Date Rape: Perpetrators Are Seldom Strangers and Often Are Trusted Acquaintances

By Turner, Renee D. | Ebony, December 1990 | Go to article overview

Date Rape: Perpetrators Are Seldom Strangers and Often Are Trusted Acquaintances


Turner, Renee D., Ebony


THE invitation seemed innocent enough. A student Stacey Phillips had befriended at her junior college offered to come to her house to cook dinner. He was the best friend of a basketball player she had dated, a person she trusted and had turned to for advice. She had no inkling the dinner would be the prelude to a nightmare.

"We were looking at a photo album after dinner when all of a sudden he started kissing on me," says the young Southern California woman. "I said,

No! Don't do this. Don't ruin our friendship.' But he got more aggressive. I screamed and pushed." He pushed back, she told police, holding her down and sexually assaulting her.

Phillips is one of tens of thousands of Black women who say they were raped, not by a thug on the street but during a date with a friend or acquaintance. No official numbers are available on how many of the nearly 130,000 rapes a year involve women whose dates assaulted them. But a University of Arizona Medical School survey of working women and college students found that more than four of five rape victims know their attackers, and, among college rape victims, more than half were attacked by dates. And yet, for every recorded rape, an estimated three to 10 go unreported, police say.

Officials say a conspiracy of silence in Black households surrounding date rape contributes to under reporting and to vulnerability. "We are still very much rooted in the myths around sexual assault," says Phyllis Pennese, chairman of the Women of Color Caucus of the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "Our community still buys into the notion that, She went with him or she had on a tight, leather miniskirt, so she must have wanted it. "'

These arguments ignore findings that rape has nothing to do with how a woman is dressed, or that saying "yes" to a date does not mean "yes" to sex. "We have to recognize that no one invites sexual assault because rape is not about sex," Pennese adds. It's about degradation, humiliation, violence and control. "

Because of date rape misconceptions, women are repeatedly warned not to walk to their cars alone at night nor to open their doors to strangers, but rarely cautioned about the rapists in their midst. Perhaps the most be-fuddling aspect of date rape is that the typical perpetrator doesn't look like a rapist. He can be a corporate salesman or a store clerk, the friend of a friend or the neighbor down the hall.

In Cassandra Thomas' case, the man she says raped her when she was a college student was a Realtor who attended church regularly. "You always think a rapist is someone who looks weird," she says. "This man was very active in church, a pillar in the community. In my mind, it couldn't be him."

The scene of Thomas' assault 15 years ago was the house of the perpetrator. Date rape, though, is just as likely to occur in the apartment of the victim or even in a car. As with other sexual assaults, tile date rape victim is usually young-between ages 15 and 24. But in many cases, alcohol consumption is involved.

A Louisiana woman was assaulted after she accepted a ride from a man she met at a nightclub. "They had drinks and had been dancing," says Carra Sergeant, a sexual assault counselor and Louisiana State University-Eunice administrator. "She thought she was going home. But he drove her to a local parking spot. She said no' to his advances, but be was not ready to stop."

The question of consent is so perplexing that some victims don't label their assaults rape. In one of the most extensive rape studies to date-a 1984-85 survey of more than 6,100 college students from 32 campuses-1 in 12 females admitted they had been forced to have sex, but only 27 percent of them labeled it rape. One in 12 men polled admitted they'd committed acts that legally qualify as rape or rape attempts, but only I percent of them called it rape.

Pennese, the Chicago project coordinator for Rape Victim Advocates, is not surprised by the statistics.

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