18 April, 2011

Let's talk about...talking

Raise your hand if you have ever misinterpreted someone’s body language. Yep, that’s all of us. The woman with her arms folded across her chest could be annoyed, or she could be cold. The guy who isn’t making eye contact during a date may not be bored, he may just be nervous. According to A. Barbour, author of Louder Than Words: Nonverbal Communication, the total impact of a message breaks down like this:

7% verbal (words)
38% vocal (volume, pitch, rhythm, etc.)
55% body movements (mostly facial expressions)

So if we know that 55% of our message is communicated by body movements, and we’ve all admitted that body language isn’t always reliable, then we’ve got a bit of a problem when it comes to communicating—especially about consent.

“But why do we have to talk about it? It ruins the mood. It’s not sexy. It’s awkward. (Insert other common excuse here).” I get it. Many people feel that talking about sex beforehand is too cumbersome a task to tackle. However, let’s consider all the important points that really need to be covered before two people have a responsible sexual encounter:

*What sexual acts are going to be engaged in or performed?
* If there will be oral to genital or genital to genital contact, will protection be used?
*What kind of protection? (Condoms, dental dams, etc.)
*When was each partner last tested for STIs?
*Do they have any?
*If yes, is the other partner comfortable with the risk of transmission?
*What does this sexual encounter mean for the two partners? (Is this a casual hookup, sex between romantic partners, or something in-between?)
*Are the partners monogamous or are one/both in another relationship?
*If the partners are heterosexual, what would happen if the encounter resulted in a pregnancy? (Abortion, adoption, keeping the baby?)

Wow. That seems like a lot of questions to ask before getting into the sex portion of the evening. Those questions are necessary though. The fact that we typically DON’T ask these questions is what often leads to problems down the line. Susie and Johnny have sex and while Johnny thinks it’s a good time and moves on, Susie thinks that this means that Johnny wants to be in a relationship with her. That scenario in itself is a topic for another blog entry entirely, but the point is clear. Consent has two components: it must be informed and it must be mutual. Informed meaning that both parties know what they are agreeing to, and mutual meaning that both parties actually agree. If Ryan thinks that he and George are just going to kiss, but George has below-the-belt plans in mind, these two are not on the same page. Conversely, if George had taken the time to ask Ryan if going below-the-belt was okay, then there would not have been an issue. “But it’s too awkward to ask! What if he says no?”

So let’s tackle the awkwardness excuse. Many don’t want to have the conversation because they’re afraid if they ask, the other person will say “no.” Well gosh, that seems like even MORE of a reason to have the conversation in the first place! Sexual contact without consent is a crime. Even if that crime never gets reported, the victim in that incident has to deal with the trauma that was inflicted on them, intentionally or not. This isn’t just for sex – this is for things as simple as hugging or kissing. You wouldn’t go up to a woman walking her dog and just start petting the dog without asking, would you? I would hope not – it’s a good way to get bitten. So if we ask permission for animals, why not ask permission for humans? Why, when grandma wants to give little Billy a big hug and kiss, but Billy is clearly uncomfortable, do parents say, “Now Billy, give your grandma a kiss.” We are instilling from an early age that sometimes, we have to acquiesce to touches or kisses just for the sake of propriety. Like we tell the kindergarten kids during safety lessons, “your body is YOURS!” and you get to decide who is allowed to touch, kiss, or otherwise enter your personal space. Consider if Billy’s parents, rather than forcing Billy to kiss grandma, told him, “it’s okay Billy, you don’t have to kiss your grandma if you don’t want to.” Suddenly we’ve given Billy his autonomy and reinforced that it’s okay to say no when he doesn’t want to be touched, no matter who is doing the touching.

Mike Domritz wrote an excellent book titled, “May I Kiss You?” and is part of the Date Safe Project, which encourages healthy relationships and consent. He came to West Chester University a few years ago and I was lucky enough to see his presentation. He talked about why consent is so important, even for something as simple as a kiss. Best of all, he provided a great “cover” line in case the answer to the question was negative. It’s very easy to turn that “awkward moment” into an “awwww” moment. It’s about respect, and not wanting to make the other person feel uncomfortable by kissing or touching him/her when it’s unwanted.

So tell me blog readers, what are YOU doing to ensure that consent is obtained and boundaries are respected?

28 January, 2011

Self-Care Through Debriefing

In the field of Victim Services, we see a lot of suffering. We work with victims who face challenges healing and recovering following crime victimization. Our job is to provide support to these victims that can help ease the stress of participation in the criminal justice process. Our compassion and concern for others are what bring many of us to the field and are tremendous assets to our work—but may also put us at risk for burnout and vicarious trauma if we do not take care of ourselves.

There are many things that we can do to lessen the impact of victims’ trauma on own well-being. One of the most important things we can do to ensure that we remain compassionate and victim-focused is to participate in regular debriefing. Debriefing involves talking with a colleague or supervisor shortly after an experience that you found difficult to handle, overwhelming, or traumatic. Examples of such experiences differ depending on our life experiences and individual differences, but may include things such as reading a graphic police report or witness statement, talking with a victim who is deeply upset by the crime or the criminal justice process, or helping a victim cope with a “not guilty” verdict. Debriefing may also be helpful after working with a victim with whom we identify or to whom we have a particularly strong reaction (either positive or negative) to help ensure that we are keeping our boundaries clear.

Debriefing may involve simply processing: talking about what happened and reflecting on our own reactions. Debriefing may also involve problem-solving, in which we focus on what went well, what we wish had gone differently, and what alternative approaches may be useful in the future. Debriefing frequently (we suggest at least weekly) can help improve our own well-being, increase our sense of collaboration and connection, and help prevent symptoms of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue including disrupted sleep, poor health, and excessive anger or frustration both inside and outside of work.

Sometimes debriefing with people who understand our work is the most helpful approach. Debriefing should not be an afterthought or considered an impediment to getting work done, but instead should be viewed as a critical part of our work that keeps us healthy and effective. Our goal is to maintain our compassion and respect for victims while caring for our own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. So the next time you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed – or, better yet, before that happens - grab a colleague, get a cup of coffee, and debrief.

27 April, 2010

Strength stemming from trauma

What are the strengths that I've developed as a result of surviving my sexual assault. I've become incredibly confident in my sexuality and very open to talking about it with friends and strangers. I can say "penis," "labia," "clitoris," "vagina" in front of a crowd of 100 people and not flinch. It has shaped what I want to do with my life and made me passionate about helping survivors, educating, and raising awareness about acquaintance rape. It has driven me forward when I may have otherwise hung back. It has allowed me to reach out, make contacts in the sexual assault prevention community, and earn their respect. It has led me to have a nationally published study guide through SOC and make some decent money. It has given me an ever-present conversation piece that can make a conversation either awkward or intense with one sentence: "I was raped." It has made me passionate about women's issues, especially those regarding linguistics and why we use such phrases as "slut," "easy," and "I really got 'raped' by that test." It has allowed me to connect with people whom I might have otherwise missed because we share a common thread, albeit a traumatic one. It has gotten me to write intense papers that have been accepted to conferences nationally and internationally. It has led me to speak openly about the rape(s) with my parents, especially my father who finally understands why his reaction to my confession as a teenager was entirely inappropriate. "It's not like he had a knife to your throat, it could have been worse" was not the response I was seeking when I told you that I was raped by an acquaintance at 13. It has given me the experience necessary to say with conviction that it is VITAL to ask your partner before you assume that he/she wants you to put your fingers/objects/penis there. It has given me anger, which has fueled me and kept me motivated even in the face of rejection and despair. It has given me a range of intimate experiences, some good, some bad, but all ones that taught me something important about myself and sexual interactions. It has turned me into someone who self identifies as "kinky" and is comfortable in a group of like-minded individuals. It has caused me to be much more open minded about sexual preferences, fantasies, and kinks than I might have been otherwise. My rape has given me drive and determination, perseverance and kink, and has allowed me to meet people where they are because we have common ground. I can easily identify with rape survivors and I work well with them - it has given me the stamina to never tire of listening to their stories and helping to shoulder their pain.

07 December, 2009

Syndicated Columnist Perpetuates Victim Blaming

Ann Dickinson is a syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. During the week of November 27th, her column "Ask Amy" featured the following question and answer:

DEAR AMY: I recently attended a frat party, got drunk and made some bad decisions. I let a guy take me to "his" room. He promised he wouldn't do anything I wasn't comfortable with.

Many times, I clearly said I didn't want to have sex. He promised he wouldn't. Then he proceeded to go against what he "promised." I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time slow in realizing what was happening.

I guess my question is, if I wasn't kicking and fighting him off, is it still rape? I feel like calling it that is a bit extreme, but I haven't felt the same since it happened. Am I a victim?


DEAR VICTIM?: First, thank you. I hope your letter will be posted on college bulletin boards everywhere. Were you a victim? Yes.

First, you were a victim of your own awful judgment. Getting drunk at a frat house is a hazardous choice because of the risk (some might say likelihood) you will engage in unwanted sexual contact.

You don't say if the guy also was drunk. If so, his judgment was also impaired.

No matter what: No means no. If you say no beforehand, the sex shouldn't happen. If you say no while it's happening, the sex should stop.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website ( www.rainn.org): "Alcohol and drugs are not an excuse — or an alibi. The key question is still: Did you consent or not? Regardless of whether you were drunk or sober, if the sex is nonconsensual, it is rape. However, because each state has different definitions of "nonconsensual," please contact your local center or local police."

Go to your college's health department to be tested for STDs and pregnancy. See a counselor. You must involve the guy in question to determine what happened and because he must take responsibility and face the consequences, just as you are prepared to do. He may have done this before.

There are SEVERAL problems with this response to "Victim? in Virginia" (ViV). First of all, Amy Dickinson begins her answer by suggesting that the victim publicize her experience on "college bulletin boards everywhere." Why? So people can learn from her "mistakes?" Amy goes on to highlight ViV's "victim status" by asserting, "you were the victim of your own awful judgment." Really, Amy? Awful judgment? Was that necessary? While risk reduction is always a positive thing, I liken it to the flu: A person can eat healthy, exercise regularly, practice good hygiene, get a flu vaccine, and STILL GET THE FLU. Likewise, someone can forgo all of those risk reduction techniques and NOT GET THE FLU. Drinking at a fraternity party does not increase one's risk of being sexually assaulted. Furthermore, NOT drinking at fraternity parties will not prevent one from being sexually assaulted. As a philosophy student, one of the many logical rules drilled into our heads was, "correlation does not imply causation." In other words, perhaps Amy is right in saying that sexual assaults happen somewhat frequently at fraternity parties. That does not mean that because someone attends a fraternity party that they will get raped. It doesn't mean that because someone is drinking that they will get raped. It also doesn't mean that abstaining from those to activities will prevent rape. Amy is attempting to make a sweeping generalization about the victim's judgment based upon her own biases. Sadly, this is not an uncommon phenomenon. A sociological study done by Ashley Wenger, found that,

"In general, if sexual assault victims fail to achieve "legitimate victim status," ...victim substance use is one factor that is likely to detract from the victim's status. For example, female victims tend to be viewed as less credible, and held more accountable, if they were intoxicated rather than sober at the time of the assault (Hammock & Richardson, 1997; Schuller & Wall, 1998). Intoxicated victims are viewed as more "deserving" of such punishment because they had placed themselves in a high-risk situation (Wenger)."

By taking this position early on in her response to ViV, Amy is perpetuating the idea that victims who place themselves in "high-risk situations" are at least partially to blame for the incident. She is also negating anything positive that she says to the victim later in the response. She does recommend seeking a counselor and finding resources at RAINN.ORG, which is certainly positive. Unfortunately, since research has proven that the first response to a victim is usually the one that stands out most to them, any later redeeming comments by Amy are completely useless.

Amy goes on to ask about the perpetrator's level of intoxication during the attack. My question is, WHO CARES? Is a drunk driver who kills someone any less to blame for their actions because they were drunk? NO! In fact, it's quite the opposite. Because they were drinking they are more responsible because they made the CHOICE to get into a car. This perpetrator made a CHOICE to force himself upon an unwilling woman who was intoxicated. There is no fault here beyond that of the perpetrator. A common rape myth is that men lose control of themselves and "can't help it" when it comes to their sex drive, especially while intoxicated. This is a complete falsehood. Rape is about POWER and CONTROL. It is about the perpetrator's desire to violate the victim. Rape is not about sex. ViV wrote, "I let a guy take me to "his" room because he promised that he wouldn't do anything I wasn't comfortable with. Many times, I clearly said I didn't want to have sex, and he promised to my face that he wouldn't. Then he quickly proceeded to go against what he "promised." I was shocked, and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time a bit slow in realizing what was happening." Even while intoxicated, the victim clearly communicated MANY TIMES that she did not wish to have sex with this man before going into a room with him. He "promised" that he would not do anything she was not comfortable with. Considering that he quickly "broke his promise" once he had the victim alone, it is clear that this attack was planned. The victim admits that her reactions were slow. She writes that she was (understandably) shocked at the man's actions. I fail to understand how Amy could feel anything but compassion for this victim.

The victim writes that she "hasn't felt the same" since the incident. This is a common reaction for victims of rape and sexual assault. Amy does not attempt to reassure the victim, she merely criticizes the victim, suggests that she confront her rapist to "find out what happened" (as if he would actually ADMIT it?). Amy also fails to suggest that the victim pursue legal recourse (reporting the incident to the police, filing a complaint on campus, etc.) Even if the victim was not interested in pursuing this option, the columnist should have offered it as an option.

This entire column made my blood boil. Here is a syndicated columnist perpetuating rape myths and flagrantly blaming the victim. There is a website (link below) with a petition asking Amy Dickinson to correct her victim blaming article and issue a formal apology. I'm also providing a link to the original column in the Chicago Tribune. I highly recommend signing the petition and writing an email to Amy (and her editors) criticizing this incredibly inappropriate advice and commentary.

The Petition:

The Column:

23 August, 2009

My life...or how I got here

Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Coordinator. Yeah, it's a mouthful. And for a long time, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I went through a lot of phases. I was Political Science/Pre-law, then I was Philosophy (undergrad), then I decided I needed a Master's degree so I became a Philosophy grad student, and about halfway through my program, I realized that Philosophy didn't fill that place either.

It didn't just start this spring. I can distinctly remember going to the Take Back the Night vigil at St. Joe's chapel in April of my freshmen year (2005), standing up in front of a few hundred people, and telling my story. It was frightening. It was terrifying. It was SO worth it. I felt empowered, like I'd reclaimed (at least temporarily) a part of me that had been stolen. That was the beginning of my realization.

In the next year at SJU, I took a few more baby steps toward my ultimate goal. However, it really wasn't until I transferred to West Chester and got involved in the Women's Center that I really started to transform. On a whim (and after a particularly painful breakup) I decided to try out for the Vagina Monologues in November of 2006. I met some amazing women and began to find my place at West Chester. The following year, I became president of the Women's Center club, a student worker at the Women's Center, and the Coordinator for the Vagina Monologues. I also began to take my passion into the academic sphere, writing a paper for my Contemporary Moral Issues class entitled, "She Asked for It: Examining Victim Blaming in Acquaintance Rape Cases." That paper was accepted to a Philosophy conference that spring, and earned a 3rd place recognition out of all the papers submitted from across the state. I was thrilled.

I graduated in May of 08 having already been accepted to the grad program at West Chester. I started classes in the fall and began to realize that I may have made a mistake. I wasn't excited about Philosophy like I used to be. However, in an attempt to make the best of things, I used two of my classes as opportunities to further my real interest, acquaintance rape awareness and prevention. For my Existentialism class, I wrote a paper entitled, "The Traumatic Aftermath of Acquaintance Rape" and for my Aesthetic Theory class, I did a journal project using entries that followed the incident. Both were well received by my professors, and I began to feel whole again.

In February, I submitted the "traumatic aftermath" paper to five conferences, mostly to see if I'd get in to ANY of them. My paper was accepted to ALL of them. I didn't expect that. So in March, I flew to Cleveland and presented at the Eastern Society for Women in Philosophy; in April I drove to NYC and presented at the philoSOPHIA Feminist Philosophy conference, and in July I came full circle and presented at a Social Philosophy conference held at (you guessed it) St. Joe's. With my dad and his g/f in the audience, I felt like I was on top of the world.

While all that academic stuff went on, I had been doing a few things on the side. In April, I attended a screening of "Speak Out and Stand Up," a documentary produced by Security on Campus, which is an organization that focuses on Sexual Assault Prevention Education. I met with the program director and she hired me as a Peer Educator. I went to a high school in Bucks County and gave three 90-minute presentations on Sexual Assault Prevention/Awareness. I felt on top of the world. Security on Campus also hired me (and paid me $500) to design a study guide, discussion guide, and pre/post-test to go along with the documentary. These documents would be nationally published and sent to colleges all over the country.

A few weeks ago, I took a Crime Victim Advocacy class, which was a 40 hour training to volunteer with the Crime Victims Center of Chester County. I met some fantastic people, and a few of them had actually heard of me, which was a pretty incredible moment to experience.

Finally, Adale (the new director of the Women's Center) decided to give me a title and position in the Women's Center, which led to the mouthful title at the beginning of the post. I now coordinate all of the SRVP activities on campus, give presentations, design programs, begin to form a group for Men as Allies, and I'll be running a peer-based support group for Survivors of Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence.

Last week, Adale and I participated in a sexual assault panel in front of about 50 new Resident Assistants. We both spoke, and afterward a few students came up to thank me for my presentation. I felt high. This is what I want to do with my life. Nothing up to this point has given me this sort of contentment. It feels great.

24 June, 2009

Insightful passage

This passage was written by a girl who, at 15, was raped by her 17 year old boyfriend. She was also abused by him multiple times during the course of the relationship. She writes about how it affected her life, and her future marriage (to another man).

"Through the abusive relationship, I was taught that I existed only for sex. I felt as though if i couldn't be good for anything else, I would be very good at sex. My present husband was the first person I went out with following the abusive relationship. My Boundaries were gone. I became promiscuous with my (then future) husband early in our dating relationship. I never told him "No." I don't think I would have said "No" to anyone at that point. Thank God my future husband valued me more than I valued myself.

Throughout our dating and early marital relationship, I used sex to try to fix any problems between us. Anytime my husband touch me or winked, and so on, I responded sexually. It was overkill. He gradually stopped touching me because he did not want sex that often. I then felt rejected and was even more sexually aggressive. It was a vicious circle. I began being unfaithful to my husband--looking for validation of my attractiveness, and so on. My self-esteem sank even lower...For so long, I had functioned as a "sex machine." I worked really hard to be good at sex and to fulfill my partner. I worked so hard at it that I was unable to relax and reach orgasm, which in turn frustrated my husband."

quoted in: Intimate Betrayal: Understanding and Responding to the Trauma of Acquaintance Rape, page 46.

02 May, 2009

Paper in progress

The Traumatic Aftermath of Acquaintance Rape
*Trigger Warning*

This paper seeks to uncover the traumatic effects of acquaintance rape on the self and debunk the notion that stranger rape is the most damaging. It will examine acquaintance rape from an existentialist and feminist perspective, drawing on the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir for the conception of self. It will include testimony from acquaintance rape survivors. While it does not at all seek to minimize the trauma experienced by stranger rape survivors, the paper strives to expand the common notion of what constitutes trauma. Many consider acquaintance rape the “preferable” type of rape because they view it as somehow less terrifying and dangerous. This could not be further from the truth. Although there may or may not be imminent threat of death or bodily harm, I argue that the after-effects can be as severe, if not more severe, than stranger rape because the former constitutes a gross violation of trust.

Sartre and De Beauvoir discuss the Self in terms of its relation to others. There is an important distinction between being-for-itself (the subject) and being-in-itself (the object)[1]. Feminist thinkers have come to view these writings as applicable to rape trauma because it objectifies the survivor through the act, and she in turn objectifies herself in an attempt to distance herself from the trauma. While the focus of many of the articles in my research revolved around rape trauma from stranger rape, this paper explores the idea that acquaintance rape is more objectifying than stranger rape, because the perpetrator is normally someone who has the trust of the woman. I want to stress—this paper does not in any way try to undermine the pain and terror associated with stranger rape. It merely attempts to bring the trauma of acquaintance rape into the spotlight belonging solely to stranger rape for so long. Survivors of rape often engage in self-objectifying behavior ranging from de-sexualization, (cutting hair and wearing baggy clothes), to over-sexualization, (engaging in unsafe sexual behavior). This behavior, on either side of the spectrum can be potentially problematic for the survivor’s sense of self.

Through the writings of Susan Brison, we will hear a feminist critique of the rape experience. We will also consult various feminist thinkers who can provide insight into the philosophical and psychological aftermath of acquaintance rape. Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is incredibly useful to see the feminist implications for being-in-itself and being-for-itself. Finally, this paper will draw on the personal experiences of three women who are survivors of acquaintance rape to get first-hand accounts of the effects in their lives.

Susan Brison, a rape survivor and philosophy professor, describes the importance of this issue, saying, “Sexual violence and its aftermath raise numerous philosophical issues in a variety of areas in our discipline. The disintegration of the self experience by victims of violence challenges our notions of personal identity over time…”[2] Since the notion of the self is so vital to Continental thought, it seems helpful to examine the existentialist concepts of self, which are held by Simone De Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. For the latter, human beings are characterized by facticity (what is true about an individual at any given time) and transcendence, (an individual’s knowledge of his/herself and awareness of it). Being-in-itself or ĂȘtre en soi is simply an object like a stapler or rock. Sartre points out that interaction with others are necessarily ones of conflict, because they represent a threat to one’s personal freedom by his or her existence, in that the person’s perception of one “objectifies” oneself as a mere object in the world. One can only combat this threat by treating the other person as an object without freedom, or trying to possess the person’s freedom. Rape is a crime of power and it is an example of a being-for-itself trying to possess the freedom of another being-for-itself and turn her into a being-in-itself. De Beauvoir explains the relationship between men and women saying,

…what peculiarly signalizes the situation of woman is that she—a free and autonomous being like all human creatures—nevertheless finds herself living in a world where men compel her to assume the status of the Other. They propose to stabilize her as object and to doom her to immanence since her transcendence is to be overshadowed and forever transcended by another ego (conscience) which is essential and severing.[3]

Women are compelled daily to assume a secondary status…it is evidenced in pop culture as well as interpersonal relationships. It is rare to see billboards of naked men in submissive positions, or hear a man be subject to catcalls while walking down the street. Likewise, it is less common to have a woman attempt to take advantage of her close relationship with a man physically to exact what she wants from him. Sadly, the reverse situation is significantly more common.

In rape trauma, the person’s fundamental project is drastically disrupted in at least two respects. First, one’s sexual project—i.e., one’s chosen sexual being-in-the-world—is radically altered, and in this way, all of the other embedded projects, such as one’s relation to others…are similarly affected. Second, one’s sense of safety and trust is seriously undermined, as is made evident by such commonly reported post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.[4]

Brison’s point about a person’s fundamental project is a decidedly Sartrean claim. In Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre describes the first effect of existentialism saying, “…it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders.”[5] After a rape, the woman is no longer in possession of herself, and thus no longer responsible for her existence for the duration of the trauma. Without that sense of control, she cannot hope to have an authentic existence until she regains it. Furthermore, in Being and Nothingness, Sartre discusses the effects of the “look” of the Other. Michelle Darnell describes it saying, “I am aware of my full existence in the world, including my freedom, and the vulnerability of my being, when I am looked at…That which looks at me, which brings my whole existence into the world, and thus objectifies my existence, cannot be an object, but another subject.”[6] If the gaze of the Other can be considered objectifying, then rape is exponentially more objectifying. This notion is supported by Susan Brison in her essay, Outliving Oneself, where she writes,

The study of trauma also replaces the traditional philosophical puzzle about whether the soul can survive the death of the body with the question of whether the self can reconstitute itself after obliteration at the hands of another—that is, after what Cathy Winkler (1991) has labeled “social murder”…Indeed the victims inability to be—and assert—her self in the context of a rape constitutes at least a temporary social death, one from which a self can be resurrected only with great difficulty and with the help of others.[7]

The Rape Abuse Incest National Network defines acquaintance rape as, “Acquaintance assault involves coercive sexual activities that occur against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, or fear of bodily injury. These sexual activities are imposed upon them by someone they know (a friend, date, acquaintance, etc.)”[8]

Based on that definition, the following three passages are firsthand accounts of acquaintance rape. Survivor stories can illustrate the reality of the trauma and its real-world effects. The following are three stories from college women, one of them being my own. Names have been changed for anonymity.

Lily was a third year student, had a friend over to her dorm room late at night to study, and he raped her. She was not dressed provocatively—she was wearing pajamas. They had not been drinking, merely spending time in her room studying. Her roommate was not home at the time. When she went to the police to report it, the (female) detective who interviewed her said, “Well, you know, you shouldn’t have boys over at two o’clock in the morning.” She implied that Lily was at least partially to blame because she invited this man over to her room to study. Although she had no idea what he was going to do, or any reason to suspect that he would rape her, the detective still made her feel at least somewhat responsible for the crime. In the weeks and months that followed, Lily withdrew from her normal activities. Although an active member of her sorority, she refused to go to mixers or even the Spring Formal, which was the most anticipated event of the year. Her grades suffered, and her GPA of 3.5 slipped to a 3.0 as a result of that semester.

During her second year, Jane was at a fraternity house with some friends. It was not a wild party, just approximately ten friends spending time together on a weekend. She was of age, and drank one beer. After her beer, she began to feel lightheaded and disoriented. She laid down on the couch and fell asleep. When she woke up, she was unclothed and in a bed with one of the males at the party. She had no idea what happened, or how she got there. She realized later that someone at the party had drugged her, because she was sure that one beer would not have caused her to pass out. When the police interviewed her weeks later, they chastised her for drinking. She argued that she only had one beer, but her interviewers were unsympathetic. Jane did not have a rape kit done or blood tests to prove that date rape drugs were involved because after the event she went home, took a hot shower, and laid in bed for two days. She was still dealing with the shock of the rape. The District Attorney refused to prosecute because Jane did not have enough evidence. Like Lily, she began to withdraw from her normal activities. She stopped drinking completely and avoided being alone with men at all costs. She went home every weekend just to be around her family so she could feel safe. When she started dating a guy several months later, she insisted they take things very slow. Even when she felt comfortable enough to kiss him, she had a flashback of the incident and broke things off with him shortly after. She has just recently sought counseling.

Finally, Nicole was over at her ex-boyfriend’s house spending the afternoon listening to music. They were down in his basement and he began wrestling with her. Then he started wrestling clothes off, once he got her to the ground. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, there was something inside of her. She said it was painful, but was shocked and didn’t know what was going on. He rolled off her to get a condom. She sat up and informed him that she did not want to lose her virginity. He simply replied, "Penetration is virginity, so it's gone." He continued, “You might as well just let me finish, it's not like you're a virgin anymore.” She laid down, more in shock than anything, and he finished. She was thirteen years old, and in eighth grade. Her perpetrator divulged his “conquest” to many of his friends at the high school, so when she started high school in the fall, she already had a reputation for being a “slut.” Unlike the other two women who withdrew from all things sexual, she became hyper-sexualized and saw herself as nothing more than an object. Her only definition was as a vehicle for pleasure, because she lacked the self-confidence to see herself as anything but. She is still undergoing extensive counseling to break out of the “sexual object” mindset.

These three cases illustrate various situations in which a woman may find herself at any given time. They are not random occurrences. Spending an evening with friends, having someone over to study late at night before finals, or going over to an ex-boyfriend’s house are not extraordinary circumstances. Many women find difficulty in immediately identifying their experience as rape. When the perpetrator is an acquaintance and the woman is spending time with him voluntarily, the lines are not nearly as clear compared to a stranger in a dark alley. Each of these women suffered from rape trauma in varying degrees. Sandra Caron describes the symptoms of the women whom she interviewed saying, “the most common responses were: a heightened distrust of other people and especially men, feeling guilty about what happened, and feeling angry…a feeling of isolation, strained relationships with others, low-self esteem, and sadness were other common responses.”[9]

Trauma is a common result of all rapes and sexual assaults. What differentiates acquaintance rape from stranger rape, besides the gross violation of trust, is the ongoing trauma. Many rape survivors are prone to flashbacks of the rape. Traumatic flashbacks coupled with the reality of seeing the rapist on a regular basis make the recovery process significantly more difficult.

Finally, we will consider two vital statistics regarding acquaintance rape. “Seventy percent (70%) of completed rapes in 2006 were committed by non-strangers”[10] Seventy percent—that is a staggering number. This statistic is even more poignant: “31% of rape victims develop some form of rape-related Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”[11] What these statistics tell us is that not only is acquaintance rape common, it results in almost a third of the survivors developing some form of PTSD. Common symptoms of PTSD could take up several pages, but generally there are physical symptoms (rapid heartbeat, uncontrollable shaking, nausea); emotional symptoms, (depression, anger, self-blame); and sexual symptoms, (de-sexualization or hyper-sexualization).[12] These symptoms are detrimental to a woman’s sense of self. The most problematic aspect of rape trauma in acquaintance rape is that the trauma does not end with the act itself. “Women may be hesitant to characterize their experience as a crime for a number of reasons including: embarrassment, not clearly understanding the legal definition of rape, not wanting to define someone they know as a rapist, self-blame, or because others blame them.”[13]

I do not argue that stranger rape is not traumatic. As we just learned, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is common among all rape survivors. However, I find the continued minimization of acquaintance rape troubling on several levels. First, acquaintance rape survivors are less likely to report their rapes because they fear judgment and skepticism. Second, these survivors are also less likely to seek support from family members and friends because the perpetrator could be a member of that circle. Finally, it contributes to an overwhelming societal tendency to blame the victim and rationalize the rape, which traumatizes the victim months and years after the incident occurred.

It is evident based on the research presented here and the testimonies of the three survivors that acquaintance rape is as severe, if not more severe, in its impact on the self of the woman who was raped. Robin Warshaw, author of I Never Called It Rape sums up the concept succinctly saying, “Acquaintance rape is a crime, and no less a crime because the perpetrator has a familiar face.”[14]

[1] The “being for itself” and “being in itself” are phrases coined by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir.

[2] Brison, S. (2001). Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[3] Beauvoir, S. (1993). The Second Sex (Everyman’s Library (Cloth)). New York: Everyman’s Library

[4] Mui, C. (2005). A Feminist-Sartrean Approach to Understanding Rape Trauma. Sartre Studies International , 11(1 &2), 153-165

[5] Sartre, J. (2007). Existentialism is a Humanism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

[6] Darnell, M. (2004). “Being-looked-at: Ontological Grounding for an Ethics in Being and Nothingness”, page 21. Sartre Studies International, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2004. Retrieved 12/3/2008 from http://search.ebscohost.com /login.aspx? direct=true&db=aph&AN=15629718&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

[7] Brison, S. in Feminists Rethink the Self (Feminist Theory and Politics Series). Oxford: Westview Press, pg. 18.

[8] Acquaintance Rape | RAINN | Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2008, from http://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/acquaintance-rape.

[9] Caron, S. (2007). Assessing the Impact of Acquaintance Rape: Interviews with Women Who Are Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault While in College. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, Vol. 22 (2): pg. 43.

[10] "Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization, 2006." Office of Justice Programs. 20 Feb. 2009 .

[11] National Center for Victims of Crime & Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center. (1992). The National Center for Victims of Crime - Home. http://www.ncvc.org/ncvc/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID=32306 (accessed February 20, 2009).

[12] Mui, C. (2005). A Feminist-Sartrean Approach to Understanding Rape Trauma. Sartre Studies International, 11(1 & 2), pg. 157.

[13] Caron, S. (2007). Assessing the Impact of Acquaintance Rape: Interviews with Women Who Are Victims/Survivors of Sexual Assault While in College. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, Vol. 22, pg. 33.

[14] Warshaw, R. I Never Called It Rape : The Ms. Report on Recognizing, Fighting, and Surviving Date Rape. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988, pg. 4.