“But was it rape?”

Sex-advice columnist Dan Savage has a hit podcast, in which listeners call in with their sex and relationship problems, and Dan portions out advice.

What with Christmas and everything interrupting my commuting habits, I only just got around to listening to the 9 December episode. One of the callers is a university student, who is asking about an incident that occured last year.

He explains, basically, how he was with some friends and they came across a very drunk female student. She came with them to the party they were going to, where one of his friends locked her in a room and “had sex” with her – when she was clearly incapacitated, and very likely unconscious.

He wants to know if he should still be friends with this man.

A couple of things struck me, listening to the podcast – but mostly it was his reaction when Dan Savage calls what happened rape. Which it very much sounds like it was – but the student sounds surprised and a bit shocked (he’s labelled this as a possible “sexual assault” if I remember correctly).

It’s a sorry state of affairs, and shows how far we have to go, when it’s a surprise that forcing yourself on an unconscious woman “might be” considered rape. Obviously, the caller understands there’s something very wrong with what he’s witnessed – but still! I think that the correct response at that party would be to force the door and stop what was happening. To call the police. (To be fair, it seems like some people at the party tried to stop the assault.)

I wasn’t totally happy with Dan Savage’s response, either. Although he makes clear that it’s not acceptable, he (initially) names what happened as rape, and says that the student should no longer be friends with this man, and he makes the point that, by ignoring what’s happening in front of them, men can perpetuate sexual violence against women, he didn’t go nearly far enough, I think.

Maybe he was making a judgement based on the reactions of the caller, but he at one point suggests that if his friend is contrite and sorry, then they could be friends again.

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