The typical image of a rapist is a crazed maniac who jumps out of the bushes, brandishes a knife or gun and forces a woman to have sex with him. Images like this are strong and lasting but they mask the essential fact that most rapes are committed by acquaintances and
lovers, date rape. The false image lives on because few rapes by acquaintances are reported: in fact those involved often do not recognize that a rape has occurred.
The legal definition of rape is a victim having sexual intercourse against her will and without her consent. (2) Sexual assault is defined as a sexual encounter other than intercourse (such as oral and anal sex) against the victim's will and without his or her consent. In many states only a woman can be legally raped by a man, but the FBI estimates that 10 percent of all sexual assault victims are men. The victim does not have to be threatened with a dangerous weapon or be injured for an incident to be considered rape. Coercion or threat of force of violence are sufficient.
Factors That Make Acquaintance Rape Or Date Rape Likely.
How can "nice" men with "good intentions" coerce someone to have sex? It is because men and women in the process of becoming social beings learn communication patterns that make acquaintance rape
or date rape likely.
In our culture, men are taught to view women as either virtuous or sexually loose, which contributes to uncertainty about female desires. Men are taught to not take women seriously, that women do not really mean what they say. Young women are taught that males know more about sex than females, so the female should comply with the male's demand. Both males and females feel certain behavior allows a man to force sex, such as the woman "leading the man on."
These uncertainties are often based on the reluctance of women and men to express their feelings. Many times in verbal communication if something is clearly wrong with a woman (she is crying or slamming doors) and she is asked what is wrong, she may say "nothing" rather than express her true feelings. Men display this same type of behavior, expressing anger or frustration by punching walls or speaking through clenched teeth, but still saying nothing is wrong. The message is that in a situation where verbal and nonverbal messages are inconsistent, the verbal message is not accurate.
In sexual situations the verbal and nonverbal messages are frequently inconsistent. This inconsistency was often established when a boy was told by his mother, his teacher (usually female) or another woman in a position of authority to do something. If he didn't the consequences would be severe. If the deadline was then extended or the consequence was not severe, he learned that those women did not mean what they said.
Some men do not believe a woman's verbal messages in sexual encounters either. In fact, a man may actually feel he is doing a woman a favor by pushing her
sexually. If she says no to a sexual overture, she may really want to say yes but is afraid she will be viewed as loose. He thinks she says no because she is worried about her reputation, not because she really does not want to have sex with him. So if he pushes her even if she is saying no, they will both ultimately get what they want: she will get sex without tarnishing her reputation, and he will be satisfied. In this type of interaction the male feels that he is acting as he should and would probably be surprised to find that some women really mean it when they say no.
Women and men also believe that men should know more about sex. If he tells her that "everyone else is having sex", and that "something is wrong with people who don't" she may be willing to have sex with him even though it is not what she wants to do.
There is also tremendous peer pressure for the male to have sex on a date. Even if he does not want to initiate sex, a man may feel he has to or his date will think he is gay. He is encouraged by other young men to "score" sexually to be considered manly. The woman, even if she does not want sex, may think that the man finds her unattractive if he does not initiate sex. These pressures are responsible for people having sex when neither want it.
It is difficult to reject group standards if one believes that the only way to be a valuable person is to be associated with others who are valuable. A young woman who has low self-esteem may date the captain of the football team in order to raise her value. If the male in this situation uses coercion by telling her he will not continue going out with her unless she has sex with him, she may comply to maintain her status as his girlfriend.
When date rape becomes "acceptable"
Some men feel that a particular female behavior permits a man to force a woman to have sex. Charlene L. Mulenhard of Texas A&M University and Richard McFall of Indiana University reported the results of a study in which 106 college students were asked to respond anonymously about acceptable behavior in dating situations.
The subjects were given descriptions of three types of dates that varied in respect to who initiated the date, where the couple went, and who paid. They were then asked if there were any circumstances in which forced sex was justified. Men rated intercourse against the woman's wishes as significantly more justifiable when the woman initiated the date, when the man paid and when the couple went to the man's apartment.
UCLA researchers posed similar questions to teens. A high percentage of the male teens felt that forced sex was acceptable if the woman said yes and then changed her mind (54%), if he spent a lot of money on her (39%), if she "led him on" (54%), and if he is so turned on that he thinks he can't stop (36%).
Patterns in acquaintance rape
Groth and Birnbaum reported a three-stage pattern in rapists' behavior concerning acquaintance rapes. First a rapist will invade a woman's personal space (for instance, by putting his hand on a woman's knee in a public place). This is common in fraternity parties and in bars when the music is so loud the couple must be close to hear each other.
If the woman does not object, the rapist proceeds to the second stage in which he will desensitize her to the intrusion by escalating the behavior (moving his hands to her buttocks, for example). It is unlikely that she will tell him that she is uncomfortable with his "roaming hands" but she may feel uneasy as a result of this behavior and suggest going someplace less crowded. She does not want her friends to see how forward he is being, and she does not want to stay close to him. He may misinterpret her suggestion as her way to be alone with him. The third stage is when they are in an isolated place and the rapist attacks.
This is a general pattern in acquaintance rape, and though all victims and rapists are different, alcohol and drugs are often involved in incidents of acquaintance rape. In a study or rape in Canada, alcohol was used by half of all offenders and by one third of the victims (British Columbia Rape Prevention Project 1980). This is important for young adults since peer group expectations usually include consumption of alcohol at social events.
A Solution To The Problem Of Date
Or Acquaintance Rape
There are many things men can do to view forced sex for what it is and to begin to try to stop it on a personal or societal level. First they must understand that forced or coercive sex is rape even if the partner is a friend or lover. It is never acceptable to force yourself on a woman even if you think she's been teasing and leading you on or you have heard that women say no but mean yes. It is not "manly" to use force to get your way.
Women should be aware that their assertive actions may be interpreted by men as justification for rape. This does not mean that women should avoid using assertive behavior with men, but that they be aware of how assertiveness may be interpreted by men.
Since socialization is responsible for many sex attitudes, both men and women must be willing to explore importance of traditional socialization on their behavior. College men, for example, are exerting peer pressure to condemn, rather than condone the notion of women as conquest. Adult females who influence male children must be clear about messages, truthful about feelings and consistent in disciplining. Failure to do so may lead to young men not taking women's verbal messages seriously.
Once these men become adults themselves they have the potential to influence the socialization of children. They can teach children about the importance of communicating their feelings clearly and consistently.
(1) Parrot, Andrea, "Human Ecology Forum," College of Human Ecology.
(2) Burkhard, B. "Acquaintance Rape Statistics and Prevention," A paper presented at the Acquaintance Rape and Rape Prevention on Campus Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.
(3) FBI. Uniform Crime Reports, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office: 1982.
(4) Mulenhard, C.L. and R.M. McFall. "Dating Initiation From a Woman's
Per-spective," Behavior Therapy: 1981: 12.
(5) Giarrusso, R., Johnson, P., Goodchilds, J., and Zellman, G. "Adolescent Cues and Signals: Sex and Sexual Assault," a paper presented to a symposium of the Western Psychological Association Meeting. San Diego, CA: 1979.
(6) Groth, A.N. Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender. New York: 1979.
(7) British Columbia Rape Prevention Project "Rape Prevention Resource Manual," based on a study of rape in Canada and Vancouver, MTI