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Rape Essay, Research Paper
Thesis: Acquaintance rape, a crime that psychologically and socially impacts its victims,
continues to flourish on American campuses and college administrators and society must
impose stronger preventive measures.
Although rape has taken place since history began, America just began to
acknowledge it?s rape problem in the early 1970?s. Urged by the strong feminist
movement of this time, woman began to come forward with their stories. The very act of
speaking out – on the printed page and at public meetings – was a courageous first step for
many women and men in naming the unnamable and identifying rape as an act of violence
and hatred against all humanity. The crime, the criminal, and the victim of rape all began
to come into focus. Women already understood that they had to be wary of strange men.
They checked over their shoulders as they walked down the street and took self-defense
classes. But as the awareness of rape grew, so too did the understanding of it as a
phenomenon that reaches beyond dark hallways and back alleys. In September of 1982,
Ms. magazine published an article that offered disturbing evidence of a still hidden type of
rape, popularly called ?date rape?, that involved men and women who knew each other.
Preliminary research indicated there were more victims of this kind of rape than of what
was believed to be the most common, rape by strangers. An extensive study and survey of
32 college campuses provided some disquieting statistics, including one astonishing fact:
One in four female respondents had had an experience that met the legal definition of rape
or attempted rape. When this statistic was released, the phenomenon was starting to be
called by the broader term ?acquaintance rape?, an accurate label for rapes that take place
between people who know each other, whether from dating relationships or otherwise.
Women were and are being raped by a wide range of men they know – dates, friends,
classmates, colleagues, and neighbors. Acquaintance rape continues to be hidden because
few people identify it for what it really is – a crime, just like robbery, forgery, arson,
embezzlement, or even rape by a stranger. It is no less a crime simply because the
perpetrator has a familiar face.
Despite philosophical and political changes brought about by the feminist
movement, dating relationships between women and men are still often marked by passivity
on the woman?s part and aggression on the man?s. Nowhere are these two seen in greater
contrast than among young adults who often, out of their own fears, insecurity and
teachings provided by their parents and peers, adopt the worst sex-role stereotypes. From
an early age boys are taught to ?get as much sex as they can as often as possible?. Women
are directed to ?save it? until Mr. Right comes along. This is where the ?battle of the
sexes? comes into play. These stereotypical attitudes foster a continuum of sexual
victimization – from unwanted sexual touching to psychologically coerced sex to rape – that
is tolerated as normal in our society. Dating places individuals with these socialized but
differing expectations into an ambiguous situation in which there is maximum privacy.
That is, dating can easily to lead to rape.
Women 16 to 24 years old, the prime dating age, are at highest risk for rape. Half
of all men arrested for rape are also 24 years old or younger. Because 26 percent of all 18
to 24 year olds in the United States attend college, these institutions have become focal
points for studying and identifying date and acquaintance rape. Several additional factors
converge during the college years that also make campus life optimal sites for observing the
dynamics of acquaintance rape.
Going to college often means leaving home, moving away from parental control
and protection and into a world of seemingly unlimited freedoms. The imperative to party
and date, although strong in high school, intensifies in this environment. Until the 1970?s,
colleges often adopted a ?substitute parent? attitude towards students. Many dorms had
housemothers who lived with and watched over students. Colleges had curfews (often
more strict for females than males), liquor bans, and stringent disciplinary punishments.
Student were punished for violating the ?three feet on the floor? rules during coed visiting
hours or for being caught with alcohol on college property. Although those regulations did
not fully prevent acquaintance rape, they kept down the number of incidents by making
women?s dorms havens of safety. Such regulations were swept out of most schools during
the Vietnam War era. Today, campuses commonly have coed dorms and socializing
unchecked by curfews or controls on alcohol and drugs. ?Many people are lulled by the
same myths that pervade our society at large: Rape is not committed by people you know,
against ?good? girls in ?safe? places like university campuses (Koss, pg. 17). ?By ignoring
the realities of social pressures at college on male and female students, and the often
catastrophic effects of those pressures, students, parents, and administrators help
perpetuate the awareness vacuum in which acquaintance rape continues to happen with
regularity? (Warshaw, pg. 22).
There is also a large correlation between acquaintance rape and drug and alcohol
use. Seventy-five percent of the men and 55% of women involved in acquaintance rape
had been intoxicated just before the attack. Although it is possible to drink alcohol without
becoming ?drunk?, in many settings, especially those at college – getting intoxicated is the
point of drinking. Use is encouraged by a college world that demands heavy drinking as
proof of having fun. Drinking, combined with marijuana, hashish, LSD, or heroin deepens
the level of intoxication. Alcohol and drugs distort reality, cloud judgment, slow reactions,
and cause men and women to expose themselves to dangers and risks that normally would
not be considered if they were sober. When intoxicated, a women?s perceptions become
blurred. Her ability to resist an attack is lessened as her verbal and physical response
mechanisms become sedated (Walsh, pg. 372). She may rely on other people to take care
of her, bring her home and protect her from harm. A woman in this state tends to ?trust?
people very easily. Women who become drunk or high on their own often become targets
for individual or groups of men scouting for a victim. Men have been known to purposely
?feed? a women alcohol or drugs before forcing her to have sex to reduce her defenses.
An intoxicated man becomes more sexually aggressive, more violent, and less interested in
a woman?s feelings than when he is sober. Many men who commit acquaintance rape
excuse their acts because they were under the influence of a controlled substance.
Intoxication is never an excuse for rape. The victim will suffer the same effects.
Miscommunication between the sexes is the main contributor to ?the perceptual
fogs that cloud acquaintance rape incidents?. This miscommunication may occur because
men and women interpret behaviors and conversation differently. In general, men give
more sexual reading to behaviors than women. In a 1982 study at Northwestern University
in Illinois, female and male students watched two actors talk to each other. The ?acting?
was performed from a detailed script. The male students rated the female actor as being
more seductive and promiscuous than the women did. Women and men in a 1983
research project read scenarios about college students who went on dates and then
evaluated whether or not the ?dates? wanted sex from each other. Regardless of who
initiated the date, who paid for it, or where the couple went, the male participants were
more likely than the females to believe that the women in the scenarios wanted sex from
Administrators, parents, and law-providers hope that improving the woman?s ability
to communicate what she wants will lead the man to understand how to proceed.
Although the ?deafness? that some males involved in rapes experience may indeed be due
to not being told in a decisive, clear way what the woman wants, many men ignore what a
woman says or reinterprets it to fit their own needs. Men in our society have been raised
to believe that women will always resist sexual advances, in fear of being labeled ?easy?.
Men have also chosen to ignore women, whether they are responding positively to sexual
encounters or pushing, crying or resisting them. Saying ?No? is often meaningless when
spoken by a female.
Most people believe that because acquaintance rape usually involves little ?real?
violence, such as beating or use or weapons, victims are less traumatized than women
raped by strangers. The opposite may be true. Acquaintance rape victims rate themselves
less recovered than do stranger-rape victims for up to four year following their rape
experience (Scott, pg. 65). In any rape, a woman feels invaded and violated, her
comfortable reality shattered because she has not been able to control her own physical
safety. A woman raped by a stranger can often hold on to a sense that the people she
knows provides a zone of protections and support (Lee, pg. 124). Her experience can be
supported by the reactions of the people close to her. For a woman raped by a man she
knows, this ?zone? is often missing. Like a stranger-rape victim, her confidence in the
world has been lessened but unlike a stranger-rape victim, few people will offer her
sympathy due to social myths about acquaintance rape, the tendency to blame the victim,
and her own likelihood to keep silent about the rape (Finkelher, pg. 20). The effects of
rape on a woman are profound, reflecting feelings of diminished self-worth, raised fear,
anxiety and depression. Thirty percent of acquaintance rape victims contemplated suicide
after the indigent, 31% sought psychotherapy, 22% took self-defense courses, 82% stated
that the experience permanently changed them. Eight percent of rape victims showed signs
of post-traumatic stress disorder. Women experiencing this disorder might be unable to
concentrate, perform simple tasks, or hold a simple conversation. She may be jumpy or
edge, suffer shakiness, trembling or hot and cold flashes. Some may have uncharacteristic
personality shifts. Promiscuous women will now be extra careful about how who they
sleep with. Outgoing women may become withdrawn while vain women may dress
themselves with the intention of going unnoticed. Fear overtakes their lives. Women
experiencing acquaintance rape become afraid of large crowds or being alone. The
woman?s personal world and the world at large are now seen as threatening (Bohmer, pg.
45). Without positive support, the victim may begin to rebuild her life based on knowledge
that she is worthless, helpless and alone.
Of all the after effects of acquaintance rape, the problems victims attend to most
quickly are physical. Victims of rape tend to bleed due to roughness of the man, her own
physical resistance, or lack of lubrication. Marks and bruises are often visible, especially
around the wrists or on the back, from where the attacker held her down. Although it is
unusual (less that 3%), women do become pregnant from rape. When pregnancy occurs, a
woman who has already been traumatized, must face the decision to abort or keep the
baby. This is a difficult decision for most, especially women who have been raised in
strict, religious families. Many victims have a long road of recovery in front of them
before they ever feel good about themselves or trust men again.
Whether brutalized or not, many acquaintance rape victims decide to go to the
hospital. Many medical centers are now equipped with SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse
Examiners). These nurses take samples from the vaginal area (blood and semen left by the
perpetrator) and often give the victim the ?morning after? pill (diethylstilbestrol). The
victims are treated for sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. After this very
invasive examination, the victim must decide whether or not to press charges against the
According to sociologists and criminologists nationwide, convictions of rapists are
most likely to occur in cases that fit society?s stereotype of rape: An act committed by an
armed stranger. Rape convictions are less likely to occur in cases in which the man and
woman know each other. This is true especially if they were dating or had any prior sexual
conduct. Police and prosecutors are often reluctant to charge perpetrators in acquaintance
rape crimes, just as juries are unwilling to convict (Koss, pg. 126) This bias is so strong
that some rape-crisis counselors sometimes advise victims of acquaintance rape not to
become involved in criminal proceedings at all. In criminal trials, there are usually three
factors weighing against the date-rape victim: The defendant does not have to testify; the
law demands a high burden of proof, and the decision to convict must be reached by a
unanimous jury. In civil court the man may be forced to testify, the burden of proof
required is somewhat less, and the decision in favor of the victim may be made with a less
than unanimous jury.
Many college students choose an alternative to criminal and civil proceedings -
University Judicial Boards. Schools and universities have such boards to enforce behavior
codes and to hand out punishment to those who break the rules. These boards are often
?leftover? from the days when universities functioned in parental roles, although
membership usually includes students as well as faculty. The boards are often ill-prepared
to handle the complexities of acquaintance rape. Most college behavioral codes call for
suspension often a first rape offense and expulsion after a second. Some colleges just give
probation and even order the rapist to simply write a paper on sexual assault. Some
university boards refuse to even hear a case, for fear that highly publicized cases will cause
society to look down upon that institution. One woman stated ?Acquaintance rapes are
very common at our college, but the administration is unwilling to believe it and many
women are afraid to tell?.
Do college judicial boards serve a useful function in combating acquaintance rape?
There are those who feel that university judicial boards are doing the best they can, given
the circumstances. In rape circumstances its always ?her work against his?. Statistics
report that being brought before a hearing board has an effect on the accused male
students. Thomas Dougan, dean of student life at the University of Rhode Island, sums up
the effects of hearings: ?Do they take it seriously? You betcha. Does it have an impact on
them? No question. Will they ever do it again? I don?t know?.
Acquaintance rape is wrong and it is time for parents, students, educators, and
administrators to combine their voices to get that message across. By joining together we
can make it clear that sex and violence do not belong together, sexual assault will not be
tolerated, acquaintance rape victims deserve and will receive help from their community,
and their attackers will be punished.
Colleges across America can work together to make sure this crime is ended.
These institutions must: 1) provide sound information on acquaintance rape; 2) establish
on-campus rape counseling and treatment; and 3) institute fair university procedures for
dealing with offenders. Colleges should establish control of fraternities and sororities and
reconsider the establishment of a ?house parent? living on the premises. They might
consider setting up self-defense classes and re-regulate drug and alcohol laws. Many
students (although they are under the legal drinking age of 21 in the United States)
continue to purchase, distribute, and consume alcohol and drugs in the safety of their own
rooms. Although drugs are not normally tolerated, many resident assistants and
administrators ?look the other way? when they see illegal drinking taking place. College
students are not above the law and should be held accountable for their wrongdoing.
Administrators need to reevaluate dorm safety. Most date rapes have occurred in
coed dorms (Warshaw, pg. 112) . Campuses should provide the option of single-sex
dorms to their students. Coed dorms are best organized by single-sex floors or halls,
instead of typical alternating rooms. All dorms should have live-in supervision and
residence hall assistants should receive date rape training each semester. Each student
should be mandated to go through a seminar early in the school year. Topics should
include factually stated impacts of alcohol and drugs upon dating behavior, accountability
for personal behavior, common sense measures to avoid at-risk situations, ways to help
other students, e.g., buddy system at parties and taking car keys, procedures to report all
rapes, confidentiality of counseling and treatment, and finally, college consequences for
sexual assaults. A ?No tolerance? policy should be clearly stated. The sooner we begin to
educate, the sooner date rape might come to an end.
Unfortunately, America?s education system is often unmotivated to correct injustice
on it?s own initiative. In reality, funding is a primary motivate and a tuition-paying student
body means a continued funding flow. Perhaps it is time for students to demand to know
the safety, as well as the academic standards, of the colleges they may choose to attend.
Parents need to determine if administrators establish a campus where their daughters and
sons do not fear for their personal well-being. This includes the proclivity of a campus
toward acquaintance rape. Such information should be demanded and could be provided
easily. Institutions could include statistics of reported student-on-student crimes (not
convictions), by type, in all marketing and recruiting materials and school bulletins.
Statistics could be reported across the previous five years. Colleges and universities should
also report the measures taken that respond to the trends. This could be done either
through voluntary adoption by colleges (successful marketing and recruiting by those
institutions with good safety records could make this common practice), by Department of
Education policy, or enactment of law. In the long run, measures that prevent
acquaintance rape will ?pay off? for universities.
America cannot eliminate acquaintance rape by ending dating. We must redefine
dating and other social interactions between men and women; how we relate as parents,
siblings, friends, peers, co-workers. This means teaching children to break the model of
aggression/passivity that marks male and female interaction. Schools must promote
constructive ways to deal with conflict and anger and teach everyone the responsible use of
alcohol, the dangers of drugs and rejection of the myths that so often contribute to belief in
?Only by promoting the idea of sex as a mutually undertaken, freely chosen, fully
conscious interaction … can society create an atmosphere free of the threat of rape.?
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