The larger point, also, is not just about protecting women, but redefining rape as a problem behavior of too many normal guys. The psychos get the attention even though surveys find surprisingly large numbers of college guys say they would rape if they could get away with it. So, the problem seems to be the way many men are socialized, including the sense of privilege and entitlement (such as sexual access) they feel because they are ‘regular guys.’ Rape tends to be seen as a ‘woman’s problem’ because they suffer the effects of victimization, but the conversation also needs to include the problem of men who rape dates, classmates, acquaintances and even friends.
As much as we wish this article could provide all the answers, realistically it provides starting points for further thoughts, discussions and hopefully some activism.
Acquaintance Rape & Its Effects
As noted above, acquaintance rape includes the category of date rape and encompasses sexual assaults by individuals known to the victim: a classmate, a family friend, a co-worker, etc. It involves being subjected to unwanted sexual intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, or other penetration, such as by fingers or objects. While the common image of rape is that it involves force or the threat of force, the basic point is that it happens without the woman’s consent – perhaps even sexual activity done to a woman who is passed out or drugged and thus unable to consent.
Both perpetrators and survivors of acquaintance rape come from every socio-economic, cultural, religious, and racial background; it happens at community colleges as well as Ivy Leagues and all regions of the country. Discussing statistics can sometimes be helpful in making sense of a problem, but readers should treat all statistics on rape – and domestic violence, teen dating, child abuse, etc – with caution. Rape frequently goes unreported because of the stigma and shame. Women are even less likely to report acquaintance rape for similar reasons – plus women worry that people will not believe them, the police will not do anything, and they will generally be dismissed because it was not a ‘real’ rape.
The belief that there are ‘real’ rapes and then there are acquaintance rapes can have devastating effects on victims seeking help. While acquaintance rape typically involves less overt violence than stranger rape, survivors of acquaintance rape often experience serious, long-term psychological effects. Compared to victims of stranger rape, acquaintance rape victims tend to blame themselves more, view themselves more negatively, and often have trouble trusting people in their relationships. Acquaintance rape survivors also feel particularly helpless and unsafe, since they have found that even people they trusted may perpetrate an act of violence against them. Family and friends may not be a basis of support of acquaintance rape survivors, as they may be for survivors of stranger rape. If they tell friends or family, the seriousness of the attack may be played down, or the survivor may be blamed for the rape. For all these reasons, acquaintance rape victims are overall less likely to seek crisis services, tell someone, report to police, and seek counseling – even though the rape can carry some significant psychological effects.
Survivors of acquaintance rape need a variety of services including confidential and private medical care, counseling concerning pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and STDs. A counselor who specializes in sexual assault can listen, give support, ideas and information on options. Since rape involves a profound loss of control, counselors do not tell a woman what to do, but try to discuss available options. A phone call can be a good way to start, with in-person appointments to follow up with ongoing counseling and support, including support groups and other types of services.
Myths About Acquaintance Rape
There are a set of beliefs and misunderstandings about acquaintance rape that are held by a large number of men and women. These flawed ideas serve to shape the way acquaintance rape is dealt with on both personal and societal levels. This set of assumptions often presents serious obstacles for victims as they attempt to cope with their experience and recovery.
MythA female who gets raped usually deserves it, especially if she has agreed to go to a male’s house, room, or park with him.
FactsNo one deserves to be raped. Being in a male’s room or car only means that a female has agreed to hang out with a man; consent to have sex is not implied by these decisions and must still be explicitly given.
|Rape survivors are “sexually loose” individuals who are “asking for it.”
||Survivors of rape are victims of violence and domination. The notion of “asking for it” reinforces views of women as sex objects, of deserving punishment for violating narrow standards of ‘virtue,’ and of men as entitled to sexual access of women.
|Acquaintance rape is committed by males who are easy to identify as rapists.
||Women are often raped by “normal” acquaintances who resemble “regular guys.” Fraternities and sports teams are disproportionately involved in campus rapes, but there they are not the only ones and there is no clearly identifiable ‘type.’
|Women who don’t fight back haven’t been raped.
||The point is that the woman said no, so activity that occurs after this point is rape because it is without her consent. The decision to fight back or not is separate and will depend on a number of personal factors including physical strength, threats by the perpetrator, perceptions of danger and increased harm from resistance.
|Intimate kissing or certain kinds of touching mean that intercourse is inevitable.
||Everyone’s right to say “no” should be honored, regardless of the activity which preceded it. A California court recently held that a woman has the right to withdraw consent during intercourse.
|Once a male reaches a certain point of arousal, sex is inevitable and they can’t help forcing themselves upon a woman.
||Males are capable of exercising restraint in acting upon sexual urges. The notion of ‘out of control’ sexuality helps relieve men of responsibility and shifts blame to the woman for the man’s arousal. Cold showers and masturbation are always options for men.
|Most women lie about acquaintance rape because they have regrets after consensual sex.
||The larger problem is that many people believe the myths about acquaintance rape and convince the woman her experience was bad sex rather than rape. Filing charges is a big step that opens the woman up to many questions about her private life and is not something done lightly.
|Women who say “No” really mean “Yes.”
||This notion is based on rigid and outdated sexual stereotypes. If yes mean yes and no means yes, then women are simply sex objects always available for the pleasure of men with no way to refuse sex.
|Certain behaviors such as drinking or dressing in a sexually appealing way make rape a female’s responsibility.
||Rape is the responsibility of the perpetrator, just like with murder, robbery and burglary. Rape happens to women wearing old sweats as well as those dressed up, so looking good is not an invitation to be raped. Also, drinking is a gender-based double standard: it increases a woman’s responsibility but provides an excuse for the perpetrator.
Date Rape Drugs
Recently, females across the country have come forward with disturbing tales of drugs being slipped into their drinks- and being raped while under the influence. These drugs tend to be colorless and odorless, so they can easily be slipped into drinks. The person who drinks it will have less ability to fight back or may be rendered unconscious. Some of the drugs cause memory loss and most are rapidly broken down by the body, thus making prosecutions difficult.
One of these drugs is flunitrazepam, or Rohypnol — known on the street as “roofies” or “the forget me drug”. It is a powerful sedative 10 to 20 times as strong as Valium, and causes memory loss and unconsciousness; the combination of this strong sedative with depressants like alcohol can be especially dangerous. This drug takes effect within 20 to 30 minutes and can last as long as 12 hours. Although Rohypnol is on the market in 64 countries as a prescription sleeping aid and a pre-surgery medication, it is illegal in the United States and possession is a felony.
Another drug, GHB (known on the street as “Liquid X” or “easy lay”), is also an odorless, colorless, liquid depressant with anesthetic qualities. It is also commonly used as an amino acid by bodybuilders. GHB is usually distributed as a sodium salt in powder or tablet form commonly dissolved in water. This drug gives a feeling of relaxation, tranquility, sensuality, and loss of inhibitions (especially for females), so there are reports of it being recreationally used and abused in addition to the involuntary ingestion associated with date rape. The drug takes effect in about 10 to 15 minutes after ingestion and lasts 2 to 3 hours unless combined with alcohol, where the effect may last up to 20 or 30 hours. Large doses can induce sudden sleep within 5 to 10 minutes. A third known drug, Ketamine (also known as “Special K” or “Vitamin K”) is a powerful anesthetic used as an animal tranquilizer. It is available in liquid, powder, or pill form. Ketamine causes hallucinations, amnesia and dissociation making it attractive for a potential acquaintance rapist.
The best advice for avoiding date rape drugs usually centers on protecting yourself and others by pouring your own drinks directly from the can or bottle. Be careful about drinking from punchbowls or other open containers, and keep a careful eye on your glass (do not leave the drink on a table when going to bathroom). Sticking together with a groups of friends is important, and if someone seems more intoxicated than the amount of alcohol would warrant, get them out of the party and be ready to get them to a hospital if they go unconscious. Finally, take seriously comments by other women about parties that may have involved date rape drugs.
Rape is one of the more obvious forms of gendered violence, which refers to men’s violence against women. While some people like to try to create a ranking of which is worse, the point really is to recognize how they can work together to shape women’s lives and responses to victimization. In addition to rape, there is teen dating violence, catcalls and various types of verbal harassment. The study of college women (mentioned in the introduction) also included low levels of stalking and violations of privacy like taking intimate pictures of someone without their consent (or posting the pictures to the internet).
Women certainly need to protect themselves from these behaviors, and they need to stick together because collective action is necessary for social change. But it is also important to focus attention on men’s behavior, especially the attitudes of regular guys. Since many of these guys are not psychos or evil people, the attitudes they have learned about women and rape can be unlearned. It requires the efforts not just of women, but male peers who ‘get it’ – who see women as equals, who know how they expect their mom and sister to be treated and use that as a model for how they treat women.
As a Woman, You Can…
- Talk openly about sex, and keep talking as you get deeper into a relationship.
- Be careful not to let alcohol or other drugs decrease your ability to take care of yourself and make sensible decisions.
- Trust your gut feelings. If a place or the way someone acts makes you nervous or uneasy, get out.
- Check out a first date or a blind date with friends. Insist on going to a public place like a movie, sporting event, or restaurant. Carry money for a phone call and taxi, or take your own car.
- Don’t leave a party, concert, game, or other social occasion with someone you just met or don’t know well.
- Take a look at the men around you and be wary of anyone who puts you down, or tries to control how you dress or your choice of friends.
As a Man, You Can…
- Ask yourself how sexual stereotypes affect your attitudes and actions toward women.
- Accept a woman’s decision when she says “no.” Don’t see it as a challenge.
- Avoid clouding your judgment and understanding of what another person wants by using alcohol and other drugs.
- Realize that forcing a woman to have sex against her will is rape, a violent crime with serious consequences.
- Never be drawn into a gang rape- at parties, fraternities, bars, or after sporting events. Male bonding and peer pressure can be powerful forces; be skeptical about rationalizations and group think that turn what is gang rape into something that seems like group sex.
- Seek counseling or a support group to help you deal with feelings of violence and aggression against women. See the section on stopviolence.com on men’s groups seeking to end violence against women. Many links, including the toolkit to end men’s violence, has good thoughts about the links between masculinity, homophobia and violence against women.
If Acquaintance Rape Happens to You…
- Get help. Phone the police, a friend, a rape crisis center, a relative. Don’t isolate yourself, don’t feel guilty, and don’t try to ignore it.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible. Do not shower, wash, douche, or change your clothes. Valuable evidence could be destroyed.
- Get counseling to help deal with the emotional trauma caused by rape.
If It Happens to Someone You Know…
- Believe her or him.
- Offer comfort and support. Go with her or him to the hospital, police station, or counseling center.
- Let the survivor know that s/he is not to blame.
- Be careful about asking questions abut what she did or did not do because, because they may be taken as blaming the victim. Take a Stand Against Date Rape!
- Ask your student government or other organization to sponsor a workshop on date rape and sexual stereotyping. Work with a hotline or crisis center to persuade rape survivors to join the panel.
- Volunteer at a rape crisis center or hotline.
- Monitor the media for programs or videos that reinforce sexual stereotypes. Write or call to protest. On the other side, publicly commend the media when they highlight the realities of date rape.
- Ask college or professional athletes or other role models to talk to high school students about sexual stereotyping and responsible behavior.