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Chapter 5.   Acquaintance Rape... removing the shroud of secrecy

Why me?



I thought he just wanted to talk and before I knew it he was on top of me. There was nothing I could do. All I  remember is that he reeked of booze.


According to the National Crime Victimization Survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 39,590 men and 164,240 women were victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault in 2008. For the period 1995-2013, females ages 18-24 had the highest rate of rape and sexual assault victimizations compared to females in all other age groups.  Within the 18 to 24 age group, victims could be identified as students enrolled in a college, university, trade school or vocational school or as non-students,  Among the student victims 20% of rape and sexual assault victimizations were reported to police compared to 32% reported among non-student victims ages 18-24.30 Granted, surveys regarding sexual assault face many challenges including collection mode, response rates and questions that can impact data quality. However, I believe it can be agreed that sexual assault on campuses around the country remains one of the most serious of all campus violent crimes.


In earlier studies, between 15% and 30% of college women reported being the victims of rape.31 Other research indicates higher percentages, while still other research indicates lower percentages. One of the primary complications faced in conducting this type of research is that often victims of rape either do not report it for a variety of reasons, or drop out of school. As a result we can suspect that the actual number of assaults may be more severe than some research indicates. Regardless of the exact number, everyone can agree that this is a serious problem which must be confronted.


Title IX, originally intended to end sex discrimination in education, was enacted on June 23, 1972. Famous for its requirement that schools provide females with equal athletic opportunities, the law also applies to all educational programs that receive federal funding, and to all aspects of a school's educational system. Now, under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault. A college or university that receives federal funds may be held legally responsible when it knows about and ignores sexual harassment or assault in its programs or activities. The school can be held responsible in court whether the harassment is committed by a faculty member, staff, or a student. In some cases, the school must pay the victim monetary damages.  For questions about how Title IX applies to your campus, contact your campus   Title IX coordinator who can usually be found in the campus Health Center and/or the Dean of Students Office.


Impact of Alcohol


I can’t believe he did it. We were teammates. He just didn’t seem like the kind of guy to do that kind of thing. I guess he  just got too drunk. I really feel sorry for that girl.

David A., University of Miami senior


As previously indicated, alcohol is a depressant drug which impacts us in a number of debilitating ways. Simply put, a depressant drug slows down our central nervous system. As a result, alcohol can impair our ability to communicate. Therefore, men and women can often misinterpret what the other is trying to say or do. “Maybe later” becomes “yes.” “No” becomes “give me a few more drinks first.” An innocent kiss may be mistakenly viewed as an invitation to more intimate sexual contact. While under the influence of alcohol, verbal and non-verbal cues are frequently misinterpreted by college men and women, more often with men overestimating women’s interest in them as sexual partners based on the woman’s characteristics such as friendliness, attractiveness and clothing.32


Alcohol, as a depressant drug, may inhibit brain functions that control impulsive behavior. As a result, aggressive actions a perpetrator may not have engaged in while sober may now be acted upon, resulting in a violent attack. Additionally, alcohol is one of the only drugs that seems to actually contribute to - yet NOT excuse - aggressive, violent behavior in some individuals. Sexual assault is never the fault of survivors, regardless of whether they were using alcohol or other drugs.  Alcohol is the most widely used acquaintance-rape drug. One study indicates 89 percent of assaults occur when the survivor is incapacitated due to alcohol.33 Researchers also found that heavy episodic drinking was the strongest predictor of both rape when intoxicated and other types of rape (physically forced rape and rape due to threats of force); high school heavy episodic drinking patterns were also significantly associated with the risk of rape while in college.34 In yet another survey, 15% of the men acknowledged using some form of alcohol-related sexual coercion.  Thirty five percent of the men reported that their friends approved of getting a woman drunk to have sex with her and 20% acknowledged having friends who have gotten a woman drunk or high to have sex. 35


The blame for unwanted sexual behavior and sexual assault always lies with the perpetrator who made the choice to violate another person. But alcohol, as a depressant drug, can also impair the drinker’s judgment. As a result, drinkers may place themselves in a high-risk environment which they may have avoided had they been sober. In saying this, I am not blaming the victim but rather pointing out the connection between alcohol use and risk.  Within another study of a nationally representative sample of college students, 74% of perpetrators and 55% of rape victims had been drinking alcohol prior to the assault.36 Again, this information is not meant to cast blame on the victim. What it does indicate is that victims of sexual assault can often be rendered incapable of assessing a dangerous situation due, somewhat, to alcohol-induced impairment.


Nature of the Problem


Initially referred to as date rape, acquaintance rape is considered a more accurate term. The reason for this is simple. Research indicates that campus rapes occur not only between people who are on a date, but also between those who simply know each other but may not be dating. It is estimated that more than eight in ten victims know their attacker. They may have met at a party, or visited an off-campus house with friends, or were simply socializing in each other’s rooms in the residence hall, thus the term acquaintance rape. Remember, rape is rape, and using the term acquaintance in no way suggests its effects are any less severe than with strangers.


As you read through the statistics in this section, understand they are referring to male-on-female attacks. In doing so, I do not wish to perpetuate the image of women in society as “victims,” nor men as “predators.” However, when it comes to sexual assault, more often than not women are the victims of the assault. For that reason, this section will deal with just that, male-on-female sexual assault. Rape, defined as forcing another person to engage in sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal or oral), can occur between different or same sex individuals. The bottom line for any of these tragedies is that more often than not, alcohol is involved.



If Assaulted


I was so embarrassed I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I just wanted to

crawl into a hole and die.



If you are raped or know someone who has been raped, there are some critical steps that should be followed. First of all, get help! As a result of the trauma of the attack, survivors can rarely think clearly about what they can and should do. Either stay in your room and call for help, or get to a safe place. If you are not yet comfortable going to officials, get help from a friend with whom you can talk. There are a number of support services available for rape survivors on college campuses. Also, the local police usually have specially trained officers sensitive to the needs of a rape survivor. Additionally, if for any reason you are not comfortable with campus services or the police, you can contact a local women’s services organization in your community. Or, for a survivor’s services office near you, call the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), a national rape crisis hotline, at 1-800-656-4673.


Although dealing with the proper adjudication of the crime is not of immediate concern to a survivor of rape, trying to maintain the integrity of evidence of the attack is crucial for future decisions about judicial procedures. If you choose to report the assault, first call the police, then go to the hospital. Do not shower, bathe or douche. Do not change your clothes; however, bring a change of clothes with you to the police station or the hospital. The police will need the clothes you were wearing during the assault as evidence. When possible, do not straighten up your room or the area where the attack occurred until the medical and legal evidence has been collected. Failure to obtain evidence within 72 hours after an assault can limit the legal actions for the survivor following the assault. While at the hospital, have medical personnel treat external and internal injuries as well as test for sexually transmitted diseases. Most hospitals have specially trained nurses who will administer a rape kit. Finally, if you suspect there is even the slightest chance that you were slipped some type of sedating drug, have a urine test taken. Even if you are not yet at a hospital or treatment facility, collect the first urine sample available in a clean container. There is now a federal law that can put a rapist in jail for 20 years if a sedating drug is used to commit the crime.


Yes, I know these instructions seem quite cold and calculating, but they are critical. The emotional turmoil and distress the survivor experiences is certainly extremely painful, but following these steps will ensure that if the survivor chooses to report and/or prosecute, there will be useful evidence. These steps are necessary to assist in ensuring that the attacker will be arrested and effectively prosecuted in court.



Long-Term Consequences


People tell me to get over it but they just don’t understand.



I was having real problems afterwards. I eventually dropped out of school for awhile. My counselor and my family have been  great. I don’t think I could have gotten through this without them.

Jennie, Boston University


As indicated earlier, professional help is of utmost importance not only for the immediate concerns regarding the attack, but also the long-term implications. Certainly the survivor of a rape is traumatized by the assault. More often than not, survivors develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Symptoms might include fear, helplessness, depression, anger and other emotional disturbances.


Additionally, we must not forget the long-term impact can also be disturbing, often resulting in profound psychological and emotional difficulties. I have spoken with many – too many – students who are recovering from some type of sexual assault. Most are dealing with a number of similar issues:


  • while most survivors have fears regarding their assailant, those assaulted while under the influence of a sedative drug (Alcohol, Rohypnol, GHB) will tend to develop a more generalized fear of men

  • fear of intimacy

  • extreme discomfort with any form of sexual activity

  • fear of being in a confined area such as an elevator

  • severe drop in Grade Point Average, or perhaps even dropping out of college

  • feelings of self-worth may be diminished

  • feelings of loss of control over life experiences


A college campus presents a unique challenge in this situation. Since the attacker may also be a student in the school, the survivor may experience ongoing anguish regarding the attack after seeing the attacker in class or around the campus. Often the survivors of a rape will blame themselves for the attack. This could lead to other psychological difficulties. Also, there is the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Finally, if there is a long, drawn out legal battle, this may once again victimize the survivor.


If you are the survivor of a rape or know someone who is, be sure to take advantage of the resources available to assist you or your friend. As indicated, rape has not only short-term but also long-term effects on the survivor:


  • as you recover from the attack, attempt to define yourself as a survivor rather than a victim. This can be more empowering.

  • individual counseling can help tremendously in dealing with the myriad issues that can unfold over time.

  • isolation could be one of your greatest enemies, join a support group.

  • you are not responsible for someone else’s behavior, nor can you change someone else – but you can help yourself.


Rape Abuse and Incest National Network


Risk Reduction


Ever since I was attacked, I have felt the need to help others by speaking out against all forms of violence.

Anonymous, University of Miami junior


Ever since I was attacked, I have felt the need to help others by speaking out against all forms of violence.

Anonymous, University of Miami junior


Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. However, high-risk alcohol use can have a major impact on the decision making and behavior of both the drinker and potential victim. Therefore, first and foremost, careful monitoring of alcohol consumption, is critical in avoiding the dangers of acquaintance rape. Although misinterpretation is an important factor, most acquaintance rapes are planned ahead of time by the perpetrators.37 By pressuring a potential victim to drink heavily, the attacker can render the potential victim  less capable of resisting an assault.38


Besides minimizing your own alcohol consumption, there are a number of other steps you can take to confront this danger as well:


  • many campuses offer escort services – use them! If your campus does not offer this type of service, work with your Student Activities Office, Counseling Services, Campus Security or any other organization that can implement an escort service.

  • be sure you enter and leave a party with a friend. Commit to each other that, regardless of the circumstances, you will only leave a party with each other, and both of you will always maintain that commitment.

  • to avoid any misunderstandings and/or misinterpretations you   should avoid going to another’s  room alone, especially if either of you has been drinking, even if it is your  own room. If you do leave a social situation, tell a friend where you are going and when you expect to return. Cell phones can be used to maintain contact with friends as well.

  • be assertive, direct and confident. Don’t be afraid to be confrontational and do not give mixed messages.

  • being embarrassed is better than being raped. Scream when necessary.

  • make it clear what your limits are before you get into a sexual situation.

  • insist on being treated with respect.  Assert yourself by standing up for your rights.

  • take an equal role in your relationships and reject stereotypes that identify anyone as weak.  Keep in mind that no one has the right to touch your body without your permission.

  • be wary of online relationships.  If you arrange to meet someone you have met online, never meet the person alone.


Some drugs can be placed in drinks without the drinker knowing it. Here are some tips that can help you avoid being slipped some type of drug:


  • Do not leave any drinks, alcoholic or not, unattended.

  • Do not take any beverages, including alcohol, from someone you do not know well or trust.

  • At a bar/club, only accept drinks from a bartender or waiter or waitress.

  • Do not accept open container drinks from anyone.

  • If you feel disproportionately impaired – meaning more impaired than you would normally be from the amount you have consumed – go to the emergency room immediately. Bring along a sample of your drink for analysis if possible.


Both men and women need to look out for others who may be at risk due to their own impairment, or the impairment of their friends, and address the developing dangerous situation. Together they can also participate in campus and community advocacy groups that confront sexual assault and high-risk drinking. Additionally, they can implement and/or support education programs about sexuality and acquaintance rape. Students, faculty and staff all need to maintain a high level of vigilance in scrutinizing how their administrators deal with sexual assault on their campus, especially the treatment of both the survivors and the alleged perpetrators. Although female students can take steps to minimize their risk for sexual assault, research suggests that sexual assault is much more associated with perpetrator characteristics than it is with victim characteristics. These characteristics include but are not limited to sexist attitudes towards women, a belief that the men’s behavior is justifiable, and a belief that men are entitled to sex under certain conditions, such as a “reimbursement” for paying for a date.39


Since in one study we see that one in fifteen men reported attempting rape or having committed rape, men must be considered part of the solution to these repeated tragedies.40 Men can be instrumental in addressing acquaintance rape and be a positive force for change on their campus by:


  • assisting campus organizations in their development of education and prevention programs;

  • speaking out regarding their own concerns about sexual assault, especially when it is raised in a humorous fashion;

  • challenging sexist and violent attitudes;

  • developing and implementing healthy and low-risk party guidelines for campus organizations;

  • carefully monitoring their own and their friends’ alcohol consumption;

  • avoiding, and helping other men avoid, risky situations which might place them in a position to be falsely accused of sexual assault.


Although as previously indicated this chapter has dealt primarily with male-on-female rape, men also get raped. It is estimated that men represent about 7% to 10% of all rape survivors. Males are assaulted most often by other males. However, offenders who assault males are not primarily homosexual. About half of these offenders report having either heterosexual or bisexual preferences.


Male victims face similar physical dangers and emotional difficulties following a rape, along with some additional challenges. Because our society still believes that males should be strong and able to protect themselves, males are less likely to report sexual victimization than females. Fear of embarrassment, ridicule and rejection, along with feelings of inadequacy, keep male survivors from telling loved ones and reporting the crime. In assisting male survivors of rape, just like women, men need support and understanding if they are to recover from the assault.41


Rape Abuse and Incest National Network

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