Iowa students debate meaning of `no’

IOWA CITY _ Kelly Fangman and Tim Roling have been friends for almost all their lives. Lately, though, they find themselves arguing fiercely over the subject that has consumed many on the University of Iowa campus: Pierre Pierce and date rape.

Pierce, of west suburban Westmont, is a star basketball player at the school who last month pleaded guilty to assault causing injury after a female athlete at the school told police Pierce raped her. He was originally charged with felony sexual assault, but as part of a plea agreement entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge. He was sentenced to a year of probation, 200 hours of community service and ordered to undergo counseling.

The incident has riveted and riven the campus. Some students furiously contend that Pierce, 19, a former prep basketball star at Westmont High School, was treated more leniently by the school because he is an athlete. Pierce remains on full athletic scholarship and on the team, although he will not be allowed to compete this year. There have been protests, petition drives and calls for firing basketball coach Steve Alford, who after Pierce was arrested said he believed that the player was innocent.

And the case has opened heated discussions among students about the rules of sexual engagement; about the lines between sexual freedom and responsibility; and about whether date rape is an act of predatory violence or an alcohol-fueled misunderstanding.

Fangman, 23, who graduated in May but still works at the university athletic center, said date rape is appallingly common at UI.

“Three of my four best friends have been raped by boyfriends or ex-boyfriends,” she said. Another woman was raped on Fangman’s own couch, she said.

She thinks a lot of young men come to college without knowing exactly what rape is.

“I think they think if a girl is willing to do something 1/8sexual3/8, then they can do anything they want,” she said.

But her friend Roling, 22, an economics major who also works at the athletic center and knows and likes Pierce, questioned the woman’s story in the case.

She told police that she and a friend went to the home Pierce shares with two other players because she had been drinking and wanted a ride home. She was in an unoccupied bedroom, she said, when Pierce came in and tried to remove her shirt. She told him she did not want to have sex, but then agreed to perform oral sex in hopes that he would not insist on intercourse, she said. Pierce then pinned her arms and forcibly penetrated her, she told police.

Though Pierce publicly apologized for forcing “unwarranted intimate contact” on the victim, he told a sex-offender counselor hired by his attorneys that the sex was consensual.

Roling told Fangman he isn’t sure where the truth lies. But if the woman willingly performed oral sex, he asked Fangman, doesn’t that mean she was consenting to sex?

“If you put yourself in my bed, naked, and give me (oral sex), what do you think I’m going to do?” he said.

Fangman furiously retorted that the woman had not put herself into Pierce’s bed, and that no matter what transpires between a man and a woman, as soon as a woman says no, consent is clearly withdrawn.

“Tim, I could be laying on top of you, and if I say it’s done, (after that) it’s rape,” she said.

The fact that some people are questioning the woman’s veracity enrages some students.

“The first thing people say (in a date rape case) is, `What did she do to get herself in that position, how did she provoke him?’ ” said Maureen McCartney, 20, a journalism major and resident of a sorority house where a number of young women are so angry that they are boycotting basketball games.

“The focus should be on making men understand what is and is not acceptable,” said another sorority member, Via Osgood, 21, an English major.


And a shocking number of men at the school think it is acceptable to violate females, the sorority women said. Of the 55 members of two pledge classes at their house, Osgood said, she knows of 10 who have been raped. She knows of only one who contacted police, and that young woman did not press charges, Osgood said, because she was worried about her parents’ reaction. Speaking a week after she initially gave that count, Osgood raised it: Another sorority sister, she said, had been raped and yet another had escaped after a young man with whom she was drinking in his room grabbed her by the hair and tried to pin her down.

“It’s a serious epidemic,” she said. “It’s really demoralizing.”

Student opinions about the Pierce case do not necessarily break along gender lines. There are women who say the young woman showed poor judgment by showing up at Pierce’s apartment after drinking. She told police that she had three or four shots of rum and two mixed drinks over three hours.

“I feel there are certain behaviors where you need to be responsible for your own safety,” said Kimberly Betton, 20, a premed student sitting in the student union. “You have to watch out about your drinking.”

If a woman doesn’t want to have sex, she said, she shouldn’t get herself into situations where her judgment _ or a man’s _ could be impaired.

And there are men who say that regardless of the circumstances or the woman’s blood alcohol level, no means no _ “no matter how far it’s gone,” specified political science major Matthew Wyatt, 19. “Just because she’s taken her clothes off, she is not obligated (to engage in sex). Everyone can change their mind, at any point.”

But not all men feel that way, said another male student, Nam Nguyen, 21, a communications major. “If a girl told me to stop, I know I would,” he said. “But I know a lot of guys out there who wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“I think a lot of girls use (drinking) to justify their actions,” said Liz Donovan, 19, a philosophy major sitting with friends in the student union. “There are cases in which a girl says, `I feel bad for getting drunk and having sex last night, so I’m going to stick him with a rape charge.'”

Donovan and her friends ended up in heated conversation when roles.

Donovan insisted that a man should not necessarily expect sex even if a woman comes to his room and disrobes.

“That’s ludicrous,” argued David Haywood, 19. “Until she says we’re not, I’m assuming we’re having sex.”

Shouldn’t a woman be free to tease a man? Donovan asked.

“No!” shouted Haywood and Marcus Banks, a 19-year-old business management major.

Some male students said that women sometimes send mixed signals.

“She might tell you no, but she still might be leading you on,” said Lee Gray, 20, a defensive lineman for the Iowa Hawkeyes. “She’s touching me, looking at me in certain ways, doing certain things … It’s hard to judge. It’s confusing.”

Women may be confused themselves, said Kimberly Betton.

“A lot of times, especially in college, women get into situations where they weren’t planning to have sex, and they’re feeling unsure,” she said. “I think a lot of women come here unsure of themselves and the whole sexuality thing. I think they may say yes, but be unsure that they mean yes. … It’s very gray.”


But gray turns to black the moment a woman says no, said the sorority women. The problem is neither alcohol nor misunderstandings, they said, but men who attack women, including ones who trusted the men as friends.

Women should be able to get drunk without getting raped, the sorority sisters said.

“There is a cult of drinking on campuses, especially Big Ten campuses,” McCartney said. “I don’t think a culture of drinking should translate to a culture of rape. You should be able to go have a couple of drinks and be safe.”

There is a double standard for sexual behavior, the sorority women contended: Men can pursue sex without criticism, but if a woman goes to a man’s room and agrees to engage in some kind of sex, she is held partly responsible if the man then forces o
ther sex acts on her.

“People are reverting to the idea that if women do anything, they’re easy,” Osgood said.

Amanda Mittlestadt, 21, opinions editor of the Daily Iowan, thinks outdated attitudes may feed into misunderstandings that can end up as date rape.

“The historical stereotype is that women are supposed to be hard to get, play coy,” she said. “Men have been taught to believe that no means yes. … Women can’t just say, `I want sex.’ God forbid women have sexuality.”

Phillip E. Jones, vice president for student services and dean of students at the University of Iowa, said the most common denominator in sexual attacks and sexual misunderstandings is abusive drinking.

“We’re having situations where young women are putting themselves in difficult situations through alcohol abuse, or young men are plying them with alcohol” to the point where they are unable to give genuine consent, he said.

“And it’s not just women’s problem. We have guys who get so drunk that they don’t know what they’re doing,” and engage in sex that they later regret, he said.

The Harvard School of Public Health 2001 College Alcohol Study found that 27 percent of UI students who drank in the past year engaged in unplanned sexual activity, he said. More than 31 percent of all UI students said they had experienced an unwanted sexual advance during the fall semester.

In the wake of the Pierce case, Iowa students are speaking more openly about date rape and sexual behavior. “I think it’s helped to have people talk about it,” said Mittlestadt.

Outside an Iowa City bar, Fangman and Roling were far from an understanding. When Fangman said she considered Pierce an admitted rapist whose presence on campus was repugnant, Roling objected.

Pierce did not plead guilty to rape, Roling pointed out, but to the misdemeanor charge of assault causing injury.

“Assault with injury?” Fangman cried. “Have you ever had sex with a woman and caused injury?”

“Probably,” Roling said, attempting a joke.

The conversation raged on. Fangman sighed. “We fight about this every day,” she said.