DATE RAPE: COULD IT HAPPEN TO YOU?"He was really good looking with a great smile...we talked and found we had a lot in common. I really liked him. When he asked me over to his place to watch a video, I thought why not? He was such a good listener and I wanted him to ask me out again". (Melanie)
Melanie is just looking for a sensitive boy, a good listener with a nice smile, but unfortunately his intentions are not as pure as hers are. Beneath that smile he was thinking:"She looked really hot, wearing a sexy dress that showed off her great body. We started talking right away. I knew that she liked me by the way she kept smiling and touching my arm while she was speaking. She seemed pretty relaxed so I asked her over to my place to watch a movie....When she said 'Yes' I knew that I was going to get lucky!"
For most people, the words "rape" or "sexual assault" conjure up images of a stranger in a balaclava springing from a dark and secluded location to attack and rape an unsuspecting victim. But rape takes on many more forms than just being attacked by the stereotypical stranger in the street! In fact, 'more than 60 per cent of reported sexual assaults are by attackers who know their victim'.
"Acquaintance rape", which is also referred to as "date rape", has been increasingly recognised as a real and relatively common problem within society, but it was not until the early 1980s that acquaintance rape assumed an identity in the public consciousness. Most rapes are not committed by strangers but by males who know their victims - they may be friends or ex-lovers.
The definition of acquaintance rape generally relates to forceful, unwanted intercourse between two people. Being subjected to unwanted sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or other sexual contact through the use, force or threat of force falls under the category of 'date rape'. Rape in any form is a violation of a person's body and trust and is classified as an act of violence. It is motivated primarily by a desire to control and dominate, rather than triggered by sexual urges. Experts estimate that as many as '90 per cent of all rapes are never reported; of those that are reported about 60 per cent of the victims know their assailants'. Although acquaintance rape is a problem among females of all ages, it is especially prevalent among girls who are in their final years of high school or who are attending university. American statistics highlight that 'most victims are between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, with the second highest rate between the ages of twenty and twenty-four'.
In 1985, psychologist Mary Koss surveyed approximately 7,000 students on thirty-two school campuses across America. Her research on 'date rape' indicated such alarming figures and informed millions of the scope and severity of the problem. Her work revealed that 'one in four females surveyed were the victims of rape or attempted rape. Out of those females raped, 84 per cent knew their attacker while 57 per cent of those rapes happened while on dates. An alarming 42 per cent of the rape victims did not tell anyone about their assaults.'
Why is the report rate so low? The main reason behind this factor would be that in an acquaintance rape situation, the victim knows her attacker, possibly quite well. Therefore this knowledge may in fact encourage her, and those around her, to attribute more blame to the victim, especially if she failed to resist immediately. Despite the violent nature of acquaintance rape, the belief that many victims are actually willing, consenting participants is held by both males and females alike. "Blaming the victim" seems to be an all too prevalent reaction to acquaintance rape. Studies also depicted that 'the amount of college girls raped by noncommittal dates was 21 per cent while 30 per cent were attacked by steady boyfriends'. The research of Koss and her colleagues has served as the foundation of many of the investigations on the prevalence, circumstances, and aftermath of acquaintance rape within the past dozen or so years. The results of this research have served to create an identity and awareness of the problem.
There are a set of beliefs and misunderstandings about acquaintance rape that are held by a large portion of the population. One of the biggest reasons for miscommunication is rape myth acceptance. An example of a rape myth statement is "she deserved to get raped because she always wore revealing clothes".
'Date rapes' typically occur when a female is alone with a male. Mixed signals are another element in date rape.
Scenario: The girl acts in a friendly manner; the guy interprets this friendliness as an invitation to have sex. "No" is heard as "maybe" and even a strong protest can be ignored under the delusion that females say "no" when they mean, "yes". If the girl protests only mildly, the guy may think he is merely "persuading" her, not forcing her to have sex. Often when a girl changes her mind at some point, the guy can feel cheated, rejected and angry. At this point, he may decide that he has been teased or mislead and "deserves" to get some satisfaction, regardless of the girl's wishes. The result can be rape.
Although acquaintance rape is often a spontaneous act, many are planned, some days in advance. Needless to say, these males do not see themselves as repeat rapists; they are merely "out to have a good time".
There is no direct cause for acquaintance rape but there are some common risk factors. Communication between males and females is often problematical, especially in the realm of sex. Misperceptions abound; a girl thinks she is merely being friendly, but her date thinks she's signalling willingness to have sex. As illustrated in the above scenario, the idea that a girl has led a guy on may aggravate him enough to rape. Furthermore, stereotypes about girls as passive and submissive people can also foster a climate for sexual assaults. Prior sexual and physical abuse affects both victims and aggressors, as these guys are more likely to use physical force than verbal force to get what they want. A reason that girls with a prior history of assault are at a higher risk of repeat rape could be because they send out the wrong signals. It is also possible that they might freeze and feel completely powerless, as abused girls have been trained to feel. Another reason a guy may become aggressive is because he holds Neanderthal or traditional "sex-role attitudes" such as a guy should decide whether or not to have intercourse, especially if he pays for and initiates the date.
Date rape cannot always be avoided but nevertheless, there are certain things a girl can do to minimise her chances of being raped. Firstly, set sexual limits - it is your body and no one has the right to force you to do anything you do not want to do. The sooner you communicate firmly and clearly your sexual intentions, the easier it will be for your partner to hear and accept your decision. Avoid giving mixed messages - say "yes" when you mean "yes" and vice versa. Be forceful and do not worry about not being "polite", as guys will often interpret passivity as permission. Trust your gut feelings - if the situation feels wrong, or you start to become nervous about the change in your date's behaviour, confront the person immediately or leave the situation as quickly as possible. Avoid secluded places where you are in a vulnerable position - this is especially critical at the beginning of a relationship.
With no bruises or proof of violence, rape is difficult to prove. So how do we prevent rape from occurring? The best solution would be to implement more 'date rape' education programs throughout our schools, than are presently in place. This will enable girls to become more aware of surroundings and situations that could lead to 'date rape'. Another feature of these education programs should include group discussions so rape myths can be exposed about and destroyed, as well as allowing girls to talk about their experiences, which in turn could assist other females in becoming aware of different situations that lead to acquaintance rape. These education and awareness programs should not be exclusive to females but should also involve males. In order for acquaintance rape percentages to decrease, males must be perceived as part of the solution, and not just the source of the problem, of 'date rape'. With the inclusion of males, perhaps miscommunication will decrease and acquaintance rape will not be as frequent.
Rape is not a private issue but a public one, which concerns all males, and females because it deals with the basic issue of the ways in which humans interact. Promoting and providing a safe environment for all is paramount.
- Annemarie Failla