Title: Date Rape: Unmixing Messages
Author: Susan Mercie
Publisher: Do It Now Foundation
Publication Date: March 2007
Catalog Number: 175

..Love and Loss

Some words just seem to go together:
Salt and pepper, high noon, sticks and stones, cherry cobbler,
pumpkin pie.

Other words
don’t fit together as well. Still, few ever seem to clash more
than the words “date” and “rape.”

Maybe that’s
why even the idea of date rape was resisted for so long. And
maybe that’s why it’s become the serious issue it is today.

Public awareness
didn’t come a moment too soon.

In fact, it
was only the controversy surrounding the trial and imprisonment
of Mike Tyson and the acquittal of William Kennedy Smith that
brought the topic to national attention in the early ’90s.

More recently,
allegations of a drug-date rape connection fueled the federal
ban of the drug Rohypnol and inspired passage of a 1996 law making
the use of any drug in a date rape a federal crime.

Public awareness
was a long time coming. But it wasn’t for lack of incidents reported
by women who claimed they’d been assaulted. Just consider some
recent numbers:

  • About 200,000 women are raped
    or sexually assaulted each year, according to a recent report
    by the U.S. Justice Department. Of these, 81,000 are actual rapes,
    61,000 attempted rapes.
  • 20 percent of women questioned
    in a study at Cornell University claimed they’d had sex forced
    on them.
  • One in seven college women nationally
    has been raped. Four out of five knew their attackers.

The figures
only hint at some of the deeper issues involved — and the pain
a woman can go through when she’s assaulted by someone she knows.

Because date
rape is a violation of trust, pure and simple. And the emotional
bruises it causes are real.

But with understanding,
the pain it causes doesn’t have to last a lifetime.

And by increasing
our sensitivity to its causes and prevention, we may be able
to help it not happen at all.

..How is date rape defined?

Date rape is
the act of forcing sex on a date.

The key word
in the definition is force, since it’s the legal line that separates
rape from romance.

rape is a broader category, and can involve a sexual assault
by a friend, co-worker, or the boy next door. In most cases,
victim and attacker have known each other for a year or longer.

Both types
can take many forms — from a surprise attack by a family friend
to a date who expects sex as payment for a night on the town.

Unlike rapes
involving strangers, date and acquaintance rapists typically
use psychological pressure or physical strength to press for
sex, rather than weapons or threats of violence.

Date rape is
different than stranger rape in other ways, too.

Assaults by
unknown rapists occur at any time, day or night, and most often
in the victim’s home.

Date rapes
usually take place in late-night hours on weekends, and an estimated
80 percent happen in the man’s home.

Drugs or drinking
also commonly figure into the date-rape equation, often involving
both partners.

..How common is date rape?

Estimates vary,
but researchers say date and acquaintance rape may account for
70 percent of all sexual assaults.

The problem
is most visible on college campuses, where as many as one in
five women may experience some type of physical or psychological
sexual coercion.

But date rape
isn’t limited to campuses, even though it’s most commonly reported
by young women between the ages of 15 and 24. Still, guessing
its actual incidence is difficult since so many date rapes go

Some experts
estimate that only about 10 percent of all rapes are reported
to police. Fewer still make it to court.

..Why isn’t it reported more often?

Fear and shame,

Like any other
painful experience, most women who’ve experienced a sexual assault
prefer to put the incident behind them as quickly and with as
little fanfare as possible.

Confusion and
uncertainty also plays a role.

It’s easy to
blame an unknown attacker, more difficult to accuse a romantic
partner or an acquaintance.

And many young
women are unskilled in sexual relationships and uncertain of
their own right to say “no” to an aggressive date.

..What causes date rape?

Often, it’s
a mix of misread signals and misplaced expectations, fueled by
alcohol and drug use.

The crossed
communications can start with basic differences in male-female
sexual conditioning, according to researchers.

In a study
at Kent State University, men who forced sex were found to be
more likely to see a certain amount of aggression as normal in
sexual relationships. They’re also more inclined to believe that
women don’t really mean it when they say “no.”

And in a culture
whose feminine icons are alternately passive and coy, demure
and seductive, it’s probably not surprising that men can assume
that “no” means “yes.”

In a survey
of college-aged men, one in 13 admitted using force in a sexual
encounter at least once. Only a few considered the act rape or
saw themselves as rapists.

Responses from
women were no less surprising. Of those who claimed they’d been
forced into sex, more than half said the episodes involved dates
or boyfriends. But 73 percent didn’t consider the incident rape.

Traditional stereotypes of pushy males and passive females are
still alive and kicking today.

Then again,
so are the problems created by stereotyped sexual behavior and
crossed communications.

..How can you reduce your risk?

Be aware that
sex is tricky territory. Most of us have little training in understanding
our own sexual feelings, let alone those of others. And talking
about sexual limits — particularly on a date with a new partner
— can be difficult.

Still, it’s
important to try, because it’s this issue — communicating sexual
intentions and boundaries — which lies at the heart of the date
rape dilemma and offers the clearest means of ending the confusion.

Because when
we aren’t clear about how close we’d like to get, our partner
can only guess about our intentions — or pretend to know.

It’s not as
uncommon as you might think.

In fact, researchers
say that most couples misread sexual signals at least part of
the time.

In the Kent
State survey, two-thirds of the women polled said men often misinterpreted
how intimate they wanted to be. A full 25 percent reported they
gave in to their dates’ demands because of verbal pressure, while
13 percent said they were physically forced into sex.

It’s also worth
bearing in mind that some men are too aggressive and some women
do send mixed signals.

But many —
perhaps most — incidents of sexual pressure on dates, from kissing
to intercourse, involve ordinary men and women doing what ordinary
men and women have always done.

And while that
doesn’t begin to excuse date rape, it does suggest a solution:

If we speak
honestly about what we want — and what we don’t want — and
if we respect our partner’s right to feel differently, our relationships
may never be put to the test over sex.

And that way,
when questions about how far is too far do come up, we’ll have
an easier time finding an honest answer.

..Love and Limits

Love has always
been something of a battlefield, but it’s never created more
casualties than it does today.

Still, there
is good news from the front: peace is possible, if each of us
does what we have it in our power to do. Here are some places
to start:

If you’re a
woman: Be clear about your sexual feelings and expectations,
and be careful about who you choose to share those feelings with.
Realize that some men misinterpret body language, casual talk,
or gestures, as sexual come-ons and respond accordingly. And
don’t drink too much or use drugs on a date.

If you’re a
man: Realize that “no” means “no.” Respect
a woman’s right to turn you down, and don’t let your self-esteem
hinge on whether you score or not. And don’t drink too much or
do drugs on a date, either.

Because in
the end, preventing date rape is going to take more than just
learning to say “when” or “no.”

For some of
us, it’s going to require a transformation of some of our favorite
illusions about love and sex, and how and when we allow our impulses
to extend into reality.

The process
starts with self-awareness and honest communication, and it has
to include respect for a date’s feelings and expectations as
well as our own.

It might take
some getting used to, but sharing ourselves the way we are is
what dating is supposed to be about.

And it sure
beats the alternative.

..Sidebar | Crisis

Date rape can
often be stopped if a woman asserts her right to say no. And
that right still stands no matter how long or how deeply you
may be involved.

Rape counselors
offer a range of suggestions for getting that message across
— and for dealing with a date who doesn’t stop.

  • Before: Don’t put yourself at
    risk by drinking too much or spending time in his home. Talk
    honestly about your personal limits. Then stick to them.
  • During: A loud, forceful “no”
    can be all it takes to defuse an explosive situation. If you
    don’t want to have sex, say so. If he presses, get away — fast.
  • After: If you can’t prevent
    a rape, get help as soon as possible. Call a rape crisis center
    or a supportive friend. They can help you sort through your options
    and begin the process of repairing your battered self esteem.

..Sidebar | Sexual
Signals: Unmixing the Message

At the heart
of questions about date rape lie basic differences in the ways
in which males and females interpret behavioral signals by the
other sex.

For their part,
men can be misled by teasing, coquette-ish rejections by their
dates. Many view such reactions as sexual come-ons, rather than
turn-downs. And, ironically, sometimes they’re right.

In a study
at Texas A&M University, 39 percent of the 610 college women
polled admitted that they’d said no to sex they really wanted.
Reasons centered around not wanting to seem promiscuous, but
included such motives as “I was angry with him” and
“I wanted him to beg.”

In another
study by the same researchers, sexual aggressiveness was found
to be more likely when a man initiates, pays for, and drives
to and from a date — particularly when both partners get drunk
and park or end up in his dorm or apartment.

Other factors
that can lead to mixed messages: Body language and behavior by
a woman that can be misconstrued, including dress, posture, physical
closeness, touching, etc.

Experts suggest
that women can reduce the risk by being clear about their sexual
limits early on and communicating them directly, rather than
waiting until a painful moment of truth — or consequences.

Men can help
by getting used to the idea that most women today mean what they
say when they say “no” to sex.

This is one in a series of publications
on drugs, behavior, and health by Do It Now Foundation.
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