On Date Rape: Responding To and Decreasing Sexual Violence in Our Communities


BY MARY STROKA

There's a problem that plagues many campuses across the nation and around the globe. It's not an issue of low-quality food in the cafeteria, but something much more serious: violence -- specifically date rape.

Statistical information about rape is unreliable, partly because of the sensitive nature of the issue, but the prevalence of rape is certainly a problem, even if it is not as high as statistics suggest. The National Center for Victims of Crime states on its Campus Dating Violence fact sheet that about 1 in 20 American "college women experience a completed or attempted rape in a given year," citing a 2000 study from the U.S. Department of Justice entitled "The Sexual Victimization of College Women," by Bonnie Fisher, Francis Cullen, and Michael Turner. The problem is definitely global, as evidenced by the World Health Organization's 2005 report "WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women." The study found that 59 percent of surveyed Ethiopian women who had ever had a relationship had experienced sexual violence at least once.

Although there is a movement, composed of several organizations and initiatives, to fight against this wrongdoing, date rape and other forms of domestic violence persist. It's essential communities start and continue to fight this crime that can happen to anyone.

The Gift of Fear, a 1997 bestseller by Gavin de Becker, helped further the discussion of the issue by addressing date rape and other instances of violence and how people should react in and after such situations. De Becker designed the MOSAIC Threat Assessment Systems, which are used to help discern whether government officials are at risk. He is also a senior fellow at UCLA's School of Public Affairs.

This book is about understanding how to protect oneself from violence and is a worthwhile read for anyone who has experienced violence or who understands that the chances he or she will experience violence aren't exactly low. De Becker states that it becomes more likely for someone to enter a dangerous situation if he or she ignores signals that come from true fear.

The writer recommends people ask more questions about the people whom they hire, such as babysitters. There are several "survival signals," de Becker writes, which those who are seeking victims tend to cover up, usually using methods that can actually reveal them.

One of the signals is "forced teaming," which is when an attacker tries to convince the potential victim to trust him by using the word "we," as in, "How are we going to handle this?" The best defense, de Becker writes, from forced teaming is to flatly refuse to be thought of as being part of a partnership. Although a person who refuses this may think of the action as rude, the situation may call for some "rudeness" for the sake of safety. Forced teaming is inappropriate, and the potential victim should remain firm in this conviction.

Another is "typecasting," which is when someone labels the victim something that the victim may try to disprove. For example, an attacker may say something like, "you're probably too conceited to pay me any attention," which may encourage the victim to engage in conversation or otherwise prove that she is not conceited. The defense for this one is silence and remembering that what he says is trivial.

A third is ignoring the word "no." If a person refuses to listen to the word no, de Becker states, "[he] is seeking control or refusing to relinquish it." De Becker says people should say no in a steady and direct manner and remember that it can be a complete sentence; it's better to risk coming off rude than to risk safety.

Lowering violence is something that should be a community effort as well. People, especially victims of violence, need to know they are not alone in their pain. The stigma a rape victim often experiences needs to be rejected by a community that refuses to be tolerant of violence and is supportive of victims and their loved ones (who are also hurt when a person chooses to injure someone they care for).

The family and friends of victims don't necessarily need to avoid talking about the subject, but it's essential that they allow and encourage the victim to speak and also are sensitive about the issue. Jokes about rape, for example, are extremely inappropriate because the situation should not be taken lightly.

The Sexual Assault Center of Pierce County in Tacoma, Washington includes detailed information on its website, www.sexualassaultcenter.com, about how rape affects the victim's family and friends. The Center refers to these supporters of the victim as "secondary victims" and has some suggestions for them.

Family counseling may be helpful for a family dealing with the trauma of the experience because secondary victims may also have emotional and physiological reactions: these feelings may include anger and resentment toward the victim, as well as doubting the victim. The victim may pick up on these attitudes, perhaps resulting in more feelings of humiliation. The secondary victims may also feel impatient, guilty, and fearful because of the pain the primary victim has experienced, and counseling could help facilitate healing.

Family and friends play a key role in the recovery process of a rape victim. "The victim needs to find a sensitive, caring response. Without supportive responses from family members and others, victims remain victims, rather than becoming survivors," according to the Center's website. A supportive response from friends and family includes encouraging him or her to retain a normal lifestyle, making themselves available to talk, keeping what he or she shares confidential, and empowering the individual.

Empowerment comes through reassuring the victim that he or she is strong and will grow as he or she moves through recovery, instead of constantly shepherding him or her, which may lead to a more deeply ingrained sense of helplessness. The victim needs to have the opportunity to mourn and process the rape, but, at the same time, have the support of family and friends.

The website also encourages supporters of the victim to ask what the victim needs and support the victim in declaring his or her needs and making decisions about subsequent action.

Rape victims may want to call a free, confidential, 24-hour hotline such as 1 (800) 656-HOPE, the National Sexual Assault Hotline, or visit websites, such as RAINN.org, that have relevant resources.

REFERENCE

Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1998), 73.

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