Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When is a Hookup Not a Hookup?

by Patrick McGann
Director of Strategy and Planning
We’ve been conducting focus groups with the help of our Men Creating Change chapters to develop a new college bystander intervention public education campaign, and we realized we needed to update our understanding of what the most common sexual assault scenarios are on campuses. After talking with some sexual assault service coordinators at universities, it would seem that the most common assault scenario involves a young woman, alcohol, a peer group, and what some students might perceive as the start of a hookup.

I first heard Antonia Abbey (2002) present her research on alcohol and sexual assault at a summit organized by the U.S. Department of Defense. She’s one of the foremost experts on the subject, and she’ll tell you that at a minimum, 50% of college students’ sexual assaults involve alcohol use. She’ll also make clear alcohol isn’t the cause of acquaintance rape, but it increases the likelihood. Some of the coordinators we talked to would put the percentage of assaults involving alcohol even higher – 90% or 95%.

And they would tell you that alcohol and the hookup – a sexual encounter with no strings attached – have become so commonplace on college campuses, that many students have a difficult time telling when a line is crossed. The sexual assault scenario can go something like this: a young woman is at a house party or club with a group of friends; she gets drunk. A guy – usually someone she sort of knows, like a friend of a friend – starts paying attention to her, and she becomes separated from her group of friends. Maybe she makes out with the guy – something some of her friends notice. Later, her friends see her, very drunk, getting in a cab with the guy or getting in his car or going upstairs with him, and they think, well, she made out with him earlier. They’re hooking up.

Afterwards, though, the friends find out from her that she didn’t want to get in the cab or the car or go upstairs and that she didn’t want to hook up.

This scenario leaves us with some questions we’re hoping that those of you on college campuses can help answer:

1. Is the above a common sexual assault scenario on your campus? Are there other common scenarios?

2. What attitudes and behaviors make it difficult for young men and women as bystanders to tell when a line might be crossed in a potential hookup?

3. How can a bystander – especially a young man – intervene to make sure an apparent hookup is safe and consensual?

4. If you provide services for sexual assault survivors on a college campus or/and conduct bystander trainings on a college campus, would you be willing to talk with us about your work? Email Patrick McGann.


Abby, A. (2002). Alcohol-related sexual assault: A common problem among college students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Supplement 2002; (14): 118-28.

Patrick McGann, Ph.D. has been involved with Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) since the organization’s inception in 1997. As Director of Strategy and Planning, Patrick co-authored a sexual assault prevention strategy for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2008 and oversaw the development of the HURTS ONE. AFFECTS ALL. public education campaign for DoD in 2010. He regularly gives presentations across the country on engaging men in the prevention of gender-based violence. Share

1 comment:

  1. It would be nice if people would realize or be taught that they have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their friends or others, and not be afraid of being judged as too stuffy or a party pooper.

    Looking out for each other and group cohesion doesn't stop when someone gets drunk.

    It would be nice if others had more respect and concern for their friends in order to realize that getting sex while drunk its not the same as saying yes.

    Unfortunately too many are just so driven by their primal instinct that they don't care as long as they get the sex they want, whether it be rape or when the person is blind drunk.

    Too many think that NOT saying "No" means "Yes".

    It would be nice if teens could be educated on the dangers of alcohol, and have alcohol not be as popularly depicted as the drink of choice to have endless amount of fun.

    It would be nice if boys and girls from young could be educated to have respect everyone, regardless of race and gender, and that sex is something to be enjoyed when you're old enough, and both or more parties know exactly what is involved, including informed consent.

    But I believe I'm asking for too much no?

    The bystander effect has also shown us that the more people are present, the less likely it is for anyone to help the person in distress. What more if the person doesn't look like he or she is in distress?

    Then again, I don't drink. I miss out on parties like these, and the chance to socialize. However, when I see scantily clad girls stumbling onto the city streets completely hammered, throwing up on the streets and wobbling on unsteady bare feet, holding their sky high heels in the air. I'm glad I don't.