Acquaintance Rape

September is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  I wrote this post last year, but feel it is worth repeating.  Date rape happens more often than people think and the beginning of the school year is when most rapes occur.  You think you would know if you’d been raped right?  Not necessarily.  I’ve had women come in for counseling because they felt a friend or acquaintance took advantage of them, either while they were drinking or while they were feeling vulnerable.  They either felt they couldn’t say no or felt pressured by the person they thought they could trust.

Acquaintance Rape happens a lot more often then being assaulted by a stranger.  Over 77% of women report being sexually assaulted by someone they know.  Of those 77% only 2% will actually report the assault.  Why do you think so many women refuse to come forward?  Sometimes it is out of fear.  Sometimes it’s because the woman blames herself for getting into the situation.  Sometimes the woman feels she didn’t say no forcefully enough.   A lot of the time, women will minimize their feelings and try to tell themselves to just forget what happened.

The following situation is an example of why sexual assault isn’t always so black and white:   One night a woman runs into one of her male friends.  She is upset, and he offers to listen and give her some advice.  She starts crying and opening up about what happened with another guy.  She tells him she feels rejected and unlovable.   Her male friend offers comfort and support.  He may start to hug her and rub her back.  It starts to get late and he asks her to stay a little longer so she won’t feel lonely.  They hang out and talk some more.  He starts to cuddle with her and before she realizes it they are kissing.  She says she should leave, but he convinces her that the other guy is stupid for rejecting her.  He tells he thinks she is beautiful, and he would never do that to her.  He continues to touch her and she gives in.  Soon most of their clothing is removed.  She starts to push him away again, but he resists and continues to hold and touch her.  He tells her not to worry, he’ll treat her right.  She feels guilty for letting things go this far.  She also feels she owes him for listening to her.  They have sex.

The best outcome of this scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She feels she consented in the end because she didn’t say no.  She may confront her friend and tell him she regrets her decision and doesn’t want to have sex with him again.  She may or may not ever choose to open up to him again when she feels upset or vulnerable.  She may also have lost some respect or trust for him, but doesn’t feel traumatized by the event.

The next best scenario is the next day she feels bad about giving in and having sex.  She regrets it, but doesn’t feel strong enough to say anything to him.  She may act like it never happened.  She most likely will avoid talking to him when she feels so upset and vulnerable.  She has lost trust and respect for her friend.  A distance grows between them.  She may feel a little upset about the event, but tells herself she has lived and learned.  Next time she will open up to a girlfriend or talk to her guy friends during the daytime when she feels a little safer.

The worst scenario is the next day she feels sick to her stomach when she thinks about what happened.  She feels violated.  She regrets not saying no more forcefully, but feels he should have known she wasn’t there for sex.  She wishes he would have listened when she tried to stop him earlier and pushed him away.  She not only has lost trust and respect for this male friend, she now feels like he is a predator who only listened to her so he could get sex.  She feels traumatized by the event and can’t stop thinking about it.  She is very emotional and doesn’t know what she should do now.  She is very afraid of seeing him again.  Will anyone believe her?  She may start to blame herself and tell herself all the things she should have done.  She most likely won’t report it.  She will go on to blame herself even though somewhere inside she knows she was sexually assaulted by her friend.

Research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that  1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted.  September happens to be the month when most sexual assaults are reported.  School has just begun and many college students are experiencing their freedom for the first time.  Students go out with their friends and blow off stress from the week.  Some may drink and end up in situations similar to the one above.  The next day they may feel they were assaulted, but don’t report it because they blame themselves for drinking too much.

Unfortunately, sexual assault can happen in all different types of situations.  However, they all leave the person assaulted feeling very vulnerable, scared and alone.  A lot of guilt is also embedded into these situations.  I used the above example to show that rape isn’t always black and white.  Different people are going to feel differently after experiencing similar situations.  However, your feelings are not wrong, whether you feel just slightly uncomfortable or horribly traumatized.  Everyone is different, and your feelings are more true than the details of how it happened.  No one can tell you that you shouldn’t feel something.

If you do feel traumatized, it does help to talk about it.  Processing your feelings can help you move through them.  This will make them less powerful in your mind and help you learn to not blame yourself.  You won’t “get over it”, but it may help you not think about it all the time or have nightmares about it.   I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I do know that women have worked through this and felt they were able to take their power back.  If you are continuing to struggle, please see a counselor or someone non-judgmental who won’t tell you how to feel, but help you process your feelings no matter what they are.

4 comments on “Acquaintance Rape

  1. I really like your slant on this issue. Because sexual assault can be such a gray issue among college students, I like that you stayed away from trying to define it – was it sexual assault or not, and instead focused on the feelings. It was honestly one of the best posts I have ever read on the subject.

    It’s so easy to jump to the conclusion that it was sexual assault because someone felt regretful or traumatized. Most sexual assaults on college campus are not about brute force or coercion, but rather they are about alcohol induced miscommunication. So until girls and guys address the alcohol issue and really understand the definition of consent, these unfortunate experiences will keep on happening.

    But even if alcohol was not a factor, girls need to be able to both say “no” and then be willing to get up, put their clothes on and leave. Don’t get me wrong, I get the freeze response stuff, but If they say “no” and then stay in bed, how is a guy suppose to interpret this mixed message, how is he suppose to know that she is in a freeze response state? Everybody knows that “no” doesn’t always really mean “no.” It can be part of the “dance.” So what is a guy to do? If a girl cannot say “no” or otherwise demonstrate clearly that she does not want sex, then she may have to deal with the consequences of this, and yes take some responsibility in the situation. It’s an easy out to tell girls that they are never to blame and that if they felt uncomfortable that it surely was a sexual assault. Let me be clear, guys who force or guilt girls into having sex are creeps and rapists. But, girls are going to have to learn to be clearer about their intentions (sometime girls have a lot of ambivalent about sex), more assertive and self protective when it comes to their bodies.

    And what should guys being doing differently, drink less so that you will be able to communicate clearly and read signals more clearly. And if a girls says no (regardless of whether or not she means it), take it at face value and stop and talk before you go any further.

    • Thanks for your comment. This isn’t an easy topic to write about or comment on. I just want to make a couple things clear. First, my point of the post was to say if someone “feels” they were assaulted, even if someone else doesn’t feel that way, they were assaulted. They may not want to press charges, but they definitely have the right to feel the way they do. That is why consent is so important. I do feel that no means no. Even silence means no. A person shouldn’t have to get up and walk out of the room to get their point across. By definition a person has to clearly say “yes” they want to have sex to give consent, rather than clearly say no. I hope that makes sense. If a person doesn’t say “Yes, I want to have sex with you”, you’re taking a risk by proceeding with any sexual act. This is why if one or both parties is drinking, they technically can not give consent. Most of the time everything is fine and no one gets hurt, but just be aware you are taking a risk if you are drinking or if your partner doesn’t verbalize (say yes out loud) their consent to having sex.

  2. Becca,

    You are absolutely right about the issue of consent and that students, in this legal climate, are taking a huge risk by having drunken sex. If only they really understood this. However, if you were to ask a hundred students (or anyone for that matter) whether or not they have either asked or given clear verbal consent prior to a sexual encounter, my guess would be that almost no one would say that they have. It’s just not sexy, and students know this.

    In a perfect world, students would be verbally communicating before sex, “no” would really mean “no”, alcohol would not be impairing everyone’s judgment, and few women would get assaulted. But the push on campuses to encourage “Can I kiss you?” kind of education is falling on deaf ears. It’s just not realistic. Prevention education is going to have to find another approach, because we’ve been stressing these things for 20 years, and nothing is changing. When you ask students what they think about that kind of programming, they see it as a complete joke. I don’t see that changing.

    Lastly, just because someone may feel traumatized, victimized, or “feel” they were assaulted, it does not mean they were. Does this mean that the girl is always right, and the guy is always wrong? The guy in the equation may sincerely “feel” like it was consensual, but that also doesn’t mean it was. Feelings don’t always communicate truth. Does someone have the “right” to feel any given way? Of course. But, even though I may feel “fat” on certain days of the month, the scale and how my clothes fit give me more objective truth. Feelings are based on one’s perceptions of events and are, by nature, subjective. They are not right or wrong, but they don’t always tell the truth. And this is what can make sexual assault such a gray area, right?

    If we compare this issue to sexual harassment, it is true that sexual harassment is in the eye of the beholder and that if someone feels uncomfortable or experiences something as unwelcome, that he or she can make a claim. However, if this person does not say “no” to the harasser, their case will most likely go nowhere. How else is the alleged harasser suppose to know that their behavior is unwelcome?

    I would love to hear more from you about your ideas about how we can offer better education to students on this issue. I would love to figure out a way to reach students with messages they can actually hear and put into practice.

    • I agree that most people, not just students don’t verbalize “yes, I want to have sex” before they have sex, however, this is that is the definition of consent. It is why sexual assault is in such a gray area. If you polled a room of students given any scenario, you are never going to get the whole room to agree whether or not the situation was assault or not. I also agree the guy has a right to feel the way he does. I guess I was referring to myself as a counselor. When someone comes in to see me and they feel violated or traumatized, I’m not going to diminish that by saying what they went through wasn’t assault by definition. I help them process their feelings and get through it the best way they can. I don’t judge, just try to help. My post was to point out that to the people who do feel violated, but don’t think they should, that there is no black and white rule. They may not be able to win a court case, and they definitely need to learn to do things differently in the future, but I can’t take away their right to feel the way they do. Just like if a guy came in and felt he had consensual sex, but now the girl is afraid to talk to him and he’s overhead she felt he assaulted her. I’m not going to tell him what he feels is wrong, but I will help him process his feelings about what happened and talk about what he could do differently to avoid that happening in the future as well. Sometimes miscommunication happens in a sexual situation like anything else. Both parties disagree about what was said or done. I just have to help either party deal with it and try to learn from it. I hope that makes sense.

      As for education, I agree. Just like alcohol education. The people who listen, didn’t need the education anyway. The ones who need it just block it out. I still feel it helps to try and give as much information as possible. Everyone thinks it won’t apply to them, until it does unfortunately, but it does make me feel better to get info out there. I have done Safe Sex Bingo to give out info on STD’s and safe sex facts. When students have fun and are able to win prizes, I feel like they are more interested. It would be helpful to do something fun, while giving important information so that more students come and hear the info. That is my suggestion. Thanks for you comments and your insights. I appreciate it.

I would love to hear what you think about this post or about my blog in general. Also, feel free to leave any suggestions or ideas for new posts in the future! Thanks!

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