Lam, C. and B. Roman. 2009. “[…] Understanding and Approaching College-Aged Female Victims of Acquaintance Rape.”

Lam, Charlene and Brenda Roman. 2009. “When Granny Is the Wolf: Understanding and Approaching College-aged Female Victims of Acquaintance Rape.” Psychiatry 6(8): 18-26.

Rape is defined as “sexual behaviors involving some type of penetration due to force or the threat of force; a lack of consent; or inability to give consent due to age, intoxication or mental status” (18 see also Bachman and Saltzman 2005). Stranger rape (between two individuals who were previously unknown to each other) and acquaintance rape (occurring between two individuals who previously knew each other prior to the incident, in whatever capacity) make up two key categories of rape. “Acquaintance rape can occur regardless of a perpetrator’s education, socioeconomic status, drug addiction history, mental health history, or nonsexual assault criminal record” (20). Ninety percent of college rapes are AR (Hannon et al 1996; Kahn, Mathie, and Torgler 1994), with the majority of sexual assaults occurring between men and women who had known each other for at least a year (Muehlenhard and Linton 1987). Thus, a cultivated closeness (often mediated through alcohol use) becomes a confusing component in cases of sexual assault – where contemplation may be read as consent, leading victims to feel betrayed by the known perpetrator (Muehlenhard and Linton 1987).  Date rape is defined as a rape that occurs between two people who are romantically involved (Rickert, Vaughan, and Wiemann 2002). From this, victims may have difficulty in identifying scenarios that occur in familiar places, with familiar parties, during familiar activities. Muehlenhard, Friedman, and Thomas (1985) note that perpetrators are more likely to believe that assault is more acceptable if it takes place in the perpetrator’s home, if the victim asked him out, or if he paid for the date.  Additionally, many rape scenarios are not premeditated, and result from ambiguous/erroneous interpretation of consent. Many perpetrators are not charged in instances of AR, much less convicted, as many victims do not seek medical or police help; additionally, many contexts of AR lack witnesses (kx^ but other reports note that bystanders are a frequent occurrence in assaults – hmmm.). This is additionally confounded by the notion that if a woman is drunk, she is often considered (by a panel of incarcerated rapists and perpetrators) to be more responsible for the assault (Muehlenhard and Linton 1987).

Men who accept rape myths (“any prejudiced, stereotyped, or false belief about rape, rape victims, and rapists” [20 see also Burt 1991]) and approve of violence/hostility toward women are more likely to victim-blame, accept rape as normative, and note that they would rape/assault women if they would be guaranteed that no one would find out (Muehlenhard and Linton 1987; Koss et al 1985). Additionally, men who held personality characteristics of irresponsibility, immaturity, aggression toward women, and lack of conscience were more likely to be associated with sexually coercive behaviors in men (Rapaport and Burkhart 1984); additionally, manipulativeness, impulsivity, and the need to demonstrate power –often through hypermasculine behaviors or ideas – were related to likelihood of men’s sexual coercion (Voller and Long 2009). All-male environments present men with social peer pressure, often to gain membership. These groups “tend to reinforce rape-supportive attitudes, traditional gender roles, and encourage alcohol use to decrease women’s sexual reluctance” (21 see also Berkowitz 1992). Alcohol, when used by male perpetrators, tends to result in lower inhibitions, heightened sexual misperception, and heightened sexual aggression (Muehlenhard and Linton 1987; Farris et al 2008). In this, alcohol may be a means for perpetrators to remove/reduce their responsibility for the assault (Norris and Cubbins 1992). Additionally, men are more likely to perceive women to be more sexually interested than women believe themselves to display (Farris et al 2008) – this contributes to issues such as clothing, alcohol use, women’s physical attractiveness being misread as sexual interest, when, in fact, it is not.

Adolescents and young adult women are four times more likely to be victimized by rape than any other age group (Rickert, Vaughan, and Wiemann 2002). Rape is distinguished from sexual assault which is “an inclusive term to describe the full range of forced sexual acts, ranging from forced touching or kissing to verbally coerced intercourse to physically forced vaginal, oral, and anal penetration” (19 see also Abbey 2002). Koss, Gidycz and Wisniewski (1987) report that approximately 54% (over half) of college women admit to experiencing some form of sexual assault. Koss et al (1987) reports that approximately 1 in 4 (25%) of college-aged men have used some type of coercion during sexual contact.

National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice statistics report that 1 in 5 women are raped while in college (Fisher, Cullen and Turner 2000– that’s 20%, dude). This tends to happen during the beginning of women’s collegiate experiences – with 34% experiencing sexual assault and 6.4% experiencing completed rape as first years (Humphrey and White 2000). Estimates approximate that 700,000 women are sexually assaulted each year; however, very few actually report the crime (Humphrey and White 2000), with less than half telling anyone about the incident, much going to formal authorities (Koss et al 1987). The feelings of betrayal that the victim may have “are difficult to resolve, and since the victim often remains silent and does not report being rape, she receives no support. The betrayal she has experienced can evolve into chronic negative feelings such as anger” (23).  Paired with the continual (and often un/expected) interaction with the perpetrator, the recovery process can be fragmented. Women may even continual sexual relationships with their perpetrator, as women who experienced completed rape were more likely to do so than those who had been able to “block” their perpetrators (Ellis, Widmayer, and Palmer 2009). Though some may see this as an indicator of earlier consent, this may potentially be an act of regaining control of her sexuality; however, this also opens up the opportunity for repeat victimization. Women with histories of AR are more likely to develop affective disorder, other types of health problems (Gerber and Cherneski 2006), sexual dysfunction (van Berlo and Ensink 2000), perceiving themselves as less healthy (reporting somatic issues relating to assault) (Humphrey and White 2000).

Integrative model of sexual assault/AR – “the perpetrator’s and victim’s socialization, beliefs, and attitudes toward sexuality, in addition to their personality characteristics, combined with situational risk factors and the perpetrator’s misperception of the victim’s consent, all lead to an increased likelihood of sexual assault” (Berkowitz 1992). However, due to not wanting to interview victims at length (for fear of being perceived as victim blaming) nor to re-traumatize them, there are very few studies that propose patterns those victimized by sexual assault (CITE7). However, histories of childhood sexual abuse has been linked to increased risk of victimization (Humphrey and White 2000; Koss and Dinero 1989). Additionally, women (college and non-) who have been previously victimized by attempted/completed rape tend to demonstrate increased number of sexual partners, increased alcohol consumption, and decreased ability to decline undesired sexual advances, in comparison with their peers who have not victimized (Corbin et al 2001; Testa and Dermen 1999). (kx^ and, we know from Abbey 2003 that college students who drink are less likely to navigate scenarios of risk, potentially leading to further victimization?). Also, previously victimized individuals may have difficulty recognizing risk, or practicing effect forms of resistance/refusal (Soler-Baillo, Marx, and Sloan 2005; Norris, Nurius and Dimeff 1996) — (kx^ but what about the cultivated geographies of fear, hypervigilance?) Women who have a larger number of sexual partners are more likely to be at risk of sexual assault – however, this may be due in part to her having a larger sample size that could expose her to perpetrators (Koss and Dinero 1989).

Adams-Curtis and Forbes (2004) note: “The college experience juxtaposes the powerful motives of sex and aggression in a population that is still forming stable identity within an environment that includes strong peer pressures for sexual activity, the ritualistic abuse of alcohol, a culture that objectifies women, and a culture that frequently views sexual intercourse as an act of masculine conquest” (pg#). Because of this, AR victims are more likely to be held/considered responsible for the assault than victims of stranger rape (Bell, Kuriloff and Lottes 1994), particularly when physical trauma is not evident (Gerber and Cherneski 2006), victims had been using alcohol, or when the victim delays reporting of the incident (Abbey 2002).

Thus, therapy sessions should serve to educate victims about identifying sexually aggressive men/people, and attuning the victim to threat cues –what situations and characteristics become dangerous or a potential site of re-victimization (Soler-Baillo, Marx, and Sloan 2005). Victims may try to return to previous practices and states of existence (putting things back the ‘way they were before’); however, this opens them up to risked re-victimization. Conversely, victims should not be isolated, but carefully encouraged to balance their vulnerability with social, emotional, and physical health concerns.


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