Acquaintance Rape on College and University Campuses

College Student Journal, March, 2004
by Felicia F. Romeo

While a university experience offers young women many rewards, unfortunately, there are also significant dangers, and one of these dangers is men who are sexual predators. Acquaintance rape is a sexual assault perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim. It is a violent and serious crime that is far too common an occurrence at our institutions of higher education. It is imperative that women in colleges and universities become informed about 1) the crime of acquaintance rape; 2) precautionary behaviors to try to prevent becoming a victim of acquaintance rape; and 3) learn procedures to follow after an acquaintance rape has occurred, in order to successfully prosecute the offender.

Introduction

Each year, young women leave the security of their familiar surroundings and attend college and universities in distant cities and locations. These women are embarking on a journey, filled with hopes for joy and happiness, as they seek an academic education. Many of them are also seeking to find the "special" someone with whom they will share their future lives. The campus environment, therefore, provides for academic stimulation, as well as a variety of activities and opportunities for socialization.

While a university experience offers young women many rewards, unfortunately, there are also significant dangers, and one of these dangers is men who are sexual predators. These men could be official students, or men who just attend campus activities in order to meet their next victim. A serious and violent sexual crime, acquaintance rape, is far too common an occurrence at our institutions of higher education. Acquaintance rape is a sexual assault perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim. It is imperative that women in colleges and universities become informed about: 1) the crime of acquaintance rape; 2) precautionary behaviors to try to prevent becoming a victim of acquaintance rape; and 3) learn procedures to follow after an acquaintance rape has occurred, in order to successfully prosecute the offender.

Statistics

A survey from the United States Bureau of Justice reported that in three-quarters of all rapes and sexual assaults against women, the perpetrator is know to the victim (U.S.O.O.J., 1995). A college survey conducted by the National Victim Center reported that one in four college women have been raped or suffered attempted rape (Bureau of Justice, 1992). In another college survey, half of the college men reported that they engaged in some form of sexual aggression on a date (Bureau of Justice, 1995). These reports indicate that young women are at considerable risk of becoming a victim of an acquaintance rapist.

The Acquaintance Rapist

Unfortunately, one cannot identify an acquaintance rapist on the basis of his appearance. He could be anyone, from a classmate, a science laboratory partner, a boyfriend, or just the nice guy that lives in the apartment next door. While acquaintance rapist cannot be identified by their appearance, they do engage in certain behaviors in order to win the confidence and trust of their victims. The primary goal of the acquaintance rapist is to increase the victim's vulnerability. He is highly manipulative and may make such promises to her as "pinning," engagement, love, and even marriage. He may also choose to use alcohol and/or drugs in order to incapacitate the victim, rendering her incapable of offering him any resistance during his sexual assault. The acquaintance rapists also significantly increases the victim's vulnerability by manipulating her into a situation where she will be alone with him. This can be achieved by being alone with her at her or his residence or in a car. Even if she is at a fraternity party, or a sport's event where there are many other people around, he still could take her into a room, or a secluded place outside, where she is ultimately alone with him.

Alcohol and Drug

Another form of manipulation the acquaintance rapist may use is to give his potential victim alcohol and/or drugs, in an effort to eliminate her ability to resist his sexual attack. Alcohol intoxication can render her unconscious, as well as the ingestion of several types of drugs, which are colorless, odorless, and tasteless. These drugs, therefore, can be slipped into the victim's drink, where they dissolve within seconds.

There are several drugs, referred to as "date rape" dugs that have powerful sedative effects and can incapacitate the victim within 20-30 minutes after ingestion. The sedation could last for up to 24 hours. These drugs are: Rohypnol (street name, "roofies:), GHB, Gamma Hydrobutrate (street name, "g-juice"), and Ketamine (street name, "Special K"). They are referred to as "date rape: drugs because many rapists administer the drug while on a formal date. However, these drugs could be administered by anyone, at a bar or lounge, at fraternity parties or at other college functions. The symptoms, after ingestion of these drugs, are similar to alcohol intoxication, such as loss of motor coordination, slurred speech, fatigue, confusion, and amnesia. Thus, the unconscious and immobilized victim becomes an easy target for the sexual assault. High doses of these drugs can cause the victim to fall into a comatose state and even cause death.

Amnesia Effect

These "date rape" drugs are often the weapon of choice for the acquaintance rapist, not only for their sedative effects, but because the victim also experiences "amnesia" within 15 minutes after ingestion. As a result of the "amnesia effect," the victim may wake up, naked and in unfamiliar surroundings, such as an apartment or fraternity house, however, she will be

unable to remember taking any drugs or even what happened to her. Therefore, the victim is unable to provide valuable information to the police in an investigation and subsequently, a successful prosecution of the rapist. In addition, these drugs are quickly eliminated from the body, and often not detectable in the victim's bloodstream, which further hinders any police investigation and prosecution.

Specific Precautionary Behaviors

There are several precautions young women can take in order to reduce their chances of becoming a victim of an acquaintance rapist. The following recommendations focus eliminating on any opportunity for her to be alone with a potential offender by using a "buddy system."

Buddy System

The "Buddy System" can be very helpful to avoid becoming an acquaintance rape victim. With this method, friends can look out for each other in social situations. Some suggestions include:

  • stay with a girlfriend to avoid a dangerous situation
  • be aware of becoming isolated
  • do not let your friends out of sight
  • if a friend appears especially intoxicated after drinking a beverage, and appears confused or too compliant, take steps to ensure the friend's safety
  • alert friends to high-risk places and situations, such as clubs where known date rape drugs have been used

Also, young women need to be extremely alert, whenever they are attending any campus function, or when they are at bars or lounges where alcohol and other types of beverages are served. Some suggestions include:

Alcohol and Drugs

  • Watch your consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially when other people are drinking.
  • Do not put yourself at risk by drinking enough alcohol to become intoxicated.
  • Be careful about accepting alcoholic beverages from someone you do not know or trust.
  • Do not accept drinks from an open container.
  • Never leave your drink unattended.
  • Never share or exchange drinks.
  • Do not drink from a punch bowl.
  • If you are at the bar, monitor how your drink is being prepared.
  • Buy bar drinks in bottles, if possible, because they are harder to tamper with than wide-mouth glasses.

Behaviors to Follow After Being a Victim of Rape

Unfortunately, although women try to be alert to their surroundings and to the various male friends or lovers they may know, they can still become victims of acquaintance rape. Even though the rape victim is extremely traumatized and emotionally distraught, it is important that she rationally try to follow some procedures in order to preserve CRITICAL evidence, should she decide to press charges. Physical specimens collected soon after the sexual assault will be valuable evidence. Therefore, some suggestions include:

  • do not shower, bathe, wash, douche, or attempt to clean yourself
  • do not change your clothes
  • do not urinate, as traces of drugs can be found in urine
  • if you drank from a glass or can, take it with you, along with the offender's glass

Medical Attention

Acquaintance rape is a serious violation of every woman's personal rights, and it causes her to experience severe emotional as well as physical injuries. The young woman should immediately go to a hospital emergency room or the Campus Health Center. At the medical facility, not only will she be treated for her injuries, examined for venereal diseases, AIDS, and pregnancy, but valuable physical specimens and evidence will be collected in order to insure a successful prosecution of the offender.

Reporting Acquaintance Rape

Acquaintance rape, unfortunately, is all too often an underreported crime. In a college survey, only one out of twenty-five women reported a sexual assault (U.S.D.O.J., 1995). Rape is considered to be the most underreported violent crime in our nation (U.S. Bureau of Justice, 1997). In particular, with acquaintance rape, because the victim and offender are known to each other, the victim finds it more difficult to accuse the perpetrator. It is much easier for a rape victim to blame a stranger than a known attacker. There are several reasons that rape victims give for not reporting acquaintance rape.

  • confusion as to whether consent was given, because of the trusting relationship with the offender
  • fear of further injury or retaliation from the offender
  • fear of police scrutiny and judgment of the victim's behavior, credibility and history
  • fear of facing the reactions of family and friends, husbands or possible lovers
  • self blame-she may irrationally believe that she did not do all she could to prevent the rape
  • feeling several overwhelming emotions, such as shame, humiliation, embarrassment and degradation

The Federal Bureau of Investigators legal definition is "carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her consent" (U.S.D.O.J., 1995). Women need to understand that being pressured by someone into having sexual activity with him, even if he is someone she knows, it is still rape, a very serious crime. Also, a woman who is intoxicated, either by alcohol and/or drugs, is not considered to have given "legal consent" to any form of sexual activity. It is imperative that women report acquaintance rape, not only to begin the healing process, but it lessens the chances of other women being victimized. Rapists rarely attack only one woman. If they are not caught and successfully prosecuted and punished, they will continue to rape. By reporting the offender to the police and the campus authorities, the rape pattern could be broken. It is also very important that the acquaintance rape victim have someone who will be comforting and supportive, accompany her to the police station, where she will be assisted in filing a police report.

Counseling

Even if the rape victim does not report the rape to the police, it is still critical for her to receive counseling, preferably by a trained rape crisis counselor at the university's counseling center or a mental health facility. Many victims suffer serious emotional damage after a rape. Victims have been diagnosed with Rape Trauma Syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The rape victim displays a variety of symptoms such as: self-blame, anxiety, humiliation, guilt, depression, shame, anger, nightmares, and fear for their personal safety. Counseling and psychological therapy are essential to the recovery process for all acquaintance rape victims.

References

(1.) Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, National Crime Victimization Survey, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, 1996

(2.) U.S. Department of Justice, Preventing Violence Against Women, Washington, D.C., June 1995; 14:77, 78.

(3.) National Institute of Justice Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Incidence & Consequences of Violence against Women: Funding from the National Violence Against Women Survey, November 1998.

(4.) Report of Felony Sentence in State Courts and Bureau of Justice, 1992.

(5.) United States Department of Justice, Violence Against Women: Estimate from Redesigned Survey. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, August 1995.

(6.) Unites States Department of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey. Criminal Victimization 1996: Changes 1995-96 Week Trends, 199396, November 1997.

FELICIA F. ROMEO, ED.D., PSY.D. Clinical Psychologist Professor Florida Atlantic University