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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

the man.

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

?justifiable rape?.

?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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