One major issue with the high drinking age, paired with the high penalties of underage drinking, is that an underage drinker may be left in fear of seeking help in an emergency if he or she has had something to drink. This blog entry I read today highlights get another terrifying problem: sexual assault victims who are afraid to report the assault for fear that they’ll get arrested for underage drinking!

A few weeks back, I mentioned that a former student of mine had been hurt by an abusive boyfriend. The campus judicial hearing was last week. In it, the accuser had to face trial herself.

Here’s the problem: Underage drinking laws and the equivalent campus rules deter victims of violent crime from reporting. As I learned at the eleventh hour, after I’d already written my character reference and shown up for the hearing, my student also faced multiple charges against her! One of them was underage drinking. After the original incident, she’d been frank with the investigators and told them she’d had two beers much earlier in the day. This was used against her, with no corroborating evidence.

My student’s problem is typical, I’m afraid. When dating violence and sexual assault occur on campus, alcohol is often part of the picture. Lots of assaults – sexual and otherwise – go unreported because the victims are afraid they’ll be punished for underage drinking. While this is a particularly pervasive problem on campus, it also potentially affects all women and girls who are underage.

This is just appalling! Are the people who keep insisting that the 21 drinking age is for safety really so blind to these horrible consequences? In their (false) insistent belief that the high drinking age saves lives, they are endangering young people, particularly girls, by forcing them into silence when they’re victimized and they happened to have had a drink.

Assault, especially sexual assault, is underreported even when alcohol isn’t involved, especially with young victims. Last thing these victims need is yet another reason to be afraid of coming forward with what an abuser did to them!

Worst part is, it makes me wonder if the pro-21 folks think the underage drinkers deserve it when these things happen to them! That there’s nothing wrong with victimizing someone who has committed the unforgivable sin of drinking before turning 21. For one, it would go to show in no uncertain terms that youth safety is very low on these people’s priority, but sadly it would mean they’re among the disgustingly high number of people who share the belief that if someone, generally a young woman, has engaged in some undesirable activity, like drinking underage, then she deserves whatever she gets.

So we need to lower the drinking age, so someone who has engaged in a harmless activity will not have to fear going to authorities when made the victim of a horrible harmful act of violence.