Cook: Calhoun prom assault was never about beer

photo David Cook

This is not about alcohol.

It's not about how much beer the teenagers drank after the prom. It's not about how much liquor or wine they had with them at their resort cabin party in the North Georgia woods.

This is about sexual assault.

And aggravated sexual battery.

It's about three men -- 18 years old, graduating seniors -- who police say committed sexual battery against an 18-year-old woman. A classmate. A graduating senior, just like them.

It's about whatever wicked pleasure they may have found by inserting some foreign object into her, so badly she was hospitalized.

"I've been here for 23 years," Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said. "Her injuries were substantial."

Beer doesn't cause that. Drinking wine on prom night doesn't cause that.

Something far more insidious does.

Something far more evil.

So as the Gilmer County sexual assault story unfolds, as more teenagers are arrested, as the evidence from the rape kit is released to the public, don't let what this tragedy is about become confused with what it's not.

Don't fall for the sleight-of-hand that this is about beer, or drunken kids, or unsupervised prom parties, even though the media may try and sell it to you.

At Wednesday's news conference, the sheriff laid out the facts in a customary way, then took questions from a crowd of reporters.

Fifteen questions went by before anyone asked about the victim.

Reporters asked about beer, and what kind, and how much. Who supplied it. Was there some mystery drug used to intoxicate the victim?

"Can you tell us how much alcohol we're talking about?" one reporter asked.

It was scandalous and tabloid-esque, taking nearly five minutes and 15 questions before anyone asked about the woman who'd been so victimized she wound up in the hospital.

Near the end of the news conference, one reporter asked the sheriff what lessons could be learned from this.

"Teenagers and alcohol just do not mix," he said.

Sheriff, you are right, so right. But this case is about something else entirely, and emphasizing the beer details only diminishes the real violence present in sexual assault.

When there's a murder, or homicide, or robbery, no one talks about whether the shooters were drunk or how much beer they drank.

It is only within rape where such distortions occur, even though research shows that alcohol is present in about half of all sexual assaults ... and half of all violent crimes, as well.

So when we liquify sexual assault, we feed into the dangerous and favorite narrative of misogynists everywhere: that drunken women are consenting, no-really-means-yes women, or that drunken women who cry rape are really just dealing with morning-after regret.

"One reason this ... is so infuriating is that rapists tend to target drunk women specifically because they know that people who are too drunk to remember what's going on make really bad witnesses in court," writes Slate's Amanda Marcotte. "We don't have an epidemic of women exploiting men's drunkenness to get them thrown in in jail, but we do have an epidemic of rapists exploiting women's drunkenness to get away with their crimes."

Know what causes rape?

Rape mentality causes rape.

And while alcohol can be a preferred weapon used by rapists, the foremost question we need to be asking ourselves as a society: What causes rape mentality, especially at a time when one in five college women is sexually assaulted?

"Most often, it's by someone she knows," reads a recent White House study.

This is not about alcohol; it's about something wedged into the male mind, something premeditated that says it's OK to sexually assault women. It is the pornographication of relationships: In 2013, a U.N. international study showed that 70 percent of men who admitted to raping women did so because they felt entitled.

As if they owned her body.

Such power ownership is not some gee-whiz feeling that appears from nowhere, a rape urge that falls out of the sky as five beers turn to six.

"What can you tell us about the victim?" a reporter, finally, asked the sheriff.

I'll answer: she wasn't a victim of too-much beer.

She was a victim of sexual assault.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.