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Once upon a time, the word “rape” conjured a stranger lunging from the bushes, but current law reflects a much broader narrative, in which rape is best characterized as any unwanted bodily invasion, while sexual assault refers to unwanted sexual contact or behavior.

This widening scope has allowed us to better prosecute traumatic incidents in a notoriously challenging area of the law, and for many of us it has also meant running the scanner back over our own pasts.

One by one, about a dozen young women and one young man stepped up to the microphone with nervous voices and fidgeting hands.

As I listened to their stories, I was struck by the direct hit of their sincerity.

It had been half a lifetime since I’d lugged my backpack across these sidewalks as a freshman from Dallas, clad in steel-toe Doc Martens and a big flannel shirt from the men’s department because I was always looking for ways to hide and smother my vulnerability.

“Consent” is a buzzword of the new war on campus sexual assault.

It was also a welcome reprieve from the Internet, where conversations about sexual assault often devolve into door slamming and plate throwing.

For the next ninety minutes, what I heard from the audience of sixty or so students was something the Internet too rarely offers: respectful silence.

After a lifetime spent deflecting my own sadness with irony and punch lines, I felt genuinely moved by the raw ache of their tales.

As they spoke, I was also struck by another realization.

However, alcohol is a primary reason people dismissed the gravity of campus sexual assault for so long.

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