We’re all in college. We all drink. We all know how easy it is to get carried away and have one too many long islands. But for most of us, we have friends to rely on when that happens, friends who will drag us home, tuck us in bed, and maybe even fetch us a Tags breakfast sandwich the next morning when they know it’s really rough. For most of us, we don’t have to worry about one of those friends taking advantage of us during a blackout.
I’m sure the 16-year-old Tulsa, Oklahoma high schooler—whose name is not being released—thought the same thing when she accepted a ride home from her 17-year-old male friend who’d been partying with her that night at a local park. According to another boy who had been riding in the car briefly, the girl was in and out of consciousness in the back seat and clearly unaware of her surroundings. The girl was later taken to the hospital where her blood alcohol test registered at .34 and her sexual assault examination found her male friend’s DNA around her mouth and on the back of her leg.
While the boy claimed that this young girl had consented to performing oral sex, she denied such activities and instead reported having no recollection of the assault. Thus, the boy was charged with forcible sodomy and first-degree rape and the matter was dealt with…right?
The trial judge dismissed both charges, citing a lack of evidence for first-degree rape and the absolutely preposterous loophole in Oklahoma’s forcible sodomy law, which does not acknowledge intoxication or unconsciousness in the statute. A March 24th Court of Criminal Appeals ruling upheld the original verdict, explaining that the charge could not be applied to someone who was unconscious due to alcohol.
If, like me, you need this loophole laid out more clearly because you simply cannot fathom how this scumbag kid escaped these charges, here is the official court ruling:
“Forcible sodomy cannot occur where a victim is so intoxicated as to be completely unconscious at the time of the sexual act of oral copulation. Finding no error, the State’s appeal to this Court is denied. The Legislature’s inclusion of an intoxication circumstance for the crime of Rape…is not found in the five very specific requirements for the commission of the crime of forcible sodomy […]. We will not, in order to justify prosecution of a person for an offense, enlarge a statute beyond the fair meaning of its language.”
Tulsa County District Attorney Benjamin Fu stated, “The plain meaning of forcible sodomy, of using force, includes taking advantage of a victim who was too intoxicated to consent” and later argued that focusing on why the girl was unable to consent merely puts blame on the victim.
While this ruling is appalling—and likely a traumatizing challenge in this girl’s pathway to recovery—it is an eye-opener for Oklahoma legislators to update the state’s laws. Furthermore, the ruling is a prime example of the “gulf that still exists…between the law and the evolving notion around consent and sexual agency.”
WHY THIS MATTERS
It seems almost weekly that we receive an email about a sexual assault on campus. And while these incidents certainly aren’t a good thing, they are encouraging more conversation about sexual health and the boundaries of consent. However, this Oklahoma rape ruling shows that there are still “gray areas” around this matter—gray areas that exist within rape and sexual assault laws across the nation. Students need to actively participate in dialogue about sexual assault in order for clear definitions of consent to be created, and for such definitions to be enforced by the law. Otherwise, cases like the Oklahoma ruling will continue to slip through the cracks.