On ‘Screw’ Parties and Rape Culture – Anonymous

Content warning: sexual assault

It’s a typical weekday afternoon. I’m running on the treadmill in upstairs Lasell, brooding over classes and annoyed at my boyfriend. I’m texting my friends about our upcoming trip to New York, when I look up and see someone who makes my skin crawl and stomach turn. I don’t want him to see me here–he can’t see me here. I don’t want him to see my exposed shoulders, my exposed legs. For the next 45 minutes, I stay exactly where I am, not looking up from my treadmill, hoping eventually he’ll leave. I think about him seeing my body and imagining me naked the night he forced me to have sex with him. It makes me want to throw up.

It’s now a few days past the one-year anniversary of that night: January 23rd 2015. My friend “Danielle” came up to me at Paresky and asked if I wanted to go to a fun crew team party, aptly named a “Screw”, with “a really sweet guy”. She wouldn’t tell me any details, but asked what my favorite alcoholic drink was. “That’s so nice, they’re trying to have drinks everyone will be happy with” I thought as I texted her that my drink of choice was whiskey. As a freshman girl yet to be oriented to the hookup scene at Williams, I was thrilled. A formal event where I got to dress up, meet a cool guy, and have some fun? I couldn’t wait! I spent hours getting ready, my entrymates giving me advice and helping me with my makeup. I excitedly told friends, JAs, and upperclassmen, all of whom knew how Screws worked. None of them batted an eye. When it came time for the party, I met Danielle outside my entry and walked with her to the party. Inside, I was met with a room packed with strangers, blaring music, and my date. I had seen my date, “Harry”, around a few times, as I had with most Williams people, but we had never talked. I didn’t know anyone else in the room I could make small talk with, and most of the other girls were in the same position. The guys, on the other hand, all knew each other: After all, they were teammates. Harry was pretty quiet and didn’t make eye contact, but this requisite awkwardness was soon eased by the booming voice of one of the crew team’s captains, who instructed us to pair up with our dates and form a line. We obediently followed directions, and before I knew it my right hand and Harry’s left were duct taped together and attached to a 40 oz bottle of beer. We would only be freed, the captain told us, once we finished the bottle, took several shots, and finished a mixed drink. “This isn’t what I want, this is not what I signed up for” I thought to myself. All I wanted was a nice night of dancing and a cute guy. As my pulse quickened, I looked around the room for friendly faces to help me get out of this scary situation, but I recognized no one. Feeling the pressure and the yelling of the people around us, I started to drink. The team captain approached us and, sliding his hand along my lower back, commented to Harry, “your date is very pretty, you’d better not lose track of her.”

In the course of about 20 minutes, Harry and I finished the 40, mixed drink, and shots and became drunk way past a healthy limit. We were untied and shepherded down a steep flight of stairs with all the other newly intoxicated couples. I clung to Harry on the descent into a dark, dingy basement that had been converted into a dance floor. The meaning of “Screw” was finally made clear: within three minutes, everyone around us was making out. At this point, I could hardly form coherent thoughts, much less understand my situation and remove myself from it. After drunkenly kissing for about 15 minutes, I found myself and Harry heading back to my room. I walked across half of campus, in the middle of January, in a backless minidress, with no coat. Back in my bedroom, he got on top of me. In my inebriated state, I saw what was going on as a distanced observer, having no control or feelings over what was going on. Midway through, however, I began to sober up. I was terrified. I lay there as Harry finished on top of me, rolled onto my stomach to make room for him to lie down after he finished, and whispered into the crook of my arm if he could please go home. He got up and left, and my friends, back from a party, flooded into my room asking how my night had gone. All I could do was flash a smile and giggle, but internally I was numb. I felt like his sweat and cologne had permeated my skin forever. I wanted to shower, to burn my sheets and dress and cut off all my hair, but I couldn’t move. All I could do was curl up in my damp bed and go to sleep.

For months, I tried to dismiss what had happened. I told myself I was silly and immature for feeling so weird about a hookup. My friends teased me for acting awkwardly whenever I saw Harry in Paresky or the library, and I let them, because I believed I was unreasonable for being unhappy or uncomfortable with what happened. All that I had ever heard was that if two people were both really drunk and they hook up, the guilt just disappears: Both people are innocent. I carried this weight with me for months, until I went to a RASAN event that validated all I was feeling. “If both people are equally inebriated, they won’t hook up, they’ll just go to sleep” Meg Bossong said. “If two people are really drunk and something sexual or nonconsensual happens, there’s someone who’s more aware of the situation who’s pushing it along”.

It all finally made sense to me. I no longer had to suppress my disgust or feel guilty for what had happened. What had happened to me was wrong, it was nonconsensual, it was serious. As difficult as it was to process that what had happened to me could be defined as sexual assault, it was so gratifying to know that how I felt was entirely valid. I am a survivor.

Williams proudly proclaims that our campus is free of Greek Life, with the implication being that we are free of dangerous parties and rape culture as well. This ignorance, however, perpetuates a horrifying rape culture as it remains undiscussed since many people are scared to talk about it. The fact that I’m afraid to attach my name to my experience is telling of how ingrained and dangerous this tradition is. For one, I am afraid of getting backlash while I’m still on campus, as stories of previous incidents has taught me. Also, I don’t want Google searches of my name to turn up with articles of a sexual assault case. Despite knowing that this was not my fault, I still can’t help but feel ashamed for what happened to me.

 

Writing this makes it real for me.

If anything, there are two things to take away from my experience: It was in no way my fault and it could have been prevented. Getting coerced into inebriation at a party full of strangers and losing all volition was a situation planned and executed with this exact conclusion in mind. Those who in other cases would take all precautions not to find themselves in a nonconsensual situation are given a free pass on this night.

In the past year, I’ve heard “Oh, you’re going to a sports formal? Be careful” thrown around countless times. Screw dances are not exclusive to the crew team; they are a widely practiced and acknowledged tool. Screws are known for social pressure, dangerous levels of inebriation, and unspeakable nonconsensual situations. My friends, JAs, and campus leaders all know how it works. Yet no one has ever thought to question this custom of “Screws”. For those on this campus who have been in my situation, and I know there are many, I hope they let go of the blame they may hold and find the healing they need. For the members of Williams College who pretend to be blind to rape culture, I hope you overcome your ignorance and work to end a tradition that oppresses and threatens us all.

For me, reporting what happened to me is not my immediate concern. My primary motivation for writing this is to reveal how this seemingly benevolent team-building tradition is really thinly-veiled rape culture. This kind of party is no different from a frat formal. I want to challenge the established acceptance of a tradition that is Screw dances and expose Williams to the reality that is our rape culture.

 

Editor’s note: The name given to the author’s date has been changed because it was identical to current members of the crew team. This was a coincidence and an oversight for which the Alternative apologizes.

 

11 thoughts on “On ‘Screw’ Parties and Rape Culture – Anonymous

  1. Teared up while reading this. No one should ever go through what you did, and I hope Screw parties disappear/completely change what they’re all about.

    I’ve never been to one, but I always thought it seemed like a fun idea; a chance to meet new people. And even when I learned that they did the whole taping-your-hands-to-a-bottle-of-alcohol, I thought it sounded like a nice little icebreaker. So yeah, the fact that I didn’t see anything wrong with it is pretty unsettling to me now.

    We really do have to question all the things we have come to accept as normal. I hope this piece make us all take a real look at ourselves.

  2. I have a couple problems with this article that will probably be controversial but I think are worth discussing.

    First, you requested whiskey as your drink of choice then were dismayed when you were offered some beer. Requesting whiskey, to me, shows you have a taste for hard alcohol and probably understood the party climate you were signing up for. I don’t see why you’re acting like you were coerced into drinking, you clearly were anticipating getting drunk. I am also very familiar with crew parties and know for a fact non-drinkers are accepted and accommodated. In any case, it is common knowledge that drunk people are more likely to engage in unsafe sex, and people should remember this going into parties. I think you’re describing yourself as a complete victim when you actually could have had some foresight about the consequences of your decisions.

    This kind of issue has way more ambiguity than college administrators will let on, mainly how it is so heavily implied that a drunk man can consent to sex but a drunk woman cannot. You made out with this anonymous boy for fifteen minutes, which he, in his equally inebriated state, understandably could have interpreted as a signal that you were interested in having sex. A drunk boy and drunk girl decide to have sex when they probably shouldn’t have, but only the boy is guilty of rape. While the girl was so drunk that she couldn’t defend herself, the boy was in a calm and collected state of mind where he makes a conscious decision to rape someone. I think it’s dangerous to accept this assertion. He was also very drunk. Let’s acknowledge that both parties engaged in this regretful and unfortunate event in an equal state of intoxication, which makes it much harder to assign blame than this article’s author implies.

    • 1. She enjoys whisky. Not asking for it.
      2. She went to a party called “crew screw.” Still not asking for it.
      3. She wore a backless dress. Still not asking for it.
      4. She made out with her would-be rapist. Still not asking for it.

      • No one said she was. But seems you missed the part where he was drinking too. If she can’t consent after alcohol, why can he? Isn’t it sexist to give different rules to people based on genitalia? Isn’t that against the very fundamental core of feminism, treating people differently based on nothing more than what they have between their legs?

  3. Just digging into Meg Bossong’s ridiculous quote:

    “If both people are equally inebriated, they won’t hook up, they’ll just go to sleep” Meg Bossong said.

    Why? Where is this coming from? Seems very implausible. Maybe if they are both at the “passed out” level, but it is definitely possible to be “inebriated” and not be that hammered

    “If two people are really drunk and something sexual or nonconsensual happens, there’s someone who’s more aware of the situation who’s pushing it along”.

    1) not necessarily (see above)
    2) the one who is more aware (less drunk) may not be the one pushing it along – it is often the reverse

  4. All my support. This piece was honest and difficult, and I wish you all the best.

    I do want to note the inane comment above from “Can’t use my name due to possible backlash.” (Content note: some more discussion of rape-culture, misogynistic logic. + some bitchiness.)

    Here’s an explanation that shouldn’t have been necessary: whiskey being one’s desired drink does not mean that one wants to drink to oblivion tied to a stranger. Intending to drink at a party has nothing to do with being happy to drink 40oz of beer while tied to a stranger. Drinking 40oz beer plus several shots and a mixed drink does not mean you want to have sex afterward. In fact, for most people it makes us wasted to the point that sex is not really on the table. Coherent thought is not really on the table.

    **This is a tradition that engineered this situation.** Why? You’re taped to the beer and your partner. Either you’re a non-drinker or you drink a set amount that you do not decide.

    “Can’t use my name” wants to tell Anonymous they can’t be a victim (it’s complicated! “Cant use my name” knows better), all while drawing themself up as a victim of potential backlash. It’s the usual process of trying to question survivors’ versions of events all while presenting the traditions and those who benefit from them as victims.

    No. The non-logic in “Can’t use my name”: that Anonymous should have expected to be raped because they said they liked whiskey and went to a crew party. Or that Anonymous could not have been assaulted as they said because they intended to drink at a party with a date.

    It’s a complicated issue, but not in the way “Can’t use my name” and others like them think it is. Stop trying to use your flattened idea of nuance to muddy the conversation.

    It won’t work. xoxo
    Tony W.L.

    • I think there is room to bring nuance into the discussion without invalidating the author’s experience. She was pressured into a situation she didn’t want to be in and she was hurt, and she deserves support and validation. She wasn’t asking for it. But “Harry” could easily have been in a somewhat similar position, pressured by teammates into going along with something he might not otherwise have done. And the Meg Bossong quote, “If both people are equally inebriated, they won’t hook up, they’ll just go to sleep,” sounds entirely untrue to me, or at least a vast oversimplification or generalization. We weren’t there, and “Harry” can’t defend himself, so we should hesitate to condemn him. I feel there’s a balance somewhere, that there’s room to support the author while still remaining uncertain about the specifics of her situation.

      I agree that the entire atmosphere of these parties is dangerous and damaging, and that people who undergo harmful experiences like this deserve all the love and support that they need. But I don’t think that means we can’t have conversations about how messy consent can be, especially when alcohol is involved.

  5. To the author of this piece – thank you so much for telling this difficult and important story.

    (content note – more discussion of rape/sexual assault)
    In response to the “If he was drunk, isn’t she a rapist too?” approach attempted by “Can’t use my name,” 17, and Ben:

    1) First and foremost, the “both parties were drunk” argument just distracts from the article’s primary concern: the author’s traumatic experience, and the campus traditions and attitudes that facilitated that horrific experience. No matter how drunk “Harry” was, the author’s feelings of disgust and shame are still completely real and completely valid, and “Harry” (and the dangerous, coercive tradition of which he was a part) is still culpable for those feelings. If you read this article and your only reaction is to attempt to “bring nuance into the discussion” by saying something like “mmm, well, technically isn’t she just as much to blame as he is?”, you’re not only victim-shaming but also ignoring the actual content of the article (i.e., a highly emotional story about rape culture at Williams College, not a thinkpiece about the complexity of consent standards on college campuses).

    2) Also, it’s pretty clear from the author’s account that there was indeed someone who, in Meg Bossong’s words, “was more aware of the situation who was pushing it along” (despite 17, “Can’t use my name,” and Ben’s stubborn attempts to argue otherwise). If “Harry,” like the survivor, had been in a state where he “saw what was going on as a distanced observer, having no control or feelings over what was going on,” I sincerely doubt the events of the night would have transpired. This seems to be the point that Meg Bossong is making. It’s clearly not the case that two drunk people are physically incapable of having sex, but if both of them are so trashed that neither is really interested in hooking up (i.e., totally incapacitated), then sex isn’t going to happen. The problems arise when only one of the two parties is totally incapacitated – thus, the hypothetical “they were both super wasted” situation doesn’t often come into play in real life. (Brett Sokolow can substantiate this – check out pp. 14-15 of https://www.ncherm.org/pdfs/2005NC3.pdf)

    3) Finally, even if there existed some foolproof, objective metric with which intoxication could be assessed, and even if the author and “Harry” were “in an equal state of intoxication,” any attempt to frame the author as just as much of a perpetrator as “Harry” ignores the overwhelmingly uneven playing field they’re occupying based on their respective genders. As the author so intelligently argues, Williams College is part of a rape culture, one in which mass media, misogynist language, and popular discourse (e.g., slut-shaming, celebration of men who “score” a lot, the constant silencing of female perspectives, and so on) all combine to make male objectification and domination of women something that’s “par for the course.” As a result (and keep in mind here that I’m male and I don’t want to speak too much out of my own experience), it seems to me to be a near-unavoidable truth that most women and girls live in fear of sexual assault/rape, while most men do not.

    This truth colors every nonconsensual sexual interaction of the type described in this article. (That’s more what feminism is about, not some feeble and willfully oblivious attempt to ignore the patriarchy and simply “not give different rules to people based on genitalia.”) Even if, “all other things being equal,” the man and the woman would be equally guilty of sexual assault in a drunken situation like this one, the sad, pragmatic reality is that there is no such thing as “all other things being equal.” The power dynamic unavoidably favors the male, and that is the reason why the author came out of her sexual encounter feeling disgusted, dirty, ashamed, and inexplicably guilty, while instances of men coming out of those same experiences feeling the same way are much more rare. That is also the reason why commenters like 17, Ben, and “Can’t use my name” are not really grasping the issue at hand here.

    (I just want to give the disclaimer that I’m not on RASAN, on Peer Health, etc., so there are definitely people more qualified than me to write this comment. If you’re one of those people, feel free to correct/override me. I just get rull annoyed by rape apologists in comment threads.)

    • On your defense of Bossong’s quote (my goal is not to invalidate the author’s experience, but just to suggest how ludicrous Bossong’s assertion is):

      No one here was at that level of “totally incapacitated” in which you can assume they wouldn’t have sex as far as the author tells it because they both walked back to the room together. When Sokolow discusses never seeing two incapacitated people have sex, he is likely referring to them being passed out or in a similar state, and of course they could not have sex then. But, if you have the energy / coherence to walk back to a room, you have the energy to have sex (or at least engage with sexual activity) with someone in your bed if that is your desire. I’m not arguing that the author wanted to have sex – I am inclined to believe her, but I am saying that if she did want to have sex she could have had consensual sex in that scenario given the facts available via her recounting of the night.

  6. This experience sounds terrible, but I question whether this can reasonably be considered norm at all “screw dances” at Williams and if it’s fare to blame that terminology for this culture. Perhaps for many sports teams, but most of my “screw” experience consisted of a lot of awkward and harmless socializing with random blind dates in the early days of freshman year during entry screw dances–more likely to result in groups gathering at Paresky for snack bar than actual hooking up. If anything, I thought that it was a fun concept to get you to break out of your shell early in Freshman year, and have a number of friends who met boyfriends/girlfriends/future spouses as a result of their screw date.

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