Dr. Joyce Brothers, "Date Rape", _St. Louis Post-Dispatch Parade_ (Sunday
magazine), Sept. 27, 1987, pp. 1, 4-6
"It was three years ago, in Febrary," recalls Devon, now a West Coast film
editor. "I was in graduate school, and the man I had been dating was
studying to be a heart surgeon.
"In many ways, he was your ideal man - sensitive and romantic. I have
never been wined and dined and courted like that in my entire life. But he
was also very possessive and jealous, and finally I realized we had to
break up. One evening, after he'd lost his temper again, he came over to
my studio apartment. I had asked him over because he was so apologetic.
"We talked. Then he said he wanted to spend the night. I said 'no.'
Halfway to the door, he grabbed me and started kissing me. I said, 'No,
no. I don't want to do this.' He didn't stop. He accused me of seeing
other men, kept repeating how much he loved me. I was trying to soothe him
and get him out the door. But he managed to push me over to the bed. We
struggled. I said over and over and over, 'You've got to leave.' It
didn't dawn on me that someone I'd been involved with, someone I trusted,
wouldn't stop if I said 'no.'
"Finally, he pinned my hands behind me and raped me. I felt sick. Even
today, he doesn't believe he raped me."
If a woman goes out on a date with a man, and he forces her to have sex, is
that rape? This dictionary says it is, and so does the law. Webster's
defines rape as "sexual intercourse with a woman by a man without her
consent and chiefly by force or deception" [a little sexism there!] -
nothing to do with how well she knows him. Yet for many people, including
most juries and even some women, criminal rape is *only* sexual violation
by a stranger.
But, if anything, say experts, the emotional effects of rape by an
acquaintance are more devastating. One of the reasons is that these rapes
generally have remained hidden, the many victims suffering in silence.
A HIDDEN EPIDEMIC. According to the FBI, there were 90,434 forcible rapes
in 1986. Between 1977 and 1986, their rate increased by 42 percent -
making rape the most rapidly growing major crime in the U.S. "It's an
epidemic of sexual assault," says Diana Russell, a professor of sociology
at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. However, until recently, the high
percentage of rape by an acquaintance - sometimes called "date rape" - was
In a landmark survey of 7,000 students at 35 colleges and universities
across the country, financed by the National Institute of Mental Health,
Mary P. Koss of Kent State University discovered some startling facts:
* One woman student in eight had been raped, according to the legal
definition, in the year previous to the survey. Rapes since the age of 14
raised the number to 25 percent.
* Ninety percent of the women knew their assailants, and 47 percent of the
rapes were by first dates or romantic acquaintances.
* More than 90 percent of the women did not report the rape.
*One out of 12 men admitted to having fulfilled the prevailing definition
of rape or attempted rape, yet none identified himself as a rapist.
Subsequent studies at individual colleges have confirmed these figures.
They indicate that date rape occurs all over the country, in every
socioeconomic group and at every age. The main victims, however, are women
between 15 and 24.
WHEN IS RAPE NOT RAPE? When a victim of rape knows her attacker,
particularly when it happens on a date, she rarely reports it. In some
cases, she does not even realize she has been raped. Why? Because the
rape wasn't perpetrated by a strange man who leaped out of the bushes or a
dark alley with a weapon. And because what is considered sexually
permissible in a male/female relationship is still very ambiguous
Gloria Fischer, a psychologist, surveyed more than 400 students at
Washington State University and found that 5 percent of the women and 19
percent of the men did not define forcible sex or the man's coercion as
unacceptable behavior. Rather, they felt that, UNDER CERTAIN CONDITIONS,
it might be acceptable for a man to force sex on his companion. These
included if the couple had been dating for a long time, if she had let him
fondle her, if she wasn't a virgin or if she had "led him on."
It's not just students. In society at large, I have found, people aren't
always sure when to call it rape and when to excuse the man's behavior by
choosing to see the woman as provocative or naive.
Milly, a patient of mine, was raped by a neighbor, the husband of a good
friend, who offered to paint her house and decided that sex on demand would
be appropriate payment. Joan was raped by a co-worker whome she had dated
occasionally. He called one night and said he was blue and needed someone
to talk to. Could he come over? How could Joan refuse? He stopped by,
but talk wasn't what he had on his mind. Was Joan guilty of naivete?
WHOM CAN YOU TRUST? Almost all victims of sexual assault suffer from
post-traumatic stress syndrome, whose symptoms include nightmares, anxiety
and sleeplessness. But I have found the *psychological* consequences of
date rape to be far greater.
When a friend or acquaintance rapes, the victim tends to blame herself.
"It made me question myself more," says Devon. "I had to ask, 'What does
this say about my judgment of people, about my behavior?' People are
accusatory because I didn't fight him off. I feel guilty, but there's
nothing I could have done."
"Psychologically, date rape is the most trust-deadening thing that can
happen to you," Devon adds. "That a man I dated can use his physical power
as a weapon in an argument, to compel me to do something - it makes me
think that even if I'm careful, I still could never know." While Devon has
dated other men since the rape, she admits she sometimes feels an
unaccountable rage toward the man she is seeing.
"Wondering forever after whom she can trust is frequently a more difficult
hurdle for the victim of rape by an acquaintance to overcome than the rape
itself," points out Margaret Reiss, a social worker in San Francisco.
WHY VICTIMS KEEP SILENT. Only one in about 10 rapes is reported at all,
but the ratio is even lower when the rapist is an acquaintnace. Victims
have given several reasons for this: (1) She is ambivalent about her own
role in provoking the crime - even if she did nothing. (2) Reporting a
husband's best friend or a popular member of a group can destroy a whole
social complex. (3) The date who is raped often is not believed. As
Devon puts it, "A lot of people wonder if you were asking for it." (4)
Jurors can be even more dubious. The rate of conviction for the small
percentage of rape cases brought to trial is shockingly low. In my
experience, the woman who *does* report a rape by an acquaintance
frequently just compounds her trauma.
Although most states have enacted laws to protect a rape victim from being
questioned in court about her lifestyle or sexual history - called "rape
shield laws" - victims still are being tried in court along with those
accused of raping them, says Barbara Reskin, a professor of sociology at
the University of Illinois. Reskin's research team sat in on 37
sexual-assault trials in Indianapolis. They then interviewed 360 jurors
who had served during those trials.
Indianapolis was chosen because of its rape shield laws. Despite the laws,
however, defense lawyers managed to bring up details of the victim's life
that they thought the jurors might find unsavory. They did this by asking
questions that might be struck from the record but that nevertheless stuck
in many of the jurors' minds. These jurors said that they weren't supposed
to be judgmental, but that they were.
They were less sympathetic to victims who were unwed mothers or who were
sexually active. They discounted the testimony of women who smoked
marijuana, frequented bars, and kept late hours. On the other hand, if a
man was well-groomed, married or had a girlfriend, the jurors found it
difficult to see him as a rapist. And when he was acquainted with the
woman, they tended to feel that she might have lured him simply by agreeing
to go out with him. The victim most likely to be taken seriously, says
Professor Reskin, "is married and assaulted in her own home when the door
ATTITUDES CAN BE DANGEROUS. Why is there so much sexual aggression,
especially among the young, and why is our society so slow to recognize it?
Clearly, ingrained assumptions about male and female sexual roles determine
how young people behave in sexual relationships.
Three Texas psychologists probed the attitudes of 268 college men aged 19.
The researchers found that the men fell into two groups: those who held
traditional views of sex roles and those who didn't. The traditionalists
thought that men, not women, should ask for dates, pay for dates, make
decisions about dating activity and initiate any intimate behavior. The
nontraditionalists believed in equality between the sexes.
The men were presented with different scenarios. In some, the woman asked
the man out or bore all the expenses of the evening. In others, the couple
spent the evening alone in the man's apartment or went to a movie. The
college men were asked to indicate in which of these dating situations the
man would be justified in forcing his attention [notice the euphemism] on
the woman against her will.
The good news is that 80 percent of the men said that "rape" was never
justified - under any circumstance. The bad news is that 20 percent felt
that, in some instances, it was. Most of these men held traditional views
of sex roles. They believed that a woman was leading a man on if she asked
him for a date, went with him to his apartment or allowed him to pay for
all the expenses. Most traditionalists, and even some nontraditionalists,
believed that this implied a sexual invitation, which the woman had no
right to withdraw later on. [!!!]
I believe that early education is critical to change these "macho"
attitudes and that women must learn in what ways their actions can be
misinterpreted by the men they meet.
FIGHTING DATE RAPE. In addition to advocating greater awareness for women
[see next message for suggestions], most experts stress that date rape is
not simply a *woman's* problem. Early education, they stress, is the best
way to teach men to respect the women they date and to break this dangerous
pattern. Here are some of the ways date rape is being fought:
* Acknowledging the problem. Since colleges and universities have learned
about the prevalence of rape on their campuses, they have begun to address
the problem. Many - like Stanford, Cornell, Ohio State, and the Univeristy
of Florida - have established anti-rape workshops and/or counseling
services. Since freshmen are considered most vulnerable, many educators
feel the workshops should be required for students as soon as they enter
college. Resource books for parents of high school students are available
from Alternatives to Fear, Dept. P, 1605 Seventeenth Ave., Seattle, Wash.
* Toughening the law. In California, a joint resolution that would direct
colleges to actively investigate rapes on campuses, even if the victims do
not file criminal charges, has been introduced in the State Legislature.
It also requires that universities establish explicit sexual codes of
conduct to combat assaults against college women. Some universities, like
Washington State University, have already done that.
* Improving communication. A date rape often starts with misread sexual
signals. Discussion groups, in which men and women talk openly about
sexual attitudes and expectations, have been helpful. For some men, sexual
aggression is normal male behavior. They may interpret a woman's
invitation as a come-on, her "no" as fliratious or coy. Talking can help
women recognize these attitudes. It also can dispel prevailing myths about
rape, such as that there's no such thing as rape on a date, and that women
enjoy rape or deserve it.
* Learning to resist. Anti-rape workshops teach women to recognize rape
when it happens, to fight it and report it. Women who may say "no" too
softly are urged to speak forcefully. Studies show that screaming and
physically resisting an attacker is usually more effective than reasoning
or pleading - even when the rapist is an acquaintance.
* Breaking the cycle of violence. Date rape is part of a spectrum of
violent relationships - including verbal and physical abuse - that often
starts in the teen years. According to a study by five researchers at
Oregon State University, well over 12 percent of 644 high school students
surveyed experienced physical abuse on a date [!!]. I believe parents can
protect children from accepting violence within an intimate relationship by
clearly separating love and violence in the home, teaching the children to
respect themselves and others and recognizing sexual violence as the
criminal behavior it is.
* What to do. The first thing the victim of any rape should do is TELL
SOMEONE. One of the biggest problems in date rape is that victims are too
ashamed to talk about it. The person told should stress that what happened
was not the woman's fault and offer support. Any rape victim should talk
to a counselor about the pros and cons of reporting the rape to the police.
The following advice is from the National Organization for Victim
* Be wary when your relationship seems to be operating along classic
stereotypes of dominant male and submissive female. Some men, particularly
in late adolescence, are very domineering, putting the woman in a poor
position to assert herself. If a man orders for you in a restaurant, plans
all date activities, and always gets his way, chances are that he will do
the same thing in an intimate setting.
* Be wary when a date tries to control your behavior in any way - for
example, trying to restrict the people you meet or forcing you to do
something you don't want to do. Be especially wary of men who presure you,
knowing that you would be too embarrassed to tell mutual friends or that
you would not be believed. All these things make you more vulnerable.
* Be very clear in communicating what you feel, beyond just saying "no."
If a date wants to go further sexually than you are willing, insist that he
leave. Or *you* leave.
* Avoid giving ambiguous messages. For example, don't engage in petting,
then say you don't want to go any further, THEN return to petting.
* When dating someone for the first time, try to do it in a group. This is
particularly important for young people.
* Don't go somewhere so private that there is nowhere to get help. Parking
in a remote spot is not a good idea at any age.
* If it is clear in your mind that you don't intend to have sex with somone
you are dating, discuss that at the outset. Communicating your intentions
openly can diffuse a possibly dangerous situation.