You think it will never happen to you. But the truth is one out of every four women is a victim of rape or attempted rape and 84 percent of those women know their attacker. *
Carleton University Equity Services defines acquaintance rape as sexual intercourse that is forced, manipulated or coerced by a partner, friend or acquaintance. Acquaintance rape is more common than anticipated, so niNe. went to the experts at Denver’s Rape Assistance and Awareness Program (RAAP) for answers to the tough questions.
How do I know I’ve been raped?
After acquaintance rape, many girls wonder if they were actually raped. Dr. Sherri Vanino, Director of Victims Services at RAAP, said part of this uncertainty is caused by “rape myths.” Many girls have a conception of “stranger rape” that simply isn’t true. So if they’re raped by someone they know, they wonder whether it was rape or just miscommunication. In reality, the majority of rapes are pre-planned, not miscommunications, so girls should check in with themselves and ask, “Was I a willing participant in this? Did I want to be a part of this?” Just because you didn’t say “No,” doesn’t mean you wanted to have sex. It’s hard to believe that rape happened, and many girls feel completely taken advantage of and worthless. But, God made you beautiful and incredibly valuable. You’re worth so much to Him, and that will never change.
Why did he think it was O.K.?
Ryan Lusk, a Community Educator at RAAP, said he’s not sure whether the guys who commit acquaintance rape ever think it’s O.K., but knows that hypermasculinity (the exaggeration of stereotypical male behavior) is often the reason for their attack. The most important thing to hypermasculine guys is being perceived as a man, and they believe the way they prove their manhood is by having sex with women. When a girl refuses a guy’s sexual advances, it affects his pride, so he turns to rape as an outlet for the anger he feels from being denied. Lusk also said men are socialized into thinking they can dominate women, and this message is reinforced by movies and music.
Was it my fault?
“It’s a scary thing to realize that [the situation is] out of your control, that the world really is a scary place,” Vanino said. “Women and girls are socialized to be nice and examine their behavior, so it’s natural for women to wonder what they did wrong.”
Crystal Middlestadt, RAAP’s Personal Safety Skills Coordinator for Women and Girls, said self-blame comes from wanting a sense of control. Vanino agreed, saying it’s easier for girls to blame themselves and vow to never behave in a certain way again. Doing so gives them a sense of power over their environment. For example, a girl might say, “It’s my fault because I was drunk, so I’ll never drink again.”
Rape is never the victim’s fault and cannot be excused. Even if girls choose to venture into dangerous territories like drinking at a party, wearing revealing outfits or walking alone at night, rape is never excusable. Vanino also emphasized that rape myths fuel self-blame. Society perpetuates the myth that if a rape victim had chosen to behave “correctly,” she would never have been raped.
You’re responsible for the decisions you make, so don’t use these choices as an excuse to behave inappropriately. Exercise this right responsibly, and be discerning with your actions. You’re the only one who knows the intimate details of your situation. If you’ve been raped, be honest with yourself and speak the truth. You did not deserve what happened to you.
How can I protect myself?
Perpetrators look for specific behaviors and often perform something called grooming, when they test a victim’s boundaries to see how much they can get away with. Lusk said acquaintance rape often happens to people who appear vulnerable, so someone who exhibits confidence and reasserts her boundaries is a less likely target.
Middlestadt said it’s important to trust your instincts. Develop a buddy system and be willing to remove yourself from the situation and risk disapproval from your friends to protect yourself. And if you choose to take risks such as drinking, know your tolerance, set boundaries and be aware of your surroundings.
“Alcohol gives people an excuse to act inappropriately,” said Middlestadt. So if someone who’s drinking makes an inappropriate comment, don’t brush it off. Stop it when it starts.
Acquaintance rape often happens to people who appear vulnerable, so someone who exhibits confidence and reasserts her boundaries is a less likely target.
I’ve been raped. What do I do?
1.) Think safety.
Make sure you’re physically safe and that the perpetrator is no longer around. If the perpetrator is still present, ask a trusted friend to help you leave the premise and stay with you until you feel like you are no longer threatened. While making your way to safety, consider the location of exits and what type of transportation you have accessible. Note the location of your cell phone and keys. Be conscious of places the perpetrator frequents in case they begin to search for you.
2.) Don’t disturb evidence.
Before you report the rape, don’t bathe, douche, smoke or brush your teeth. Make sure to have the evidence collected within 72 hours. Go to any hospital where nurses can collect evidence (using supplies called a rape kit) and give you prophylactic (a morning-after pill) and medicine to prevent STDs.
3.) Get support.
If you haven’t already, accept what happened to you and stop keeping it a secret. Please, don’t allow this traumatic occurrence to take more from you than it already has. Realize you’re not alone and you don’t have to suffer in silence. Vanino said one of the most devastating aspects of a trauma like rape is isolation, because it can create long-term emotional damage. Finding support will help you with the healing process. Vanino emphasized the importance of receiving professional help, but said seeking support is an individual’s preference. Consider who’ll be most supportive of your situation, whether it’s your friend, family, church or a rape hotline. If you don’t know who to reach out to, ask God to reveal someone to you. He’ll prepare his or her heart to hear your pain. If you’re frightened to seek professional help, God will give you the strength you need to pursue that help. Also, ask God to help you come to the place where you can forgive the person who hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what this person did to you was okay, but it’ll help you find freedom and healing so you can continue moving forward with your life.
Realize you’re not alone and you don’t have to suffer in silence.
Understand what you’re going through.
Vanino said it’s common for victims of sexual assault to say, “I think I am going crazy,” because they can experience such a range of emotions. Common reactions or symptoms include sleeping problems, nightmares, difficulty eating or eating disorders, intrusive thoughts (thinking about the assault all the time), flashbacks, irritability, the urge to avoid anything that reminds you of the attack, difficulty concentrating, suicidal thoughts, crying, depression, panic or panic attacks, cutting or burning and being jumpy or fearful. Vanino emphasized that these symptoms are all normal reactions to trauma, so never be ashamed to ask for help. Professional help is the best way to shine light on the subject, but if you choose to not seek help, Vanino recommended researching the effects of sexual trauma. Check out resources on the Internet or in books to understand how you feel and how you can cope. It’s never to late to seek help, even if the attack happened years ago. God’s the ultimate healer, so give Him your pain, anger, hurt and frustration. His heart is broken for you and He’s crying with you. He will give you the strength and courage to find the healing you deserve. Healing from this type of trauma takes time, so take time to take care of you.
Call the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673). Friendly and helpful staff members will route your call to the nearest rape crisis center.
For more information please visit RAINN’s website.
* Information taken from I Never Called It Rape by Robin Warshaw
Inspiration for text came from Life, In Spite of Me: Extraordinary Hope After a Fatal Choice” by Kristen Jane Anderson, founder of Reaching You Ministries.