a lot of LGBT people meet anyone,” Marts said. “But I think you need to be aware of the risk and always tell people where you’re going.”
Twenty-one percent of transgender, genderqueer and non-conforming students have been assaulted, according to the RAINN. In an effort to provide a safer space for WMU’s LGBT students, OUTspoken has offered alternative spaces.
“With monthly movie and game nights, we try to get people to hang out and not have any alcohol around,” Marts said.
While alcohol can be a factor in sexual assault, Crawford, Mosley and Dedow all say it is essential to never let it become the blame.
“A survivor is never responsible for being assaulted; always believe them and offer them resources.” Mosley said.