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Week analyzes college ‘hook-up culture’

Megan Doyle | Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The “work hard, play hard” mentality and “hook-up culture” that partly contribute to sexual assault on college campuses are not unique to Notre Dame, Gender Relations Center Director Heather Russell said.

From 2007 to 2009, there were 21 sex offenses — including eight forcible rapes — reported to campus law enforcement, according to annual statistics from Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) and Saint Mary’s. According to NDSP, there were eight reported assaults during the 2010 calendar year and one since the spring 2011 semester began.

This week, the Gender Relations Center is sponsoring its annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week on campus. Sexual assault on college campus stems from the college “hook-up culture,” Russell said.

“Some Notre Dame students might feel that ‘no one dates’ and ‘everyone hooks up’ at this University,” Russell said. “In fact, these statements are both myths. Some people at Notre Dame date, and some don’t hook up.”

College students tend to compartmentalize their lives and live with a “work hard, play hard” mentality when they try to manage the pressures of any high-achieving university, Russell said.

“When an ethic of ‘work hard and play hard’ becomes the operative norm, students naturally segment their lives and their behavior accordingly,” she said, “Working hard from Monday to Thursday and playing hard for the weekend.”

This attitude does not create healthy relationships and encourages binge drinking, Russell said, and intoxication becomes the driving force behind the hook-up culture at most colleges.

“Intoxication allows students to choose to use each other for sexual gratification, choices the same person likely would not make if he or she were sober,” she said. “In other instances, college students fail to make time to build friendships — their would-be support system during their college years.”

The University recently responded to recent criticism of its handing of sexual misconduct charges in a Feb. 17 statement.

“The unfortunate reality is that sexual misconduct is a serious issue at colleges and universities across the country, and we are not immune,” the statement said. “Sexual misconduct on college campuses almost always involves students who are acquainted, and alcohol use by one or both parties is a factor in many instances.”

The University’s Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Assault Policy states that intoxication inhibits the ability to consent to sexual activity.

“A person incapacitated by alcohol or drug consumption, or who is unconscious or asleep or otherwise physically impaired, is incapable of giving consent,” the policy states.

The Sexual Assault and Misconduct Policy at Notre Dame also addresses students’ reluctance to report the occurrence of an assault when other rule violations, such as underage drinking, have also occurred.

“These behaviors are not condoned by the University but the importance of dealing with them pales in comparison to the need to address instances of alleged sexual misconduct,” the policy states. “Accordingly, in these cases the University will not pursue disciplinary action against a student who claims to be a victim of a sexual assault in connection with the reporting of that sexual assault, or against students named as witnesses to the incident.”

Ann Firth, chair of the University’s Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention (CSAP), said alcohol is the number one date rape drug on college campuses around the country, and this reality is one of the contributing reasons for the high number of sexual assaults against college-age women.

“While an assault can certainly happen in settings where alcohol is not involved, research shows that the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses involve alcohol use by either assailant or victim,” Firth said. “This trend is reflected on our own campus, in terms of the reported cases of sexual assault.”

Connie Adams, assistant director of the Belles Against Violence Office, said Saint Mary’s established a similar amnesty policy in its Code of Student Conduct to encourage students to access the College’s resources without fear of repercussion for underage drinking.

“If an individual is assaulted while intoxicated, this may impact the reporting process and healing process for the survivor,” Adams said.

Adams also said underlying social issues at the college level are the root of problems with sexual assault.

“This is why violence and abuse impact communities across the country,” she said. “The issues of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking impact college-age women at disproportionately higher rates than other populations.”

The University’s statement said Notre Dame is dedicated to thorough investigation of all sexual assault allegations.

“Notre Dame takes very seriously its obligation to thoroughly investigate every allegation of sexual misconduct, particularly in light of the gravity, complexity and sensitivity of these cases,” the statement said. “Those who do this important work on our campus are highly qualified and extremely confident.”