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Date rape 'most unreported' crime on college campus

By Keener A. Tippin II


He seemed like Mr. Right.

Honor student. Star athlete. Suave. Charming. Good looks. Caring. Responsible. And he had asked her out.

But that was when the date first began. As the night went along, Mr. Right tragically and violently became Mr. Wrong.

After a romantic dinner, he took her to a local bar to dance. After two glasses of wine she began to feel dizzy and violently ill. The next thing she remembered was waking up naked the next morning in a strange bed with a splitting headache and a sense that she had had sex with someone.

She had -- with Mr. Right -- but she hadn't given her consent.

While the scenario is fictional, the seriousness of the crime is not. Rape and sexual assault are the crimes least often reported to law enforcement, according to Mary Todd, sexual assault advocate and assistant director of Kansas State University's Women's Center.

"Most of the time, victims don't report their rape to police," Todd said. Friendship, coupled with embarrassment and guilt, often make it difficult for victims to step forward.

Cross-cultural research has shown that rape is most common in cultures characterized by male dominance (political decision-making dominated by males) and by violence (the ideology of male toughness, interpersonal violence, war). The values adopted by the dominant society dictate inherent differences between men and women. Women are expected to be passive, unassertive, and dependent.

Men are taught to be aggressive, even intimidating, strong and relentless. They are taught not to take "no" for an answer. Men who accept or unwittingly exhibit this kind of behavior are likely to misinterpret a woman's communications. Typically, the man will decide that the woman is acting coy or playing hard to get in a sexual situation. He may believe that she really means yes, although she has been saying no.

Many times women or men who have been date- or acquaintance-raped, which is defined as a forced or nonconsensual sexual act, do not view the assault as a rape. They may experience some or all of the symptoms of rape trauma stemming from the violation of the body and the betrayal of a friend, but still may not consider the incident rape.

Some symptoms of rape trauma include sleep disturbances, eating pattern disturbances, mood swings, feelings of humiliation and self-blame, nightmares, anger, fear of sex and difficulty in trusting others. Often, especially in a college situation, the rape survivor and the attacker live near each other or may see each other every day. This can be particularly stressful to the survivor because the man may see the rape as a conquest or "just a mistake."

Pat BoscoDrinking has a huge correlation to date rape, according to Pat Bosco, K-State's associate vice president for institutional advancement and dean of student life, pictured at left.

"Alcohol consumption clouds people's judgment," Bosco said. "With anything, moderation should be paramount, particularly when it comes to alcohol -- not only when it comes to dating but with anything."

There is also a perception that reports of rape by women who were drinking are unreliable or unjustified. There's a stereotype that if a woman was drinking, she asked for it.

"There are absolutely no circumstances which make it acceptable to force sexual activity on another person," Todd said. "It doesn't matter if a woman has been drinking with someone all night, if they are engaged in petting, if they have had sex on previous occasions -- without an active, mindful 'yes' it is an assault.

"And unfortunately many women will excuse their attacker by blaming themselves," Todd said. "Self-blaming is a trap -- feelings of guilt and shame can keep a crime victim from getting assistance, as well as prevent her from moving through the stages of healing. I advise victims of sexual assault to put the responsibility of this crime squarely on the perpetrator -- the thief who denied them the choice."

While alcohol often plays a role, drugs such as Gamma hydroxybutyrate -- GHB -- or Rohypnol, better known as "date rape drugs" are often used in sexual assaults. Todd recounts a recent incident of a K-State student whose attacker deliberately stumbled into her, forcing her to spill her drink. He offered her his drink -- one he had spiked with a drug that would incapacitate her -- with the assurance "Here, I just opened this one."

The young woman, comatose, was later assaulted.

"This is someone who was absolutely diabolical in planning how he was going to get her to get rid of her drink and drink one that he had drugged," Todd said.

Bosco said that while excessive use of alcohol and other drugs precedes many incidents of sexual violence and that the use of these substances may interfere with one's capacity either to consent to or to refuse sexual activity, taking advantage of that vulnerability is unacceptable. Under no circumstances does the use of alcohol or other drugs diminish personal responsibility for aggressive or other socially unacceptable behavior.

"Under no circumstance is the rape survivor to blame for the assault, Bosco said. "Victims cannot give consent under the influence of drugs and alcohol."

Todd concurred. "Looking at the perpetrators for a moment, consider someone who wants to intoxicate their date with alcohol or drugs to the point where they are unable to respond or interact meaningfully," Todd said. "How utterly pathetic and Neanderthalesque that a man would want to engage in activity not freely given. The idea that something as intimate and personal as sexuality might be taken violently or with trickery goes against the direction of all human respect, morality and intelligence."

In the prevention of date or acquaintance rape, Bosco said communication is the key. While communication is the most important avenue to understanding another person’s desires and needs, often the rapist will ignore the woman's attempts at communication, will misinterpret them and continue his actions, or will realize what the woman is trying to say but doesn’t care. The bottom line is that "yes" means "yes" and "no" means "no."

"Individuals should know who they are dating, establish ground rules, communicate throughout the date, understand that there may not be warning signs," Bosco said. "Don't put yourself in a situation where you don't have some outs; have some feelings on your radar screen throughout the date. A partner or date being respectful at the beginning of the evening may not indicate that they're going to be as respectful at the end of the evening. There could be mixed signals."

Bosco said the prevention of rape is not an issue just for women. Ultimately, everyone must work together to prevent rape by addressing its causes. Men can do peer education to change the attitudes of other men. Men must be actively aware of this issue, as they can help minimize rape by educating themselves and others.

Bosco said K-State's Policy Prohibiting Sexual Violence states that sexual violence is "antithetical" to K-State's mission of education, research, and service because the aim of all these efforts is to foster individual growth in a climate of civilized action rather than brute force and violence.

The K-State Police Department sponsors crime prevention programs to stress community awareness and interaction. The Women's Center also offers sexual violence and rape prevention programs in several formats adaptable to group size and composition. Educational programs to promote awareness of rape, acquaintance rape and other sex offenses are offered regularly in the residence halls, as part of Greek orientation, and as a part of freshman orientation courses available in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business Administration, and Education. The Women's Center staff also will prepare and present sexual violence prevention programs for any class. In addition, self-defense courses for women are offered, free of charge.

To K-State women, Todd offers these words of advice.

"I would say, of course, it is good to be wise and to walk with people after dark and don't go down dark alleys alone, which is quite sad," Todd said. "It would be nice if we could freely roam the planet but you are more at risk for sexual assault going on a date with someone you don't know, or going up to a room and being alone with someone that you really don't know that well -- particularly if you've been drinking. I would also say to K-State women, to keep big goals in mind. Keep the idea of what kind of woman that you want to be when you're 30, 40 years old. Where do you really want to be in a few years and what are the things that are going to get you there? Look at your relationships as a wonderful form of exploration and healthy dynamics to explore and don't waste time in situations that are dangerous or trouble."


August 2003