What is Acquaintance Rape?
which is also referred to as "date rape"
and "hidden rape," has been increasingly
recognized as a real and relatively common problem
within society. Much of the attention that has
been focused on this issue has emerged as part
of the growing willingness to acknowledge and
address issues associated with domestic violence
and the rights of women in general in the past
three decades. Although the early and mid 1970's
saw the emergence of education and mobilization
to combat rape, it was not until the early 1980's
that acquaintance rape began to assume a more
distinct form in the public consciousness. The
scholarly research done by psychologist Mary Koss
and her colleagues is widely recognized as the
primary impetus for raising awareness to a new
of Koss' findings in the popular Ms. magazine
in 1985 informed millions of the scope and severity
of the problem. By debunking the belief that unwanted
sexual advances and intercourse were not rape
if they occurred with an acquaintance or while
on a date, Koss compelled women to reexamine their
own experiences. Many women were thus able to
reframe what had happened to them as acquaintance
rape and became better able to legitimize their
perceptions that they were indeed victims of a
crime. The results of Koss' research were the
basis of the book by Robin Warshaw, first published
in 1988, entitled I Never Called it Rape.
For current purposes,
the term acquaintance rape will be defined as
being subjected to unwanted sexual intercourse,
oral sex, anal sex, or other sexual contact through
the use of force or threat of force. Unsuccessful
attempts are also subsumed within the term "rape."
Sexual coercion is defined as unwanted sexual
intercourse, or any other sexual contact subsequent
to the use of menacing verbal pressure or misuse
of authority (Koss, 1988).
II. Legal Perspectives
on Acquaintance Rape
media have developed an infatuation with trial
coverage in recent years. Among the trials which
have received the most coverage have been those
involving acquaintance rape. The Mike Tyson/Desiree
Washington and William Kennedy Smith/Patricia
Bowman trials garnered wide scale television coverage
and delivered the issue of acquaintance rape into
living rooms across America. Another recent trial
which received national attention involved a group
of teenaged boys in New Jersey who sodomized and
sexually assaulted a mildly retarded 17-year old
female classmate. While the circumstances in this
instance differed from the Tyson and Smith cases,
the legal definition of consent was again the
central issue of the trial. Although the Senate
Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court
nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas were obviously
not a rape trial, the focal point of sexual harassment
during the hearings expanded national consciousness
regarding the demarcations of sexual transgression.
The sexual assault which took place at the Tailhook
Association of Navy Pilots annual convention in
1991 was well documented. At the time of this
writing, events involving sexual harassment, sexual
coercion, and acquaintance rape of female Army
recruits at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and other
military training facilities are being investigated.
As these well
publicized events indicate, an increased awareness
of sexual coercion and acquaintance rape has been
accompanied by important legal decisions and changes
in legal definitions of rape. Until recently,
clear physical resistance was a requirement for
a rape conviction in California. A 1990 amendment
now defines rape as sexual intercourse "where
it is accomplished against a person's will by
means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear
of immediate and unlawful bodily injury."
The important additions are "menace"
and "duress," as they include consideration
of verbal threats and implied threat of force
(Harris, in Francis, 1996). The definition of
"consent" has been expanded to mean
"positive cooperation in act or attitude
pursuant to an exercise of free will. A person
must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge
of the nature of the act or transaction involved."
In addition, a prior or current relationship between
the victim and the accused is not sufficient to
imply consent. Most states also have provisions
which prohibit the use of drugs and/or alcohol
to incapacitate a victim, rendering the victim
unable to deny consent.
remains a controversial topic because of lack
of agreement upon the definition of consent. In
an attempt to clarify this definition, in 1994,
Antioch College in Ohio adopted what has become
an infamous policy delineating consensual sexual
behavior. The primary reason this policy has stirred
such an uproar is that the definition of consent
is based on continuous verbal communication during
intimacy. The person initiating the contact must
take responsibility for obtaining the other participant's
verbal consent as the level of sexual intimacy
increases. This must occur with each new level.
The rules also state that "If you have had
a particular level of sexual intimacy before with
someone, you must still ask each and every time."
(The Antioch College Sexual Offense Policy, in
This attempt to
remove ambiguity from the interpretation of consent
was hailed by some as the closest thing yet to
an ideal of "communicative sexuality."
As is often the case with ground breaking social
experimentation, it was ridiculed and lampooned
by the majority of those who responded to it.
Most criticism centered on reducing the spontaneity
of sexual intimacy to what seemed like an artificial
Perspectives on Acquaintance Rape
traditionally devoted much attention to issues
such as pornography, sexual harassment, sexual
coercion, and acquaintance rape. The sociological
dynamics which influence the politics of sexual
equality tend to be complicated. There is no single
position taken by feminists on any of the aforementioned
issues; there are differing and often conflicting
opinions. Views on pornography, for example, are
divided between two opposing camps. Libertarian
feminists, on one hand, distinguish between erotica
(with themes of healthy consensual sexuality)
and pornography (material that combines the "graphic
sexually explicit" with depictions which
are "actively subordinating, treating unequally,
as less than human, on the basis of sex."
(MacKinnon, in Stan, 1995). Socalled "protectionist"
feminists tend not to make such a distinction
and view virtually all sexually-oriented material
as exploitative and pornographic.
Views on acquaintance
rape also appear quite capable of creating opposing
camps. Despite the violent nature of acquaintance
rape, the belief that many victims are actually
willing, consenting participants is held by both
men and women alike. "Blaming the victim"
seems to be an all too prevalent reaction to acquaintance
rape. Prominent authors have espoused this idea
in editorial pages, Sunday Magazine sections,
and popular journal articles. Some of these authors
are women (a few identify themselves as feminists)
who appear to justify their ideas by drawing conclusions
based on their own personal experiences and anecdotal
evidence, not wide-scale, systematic research.
They may announce that they too have probably
been raped while on a date to illustrate their
own inevitable entanglement in the manipulation
and exploitation which are part of interpersonal
relations. It has also been implied that a natural
state of aggression between men and women is normal,
and that any woman who would go back to a man's
apartment after a date is "an idiot."
While there may be a certain degree of cautionary
wisdom in the latter part of this statement, such
views have been criticized for being overly simplistic
and for simply submitting to the problem.
There has been
a recent flurry of these literary exchanges on
acquaintance rape between women's rights advocates,
who have been working to raise public awareness,
and a relatively small group of revisionists who
perceive that the feminist response to the problem
has been alarmist. In 1993, The Morning After:
Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus by Katie
Roiphe was published. Roiphe alleged that acquaintance
rape was largely a myth created by feminists and
challenged the results of the Koss study. Those
who had responded and mobilized to meet the problem
of acquaintance rape were called "rape-crisis
feminists." This book, including excerpted
in many major women's magazines, argued that the
magnitude of the acquaintance rape problem was
actually very small. Myriad critics were quick
to respond to Roiphe and the anecdotal evidence
she gave to her claims.
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. Equally as important
has been the usefulness of this information in
creating prevention models. Koss acknowledges
that there are some limitations to the research.
The most significant drawback is that her subjects
were drawn exclusively from college campuses;
thus, they were not representative of the population
at large. The average age of the subjects was
21.4 years. By no means does this negate the usefulness
of the findings, especially since the late teens
and early twenties are the peak ages for the prevalence
of acquaintance rape. The demographic profile
of the 3,187 female and 2,972 male students in
the study was similar to the makeup of the overall
enrollment in higher education within the United
States. Here are some of the most important statistics:
- One in four women surveyed
was victim of rape or attempted rape.
- An additional one in four
women surveyed was touched sexually against
her will or was victim of sexual coercion.
- 84 percent of those raped
knew their attacker.
- 57 percent of those rapes
happened while on dates.
- One in twelve male students
surveyed had committed acts that met the legal
definitions of rape or attempted rape.
- 84 percent of those men who
committed rape said that what they did was
definitely not rape.
- Sixteen percent of the male
students who committed rape and ten percent
of those who attempted a rape took part in
episodes involving more than one attacker.
- Only 27 percent of those
women whose sexual assault met the legal definition
of rape thought of themselves as rape victims.
- 42 percent of the rape victims
did not tell anyone about their assaults.
- Only five percent of the
rape victims reported the crime to the police.
- Only five percent of the
rape victims sought help at rape-crisis centers.
- Whether they had acknowledged
their experience as a rape or not, thirty
percent of the women identified as rape victims
contemplated suicide after the incident.
- 82 percent of the victims
said that the experience had permanently changed
V. Myths About
There are a set
of beliefs and misunderstandings about acquaintance
rape that are held by a large portion of the population.
These faulty beliefs 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.
woman who gets raped usually deserves it,
especially if she has agreed to go to a
man's house or park with him.
one deserves to be raped. Being in a man's
house or car does not mean that a woman
has agreed to have sex with him.
a woman agrees to allow a man to pay for
dinner, drinks, etc., then it means she
owes him sex.
is not an implied payback for dinner or
other expense no matter how much money has
rape is committed by men who are easy to
identify as rapists.
are often raped by "normal" acquaintances
who resemble "regular guys."
who don't fight back haven't been raped.
occurs when one is forced to have sex against
their will, whether they have decided to
fight back or not.
kissing or certain kinds of touching mean
that intercourse is inevitable.
right to say "no" should be honored,
regardless of the activity which preceded
a man reaches a certain point of arousal,
sex is inevitable and they can't help forcing
themselves upon a woman.
are capable of exercising restraint in acting
upon sexual urges.
women lie about acquaintance rape because
they have regrets after consensual sex.
rape really happens - to people you know,
by people you know.
who say "No" really mean "Yes."
notion is based on rigid and outdated sexual
behaviors such as drinking or dressing in
a sexually appealing way make rape a woman's
or dressing in a sexually appealing way
are not invitations for sex.
VI. Who are
Although it is
not possible to make accurate predictions about
who will be subjected to acquaintance rape and
who won't, there is some evidence that certain
beliefs and behaviors may increase the risk of
becoming a victim. Women who subscribe to "traditional"
views of men occupying a position of dominance
and authority relative to women (who are seen
as passive and submissive) may be at increased
risk. In a study where the justifiability of rape
was rated based on fictional dating scenarios,
women with traditional attitudes tended to view
the rape as acceptable if the women had initiated
the date (Muehlenhard, in Pirog-Good and Stets,
1989). Drinking alcohol or taking drugs appears
to be associated with acquaintance rape. Koss
(1988) found that at least 55 percent of the victims
in her study had been drinking or taking drugs
just before the attack. Women who are raped within
dating relationships or by an acquaintance are
seen as "safe" victims because they
are unlikely to report the incident to authorities
or even view it as rape. Not only did a mere five
percent of the women who had been raped in the
Koss study report the incident, but 42 percent
of them had sex again with their assailants.
The company one
keeps may be a factor in predisposing women to
an increased risk of sexual assault. An investigation
of dating aggression and the features of college
peer groups (Gwartney-Gibbs & Stockard, in
Pirog-Good and Stets, 1989) supports this idea.
The results indicate that those women who characterized
the men in their mixed-sex social group as occasionally
displaying forceful behavior towards women were
significantly more likely themselves to be victims
of sexual aggression. Being in familiar surroundings
does not provide security. Most acquaintance rapes
take place in either the victim's or the assailant's
home, apartment, or dormitory.
VII. Who Commits
Just as with the
victim, it is not possible to clearly identify
individual men who will be participants in acquaintance
rape. As a body of research begins to accumulate,
however, there are certain characteristics which
increase the risk factors. Acquaintance rape is
not typically committed by psychopaths who are
deviant from mainstream society. It is often expressed
that direct and indirect messages given to boys
and young men by our culture about what it means
to male (dominant, aggressive, uncompromising)
contribute to creating a mindset which is accepting
of sexually aggressive behavior. Such messages
are constantly sent via television and film when
sex is portrayed as a commodity whose attainment
is the ultimate male challenge. Notice how such
beliefs are found within the vernacular of sex:
"I'm going to make it with her," "Tonight's
the night I'm going to score," "She's
never had anything like this before," "What
a piece of meat," "She's afraid to give
is exposed to this sexually biased current by
various media, yet this does not account for individual
differences in sexual beliefs and behaviors. Buying
into stereotypical attitudes regarding sex roles
tends to be associated with justification of intercourse
under any circumstances. Other characteristics
of the individual seem to facilitate sexual aggression.
Research designed to determine traits of sexually
aggressive males (Malamuth, in Pirog-Good and
Stets, 1989) indicated that high scores on scales
measuring dominance as a sexual motive, hostile
attitudes towards women, condoning the use of
force in sexual relationships, and the amount
of prior sexual experience were all significantly
related to self-reports of sexually aggressive
behavior. Furthermore, the interaction of several
of these variables increased the chance that an
individual had reported sexually aggressive behavior.
The inability to appraise social interactions,
as well as prior parental neglect or sexual or
physical abuse early in life may also be linked
with acquaintance rape (Hall & Hirschman,
in Wiehe and Richards, 1995). Finally, taking
drugs or alcohol is commonly associated with sexual
aggression. Of the men who were identified as
having committed acquaintance rape, 75 percent
had taken drugs or alcohol just prior to the rape
VIII. The Effects
of Acquaintance Rape
of acquaintance rape are often far-reaching. Once
the actual rape has occurred and has been identified
as rape by the survivor, she is faced with the
decision of whether to disclose to anyone what
has happened. In a study of acquaintance rape
survivors (Wiehe & Richards, 1995), 97 percent
informed at least one close confidant. The percentage
of women who informed the police was drastically
lower, at 28 percent. A still smaller number (twenty
percent) decided to prosecute. Koss (1988) reports
that only two percent of acquaintance rape survivors
report their experiences to the police. This compared
with the 21 percent who reported rape by a stranger
to the police. The percentage of survivors reporting
the rape is so low for several reasons. Self-blame
is a recurring response which prevents disclosure.
Even if the act has been conceived as rape by
the survivor, there is often an accompanying guilt
about not seeing the sexual assault coming before
it was too late. This is often directly or indirectly
reinforced by the reactions of family or friends
in the form of questioning the survivor's decisions
to drink during a date or to invite the assailant
back to their apartment, provocative behavior,
or previous sexual relations. People normally
relied upon for support by the survivor are not
immune to subtly blaming the victim. Another factor
which inhibits reporting is the anticipated response
of the authorities. Fear that the victim will
again be blamed adds to apprehension about interrogation.
The duress of reexperiencing the attack and testifying
at a trial, and a low conviction rate for acquaintance
rapists, are considerations as well.
of survivors who seek medical assistance after
an attack is comparable to the percentage reporting
to police (Wiehe & Richards, 1995). Serious
physical consequences often emerge and are usually
attended to before the emotional consequences.
Seeking medical help can also be a traumatic experience,
as many survivors feel like they are being violated
all over again during the examination. More often
than not, attentive and supportive medical staff
can make a difference. Survivors may report being
more at ease with a female physician. The presence
of a rape-crisis counselor during the examination
and the long periods of waiting that are often
involved with it can be tremendously helpful.
Internal and external injury, pregnancy, and abortion
are some of the more common physical aftereffects
of acquaintance rape.
Research has indicated
that the survivors of acquaintance rape report
similar levels of depression, anxiety, complications
in subsequent relationships, and difficulty attaining
pre-rape levels of sexual satisfaction to what
survivors of stranger rape report (Koss &
Dinero, 1988). What may make coping more difficult
for victims of acquaintance rape is a failure
of others to recognize that the emotional impact
is just as serious. The degree to which individuals
experience these and other emotional consequences
varies based on factors such as the amount of
emotional support available, prior experiences,
and personal coping style. The way that a survivor's
emotional harm may translate into overt behavior
also depends on individual factors. Some may become
very withdrawn and uncommunicative, others may
act out sexually and become promiscuous. Those
survivors who tend to deal the most effectively
with their experiences take an active role in
acknowledging the rape, disclosing the incident
to appropriate others, finding the right help,
and educating themselves about acquaintance rape
and prevention strategies.
One of the most
serious psychological disorders which can develop
as the result of acquaintance rape is Posttraumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). Rape is just one of many
possible causes of PTSD, but it (along with other
forms of sexual assault) is the most common cause
of PTSD in American women (McFarlane & De
Girolamo, in van der Kolk, McFarlane, & Weisaeth,
1996). PTSD as it relates to acquaintance rape
is defined as in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition as "the
development of characteristic symptoms following
exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving
direct personal experience of an event that involves
actual or threatened death or serious injury,
or other threat to one's physical integrity"
(DSM-IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
A person's immediate response to the event includes
intense fear and helplessness. Symptoms which
are part of the criteria for PTSD include persistent
reexperiencing of the event, persistent avoidance
of stimuli associated with the event, and persistent
symptoms of increased arousal. This pattern of
reexperiencing, avoidance, and arousal must be
present for at least one month. There must also
be an accompanying impairment in social, occupational,
or other important realm of functioning (DSM-IV,
If one takes note
of the causes and symptoms of PTSD and compares
them to thoughts and emotions which might be evoked
by acquaintance rape, it is not difficult to see
a direct connection. Intense fear and helplessness
are likely to be the core reactions to any sexual
assault. Perhaps no other consequence is more
devastating and cruel than the fear, mistrust,
and doubt triggered by the simple encounters and
communication with men which are a part of everyday
living. Prior to the assault, the rapist had been
indistinguishable from non rapists. After the
rape, all men may be seen as potential rapists.
For many victims, hypervigilance towards most
men becomes permanent. For others, a long and
difficult recovery process must be endured before
a sense of normalcy returns.
section has been adapted from I Never Called
It Rape, by Robin Warshaw. Prevention is not
just the responsibility of the potential victims,
that is, of women. Men may try to use acquaintance
rape myths and false stereotypes about "what
women really want" to rationalize or excuse
sexually aggressive behavior. The most widely
used defense is to blame the victim. Education
and awareness programs, however, can have a positive
effect in encouraging men to take increased responsibility
for their behavior. Despite this optimistic statement,
there will always be some individuals who won't
get the message. Although it may be difficult,
if not impossible, to detect someone who will
commit acquaintance rape, there are some characteristics
which can signal trouble. Emotional intimidation
in the form of belittling comments, ignoring,
sulking, and dictating friends or style of dress
may indicate high levels of hostility. Projecting
an overt air of superiority or acting as if one
knows another much better than the one actually
does may also be associated with coercive tendencies.
Body posturing such as blocking a doorway or deriving
pleasure from physically startling or scaring
are forms of physical intimidation. Harboring
negative attitudes toward women in general can
be detected in the need to speak derisively of
previous girlfriends. Extreme jealousy and an
inability to handle sexual or emotional frustration
without anger may reflect potentially dangerous
volatility. Taking offense at not consenting to
activities which could limit resistance, such
as drinking or going to a private or isolated
place, should serve as a warning.
Many of these
characteristics are similar to each other and
contain themes of hostility and intimidation.
Maintaining an awareness of such a profile may
facilitate quicker, clearer, and more resolute
decision-making in problematic situations. Practical
guidelines which may be helpful in decreasing
the risk of acquaintance rape are available. Expanded
versions, as well as suggestions about what to
do if rape occurs, may be found in Intimate
Betrayal: Understanding and Responding to the
Trauma of Acquaintance Rape (Wiehe & Richards,
1995) and I Never Called It Rape (Warshaw,
Association, (1994). Diagnostic and statistical
manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington,
Francis, L., Ed.
(1996) Date rape: Feminism, philosophy, and the
law. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University
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and mixed-sex peer groups In M.A. Pirog-Good &
J.E. Stets (Eds.)., Violence in dating relationships:
Emerging social issues (pp. 185-204). New York,
Harris, A.P. (1996).
Forcible rape, date rape, and communicative sexuality.
In L. Francis (Ed.)., Date rape: Feminism, philosophy,
and the law (pp. 51-61). University Park, PA:
Pennsylvania State University Press.
Koss, M.P. (1988).
Hidden rape: Sexual aggression and victimization
in the national sample of students in higher education.
In M.A. Pirog-Good & J.E. Stets (Eds.)., Violence
in dating relationships: Emerging social issues
(pp. 145168). New York, NY: Praeger.
Koss, M.P. &
Dinero, T.E. (1988). A discriminant analysis of
risk factors among a national sample of college
women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
(1989). Predictors of naturalistic sexual aggression.
In M.A. Pirog-Good & J.E. Stets (Eds.)., Violence
in dating relationships: Emerging social issues
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& DeGirolamo, G. (1996). The nature of traumatic
stressors and the epidemiology of posttraumatic
reactions. In B.A. van der Kolk, A.C. McFarlane
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effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body,
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(1989). Misinterpreted dating behaviors and the
risk of date rape. In M.A. Pirog-Good & J.E.
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Stan, A.M., Ed.
(1995). Debating sexual correctness: Pornography,
sexual harassment, date rape, and the politics
of sexual equality. New York, NY: Delta.
Warshaw, R. (1994).
I never called it rape. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.
Wiehe, V.R. &
Richards, A.L. (1995). Intimate betrayal: Understanding
and responding to the trauma of acquaintance rape.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
David G. Curtis,
Ph.D., B.C.E.T.S., is a Clinical and School Psychologist.
As a consulting psychologist with Long Island
Psychological Associates, P.C. in New York he
is involved with the evaluation and treatment
of survivors of traumatic events. Dr. Curtis is
also a school psychologist in the Merrick School
District. He is the author and coordinator of
the District's Crisis Response Plan. He is a Board
Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and Diplomate
of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic
Stress, where he also serves on the Scientific
Advisory Board. Dr. Curtis has held an Adjunct
Professor position at Hofstra University. He has
presented at various conferences on topics such
as Attention Deficit Disorder and Psychological
Inhibitors of Athletic Performance. He is a member
of the American Psychological Association, the
Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy,
the Nassau County Psychological Association, and
the Suffolk County Psychological Association.
by The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic