Putting Boundaries on Blurred Lines

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Last year Robin Thicke released his hit single “Blurred Lines,” a song that sparked a great deal of controversy in addition to a great deal of twerking. I wish that Thicke’s song had at least a few quotable lines to bring some attention to a discussion of “blurred lines,” and the truly complicated nature of it, but alas, he gives us little to work with. <I hate these blurred lines/I know you want it/But you’re a good girl/The way you grab me/Must want to get nasty>. That will do, however.

In the ever-continuous news surrounding sexual assault on college campuses, an interesting twist has emerged. NPR’s Tovia Smith reports, Some Accused of Sexual Assault on Campus Say System Works Against Them. I have spoken before about the backlash effect, often a result of the media taking hold of an issue and strangling the life out of it. Certainly, many of these colleges are under the spotlight with overwhelmingly negative media attention, and thus are trying desperately to correct their prior misdeeds (their lack of accountability for students accused of sexual assault on campus, and a lack of resources for those subjected to that violence.) It’s more than likely that in making up for their prior shortcomings, they are laying down the iron fist, (a Bill Bratton “broken windows” approach perhaps), and in doing so, all those accused of sexual assault are getting equal lashings.

Dozens of students who’ve been punished for sexual assault are suing their schools, saying that they didn’t get a fair hearing and that their rights to due process were violated. The accused students say schools simply are overcorrecting. More than 70 campuses are under federal investigation for violating the civil rights of alleged victims, and some students say schools are running so scared that they’re violating the due process rights of defendants instead.

On the other hand:

Attorney Colby Bruno, who represents victims, says that just because a lot of young men are suing their schools doesn’t mean the process is actually unfair — only that it suggests some students are having trouble adjusting to the changing norms on campus sexual assault…While numbers are hard to come by, she says there are still far more perpetrators getting away with a slap on the wrist than innocent students being wrongly expelled. She says false accusations are rare; far more often, real crimes go unreported.

One issue here is that colleges may still not properly equipped to handle serious matters of this sort. I am sure that due process is being violated all over the place, because universities are not courtrooms, and their staff are not lawyers. The second and more complicated problem, is the issue of blurred lines, (and trust me I cringe at this expression as much as the next person). In the article, Tovia Smith recounts one young man’s story about how the evening in question went, and how it differs from the accusers story. Even if this were a courtroom, and there were lawyers in place, these two students’ accounts would likely not budge. Yes, if one of them was lying dramatically perhaps a courtroom could solve the crime, but what if neither one is lying. What if that is exactly how the evening was remembered by both of them.

All we can begin to do to understand and “correct” scenarios like this, are to look out for some key moments. He says “she repeatedly indicated that she wanted to have sex.” She says, “she had been drinking and had no memory of most of the night-until a day later when she remembered ‘him having sex with me and holding me down.'” The problem with blurred lines, is that things can go terribly wrong. I hate to take all the fun out of sex, but sometimes we have to rewrite cultural norms so that implied and indicated becomes consented with a clear mind, and that very normal power plays, such as restraining, are discussed aloud before being utilized. As scripted as it sounds, change of this sort is possible, and sex will still be fun in the end.

-Caterina Gironda, Southern Editor

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