Date rape and sexual assault: myths, facts and issues

At one time or another, between 15-20% of college women in the United States have been raped while on dates or with acquaintances (Littleton & Axsom, 2003. ) A ” continually growing concern,” (” The Truth about Date,” 1997) acquaintance rape also known as ” date rape,” has become a constant risk and possibility whenever a woman steps out with a man whether he is her friend, boyfriend, or just someone she knows. It is, unfortunately, a crime that happens more than the public knows particularly in universities and college campuses.

For every case documented, there are some that goes undocumented because of the victim’s fear of publicity, exposure and retaliation. Other times, victims just aren’t sure they have been raped. What is date rape? Legally, rape is defined as sexual intercourse carried out with the threat of harm or violence and against the victim’s will (” Rape, in Law,” 2004. ) In addition to those forced into sexual intercourse, victims are considered incapable of legal consent if they are known to be mentally afflicted, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or are below the age of consent at the time of intercourse or rape (” Rape, in Law,” 2004.)

Besides the legal definition of rape, ” date rape” covers instances where women are pressured into giving consent to intercourse (Carlin, 1994. ) Such pressures may include threats of a break-up, spreading rumors that could damage the victim’s reputation, appeals to pity, and blackmail (Carlin, 1994. ) According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (2005) 73% of the average annual 200, 780 rape cases reported between the years 2004-05 were committed by perpetrators known to the victim (RAINN, 2006).

In the average college campus population the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) puts the percentage of sexual assault and completed date rape cases at estimates of between 11% and 28% (Krees, Trippany & Nolan, 2003). These estimates do not include unsuccessful attempts at rape. Feminists view rape as a the ultimate oppression and statement made by men in the assertion of their masculinity and dominion over women (Cahill, 2001, p. 2.)

Sociology takes the view that rape is a product of the male orientation of ” dominance” particularly in a patriarchal society where men had more power over women. (Cowan, 2000, p. 807. ) Gloria Cowan (2001) of California State University’s Department of Psychology states that the problem with date rapes (also called ” hidden rapes”) was that this kind of rape had a low likelihood of being taken seriously or even prosecuted by the authorities (Cowan, 2000, p. 807. )

Even the victims seldom consider themselves as victims if their attacker was a date or acquaintance (Cowan, 2000, p. 807. ) To them, ” real rape” is done by strangers and not by people they know or go out with. This belief is just one of the many unfortunate ” myths” surrounding the concept of rape. Rape Myths Rape myths are founded on beliefs that ” excuse” and exonerate the rapist from any culpability. One of such myths is that rape is caused by something within the victim herself.

This places the blame squarely on the victim’s shoulders. It could be something that the victim said, did or even wore that provoked her assailant to sexually assault or rape her (Peterson & Muehlenhard, 2004). There is also a belief that states if a woman puts herself in a state or situation where she becomes incapable of deciding or defending herself such as imbibing too much at a party or acquiring a reputation for ” sleeping around,” it is also her fault if she gets raped. (Peterson & Muehlenhard, 2004).

Another myth is that it isn’t really ” rape” unless the victim suffers sexual and physical violence, usually by a stranger, that leaves bruises and other tangible marks (Peterson & Muehlenhard, 2004). This myth is especially dangerous, as there are methods of rape that do not leave marks on the victim’s body besides the fact that it has been proven that most rapes are committed by people that are connected to the victim. The persistence of this myth makes women lower their guards when they are around people they know and thus end up being a victim.

There are also myths that refer to men and their sexuality. For instance, there is a belief that men ” cannot control their sexual urges,” which then places the responsibility of avoiding and preventing rape on the women (Cowan, 2000, p. 807. ) Another is that rapists are mentally ill and therefore can be easily recognized by their appearance or actions alone (p. 807. ) Again, this myth poses a great danger for women are beguiled into thinking they can identify rapists and therefore avoid them at the same time, they are made to feel secure and unguarded in the company of the people they think they know.

Perception of Date Rape In an article (Jenco, 2006, p. 3) that was published in the November 4, 2006 issue of the Daily Herald, YWCA West Suburban Center prevention educators Melanie Morong and Lorrie Brenneman recounts the time they played the video ” No Visible Bruises” for students at the Naperville Central High School. This video recounted the ordeal of college student Katie Koestner who was raped by her classmate and date named Victor.

Some students opined that the rape was not entirely Victor’s fault since Koestner had been ” leading Victor on and even letting him stay overnight. The students further said that instead of allowing Victor to take her dress off, Koestner ” should have threatened to call the police” until Victor left. (p. 3) There were however some students who pointed out that Koestner was not to blame for her actions as Victor ” was playing mind games with her, he grabbed her wrists, used force and convinced her to trust him. “(p. 3) Morong explains that victims should never be blamed for rape.

She cites that in the state of Illinois, ” consent is a “” freely given yes”” and that a person can say “” no”” whenever he or she wants. If a person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the person cannot legally give consent. “(p. 3) Katie Koestner herself appears at the end of the video and states: “” A lot of people think what happened was my fault. I think they’re wrong. “” She goes on to say “” I take responsibility for my actions that night and now know some of the things I did weren’t very smart, but whatever I did, I didn’t ask to be raped. “”(p. 3)

Phyllis Pennese, of the Women of Color Caucus of the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault observes that there seems to be a notion prevalent among men that once they have ” spent a certain amount of money on date, they are entitled to certain things [such as sex]” (Turner, 1990. ) Sometimes, it can be a matter of what a man has grown up being exposed to. Pennese states: When all the while she is saying `no’, he’s been told that means `yes. ‘ This often puts a woman in a situation in which she says and speaks her mind about what she wants and doesn’t want, but the man feels he has to second-guess her.

Cassandra Thomas, a former date rape victim now turned counselor for the Houston rape crisis program, was shocked at the many reactions she heard about date rape at a baby shower she attended. “” They were saying they didn’t believe it could happen, that the woman [who’s been assaulted] must have enticed the man, teased him too much, or played hard to get,”” says Thomas. She adds that the same group of women from the shower often blamed the victims for not yelling for help or fighting back enough. To this Thomas says:

What they don’t understand is that you would expect a stranger to be crazy. But if it’s someone you are out with, you don’t expect this bizarre behavior. When it happens, you think, if he’s crazy enough to do this maybe he’s crazy enough to kill me. No one comprehends just how frightening it is. (Turner, 1990) In a survey conducted by the English magazine Bella (2000) an astonishing 37% of women and 29% of male readers opined that victims who have been raped after flirting with her attacker has only herself to blame for the assault. (” Yes and No of,” 2000, p. 7)

In addition to this, 75% of those polled believed that once a woman begins to be physically intimate, ” men will automatically assume she’s happy to go all the way. ” (p. 7) The survey further showed that four out of ten people polled also believed that even if a woman is saying ” no” yet her body language is saying ” yes,” it will be natural for men to think that what the woman means is the opposite of what she is verbally saying. (p. 7) One study (2005) conducted by Sarah Ben-David and Ofra Schneider reveal that people who grew up with traditional gender roles more often than not blamed the victims for the assault.

The study further proposes a ” real rape” model that describes the typical picture of what people have of rape. According to this model, in a ” real rape” a decent and helpless young virgin, who is under her father’s patronage, is assaulted by an armed stranger (or a group of strangers) in a public place. The perpetrator penetrates the strongly resisting victim and causes her severe physical damage. The victim runs away and immediately reports the assault to the police. (Ben-David & Schneider, 2005) Date Rape and Alcohol

The presence of alcohol in both the victim and assailant’s systems has become a constant factor in the reported cases of date rape. On average, 50% of sexual assault incidents in college campuses were fueled by alcohol intake (Abbey, 2002) at parties and the like. Of this, 74% of male perpetrators and 55% of the female victims have been intoxicated at the time of the assault. It can in fact be observed that most date or acquaintance rapes that occur in colleges happen after the perpetrator and victim have spent some time together at a place where there is alcohol such as parties or even a bar, usually in the context of a date.

The most common locations for the rape are either the victim or assailant’s home (this includes dormitory rooms, apartments, fraternities, sororities and parents’ homes. ) (Abbey, 2002) A study (2003) conducted by researchers that was published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol gives a pharmacological explanation of the effects of alcohol on one’s thought processes that may affect how they view consensual sex and date rape. According to the study, alcohol presents a disruption to ” higher-order cognitive processing, making it difficult to focus on competing, contradictory information.” (Abbey, Buck, Zawacki & Saenz, 2003)

People who are intoxicated or are under the influence of alcohol will therefore tend to focus on the most obvious points in a situation. It also further indicated that intoxicated people are more ” stimulus bound and therefore tend to focus on immediate, superficial cues” rather that those that are covert or not very obvious cues such as ” negative self-evaluations and internal or personal norms of behavior. ” (Abbey, Buck, Zawacki & Saenz, 2003)

There are some suggestions that alcohol may not only affect an individual’s cognitive but also affective processes. According to the study, alcohol impedes recall and possible anxiety about the consequences of actions and risks of dangerous situations. (Abbey, Buck, Zawacki & Saenz, 2003) In a sexually charged situation, intoxicated individuals are more likely to focus on their sexual arousal and ” sense of entitlement” that may take precedence over all morals and boundaries of the perpetrator.

In this situation, the perpetrator becomes oblivious to any negative effects his or her actions may have on the victim. A male college student who forced sex on a female friend wrote that, ” Alcohol loosened us up and the situation occurred by accident. If no alcohol was consumed, I would never have crossed that line. ” (Abbey, 2002) The intoxication of the victims has been viewed as the cause for their incapacity to consent or fight off their assailants.

While some women argue that they were encouraged or manipulated by the men to consume more than what they could handle, this is very hard to prove without getting an account of his actions from the perpetrator himself. (Testa, Livingston, Vanzile-Tamsen & Frone, 2003) ” Alcohol is the first and oldest club drug,” Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, said. ” To address club drugs administrators have to address the issue of drinking because if students are in a setting where their judgment is impaired from alcohol, issues like club drugs become more important. “