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Public Record Resources

I Never Called It Rape: Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date Rape
I Never Called It Rape:
Recognizing, Fighting, and
Surviving Date Rape

Dating Violence: Young Women in Danger
Dating Violence: Young
Women in Danger

When 'I Love You' Turns Violent: Abuse in Dating Relationships
When 'I Love You'
Turns Violent: Abuse
in Dating Relationships


Prevalence and Victimology

In acquaintance rape, the attacker can be a friend, relative, spouse, lover, neighbor, co-worker, employer, employee, etc. "Date rape" is a type of acquaintance rape that presents particular problems and concerns. Victims of all genders and sexual orientations are more vulnerable to acquaintance rape then to attack by a stranger, and for a variety of reasons.

An acquaintance is more likely to have access to information about the victim's like and habits. The victim may trust the acquaintance, creating opportunities for the two to be alone together. Victims will "let down their guard" when around acquaintances they are familiar and comfortable with. Knowing the attacker also inhibits many victims from defensive action, because they fear harming the attacker, whom they view as a friend or have deeper feelings for.

Defining Date/Acquaintance Rape

Many victims of acquaintance rape are initially unable to identify their experience. The closer the relationship with the attacker (lover, relative, etc.) the greater the victim's shock. Some react by denying the significance of the incident, feeling that it was more of a "misunderstanding" than a crime. Some victims may not identify their experience as rape at all, instead left feeling that they may have inadvertently invited the unwelcome actions or that the event was their own fault for not speaking up, or believing a perpetrator when told after the fact that they were "sending mixed signals". But this is the exact root of the issue.

Because so many people, both victims AND perpetrators, believe that rape must include elements of violence, incidents that are not consentual, yet occur without violence, are often overlooked as NOT being rape. It's important to remember however, that rape isn't a crime because of some extreme physical action, but is instead a crime based on the non-consent of one party, regardless of whether they are yelling "no" and physically fighting for their lives or just trying to get past the incident as quickly as possible because they are unable to stop it or fear making the situation worse or destroying the friendship by resisting. The key is CONSENT. "Mixed signals"? That is NOT consent. Note that a lack of "fighting back" is NOT an element to the crime occurring.

Aftermath of Date/Acquaintance Rape

In addition to the physical and emotional difficulties, victims must deal with the added psychological burdens of proximity to the perpetrator and/or fear of encountering the perpetrator at work, school, etc. The betrayal of trust often leads the victim to question and mistrust others. Victims of acquaintence rape have more sexual problems after the attack than victims of "stranger" rape. Though most rapes are committed by people known to the victim, people continue to think of rape being committed by anonymous assailants who attack randomly. This is probably because it is easier to think of rape in this manner, rather than have to think of the awful implications of victimization at the hands of someone known, trusted, or befriended. There is also a tendency in the legal system to discount the seriousness of acquaintance rape, even though it is often as violent as any kind of rape, and in many cases can be much more emotionally destructive. Many victims may also believe in the notion that a degree of coercion or even force is natural in sex and an acceptable aspect of sexual behavior.

The Criminal Justice System

Nationally, about 42% of reported forceable rape cases result in arrest...but only 16% of all rape cases end in convictions (for a large variety of reasons, from problems of evidence, to reluctance of victims to confront perpetrators), and cases of acquaintance rape are especially difficult to prove. Knowledge of this fact and fear of not being believed prevent many victims from reporting rapes at all.

Cases of acquaintance rape are difficult to prosecute. In cases of stranger rape, the prosecution has a relatively easy job; the state effectively only needs to prove that a sexual encounter of ANY type or level occurred. And, in stranger rape cases, there are often several crimes with which a perpetrator can be charged (such as burglary for entering the home, or kidnapping for restraining a victim). Often these can be proven and convictions gained even if the sexual component itself can't be proven. In acquaintence rape, however, the victim and perpetrator are usually in each other's company by mutual consent (no burglary or kidnapping), and the presence of sexual acts themselves often aren't the center of the problem, but rather the element of consent becomes the focus. Consent can't be photographed, can't be recorded - it can only be thought and felt by the victim. OTHER people can only understand the victim's consent or lack thereof, in two ways: either by communication from the victim directly, or, via inference from the victim's words, deeds, actions (or lack thereof), demeanor, or other observable indicator. Thus, a huge portion of such cases end up being "he said/she said" cases; where both sides agree that sexual activity occurred, but the perpetrator says it was consentual and the victim says it wasn't. That means that the prosecution has to try to build a case that proves to the jury the victim's state of mind at the time of the offense, while at the same time the defense is telling the jury that the victim consented at the time, but wanted to call it rape afterwards, for any number of reasons. Regardless of whether the PROSECUTOR believes the case has merit, their focus is on whether or not they can convince a JURY to convict on the charge. Cases with injuries, where drugs or alcohol can be shown to have lessened the ability of the victim to give credible consent, and where the victim notifies authorities promptly, have the best chances of being prosecuted, because they also have the best chances of a jury returning a finding of guilt. Prosecutors without strong cases in date rape scenarios are often reluctant to bring the case to formal charges, as they don't want to re-traumatize victims by exposing them to the often brutal questioning of the defense, when a disappointing verdict, and an even further traumatized victim, is likely.

Although the problems of prosecuting date rape cases are many, that shouldn't be taken as saying that prosecution doesn't happen or isn't possible. If the prosecution has the elements they need to get a conviction, and if the victim is willing to participate in the trial process, convictions absolutely can and do occur. Offenders should be aware that the crime of acquaintance rape is just as serious as any form of forced sexual conduct, and the consequences, such as incarceration, a criminal record, and sex offender registration, typically follow a conviction.

Articles and Resources

  • Sexual Victimization of College Women
    PDF File. A joint report from BJS and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that explores the prevalence and nature of sexual assault occurring at colleges throughout the nation. The study found that about 3 percent of college women experienced a completed and/or attempted rape during the current college year. The study also included a comparison component conducted using methodology similar to that of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted by BJS. The report was authored by Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen

  • Perspectives on Acquaintance Rape
    by David G. Curtis, Ph.D., B.C.E.T.S., Clinical Psychologist. From the The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

  • Date Rape Drugs Explained and De-Mystified
    by Mike Hardcastle from the Teen Advice website.

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Last Updated: March 22, 2011