Date Rape: A Hidden Crime

By Russo, Laura | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, June 2000 | Go to article overview
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Date Rape: A Hidden Crime


Russo, Laura, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


Despite an increasing awareness of the problem of sexual violence, there is still reluctance in some quarters for date rape to be considered criminal or even unacceptable behaviour. This is due partly to the hidden nature of the crime and the complicated issue of sexual consent. Numerous Australian women have experienced date rape. This paper outlines the main issues underlying date rape. Because of low-reporting, it is difficult to establish an accurate measure of the extent of the problem, thus reducing the possibility of identifying appropriate responses for prevention and for treatment of victims and perpetrators. Victims who do not recognise forced sex as unacceptable are unlikely to seek help, despite the potential impact of date rape being just as severe and traumatic as other types of rape. This paper discusses prevention measures that range from a change in the formulation of Rohypnol, which has been misused as a "date rape drug", through to a description of school and community activities concerned with the prevention of violence.

Adam Graycar

Director

Date rape is a controversial and ambiguous crime. There has been much debate regarding the definition, prevalence, and importance of date rape in the past twenty years. This uncertainty is evident in the attitudes of date rape victims/survivors and offenders, of professionals in the criminal justice system, and in the wider community. Rape in marriage was only criminalised in the 1970s. This is a reflection of the tolerance in our society towards rape in intimate relationships. Very few cases of date or marital rape are prosecuted in court.

This paper provides an overview of date rape, including what is known of its incidence in Australia, factors that contribute to its occurrence, why it is a hidden crime, its impact on victims, and responses to it, including prevention strategies. The paper also aims to increase the level of understanding of complex issues such as sexual consent and the underlying causes of sexual violence such as prevailing attitudes about sexuality and gender roles.

What is Date Rape?

The term "rape" has (largely) been replaced in Australian legal terminology with the term "sexual assault". Sexual assault includes any sexual activity carried out against the will of the victim through the use of violence, coercion or intimidation, even if it did not end in penetration (ABS 1996). Sexual assault is a criminal offence.

Date rape is a type of sexual assault where the victim and the offender are in, or have been in, some form of personal social relationship, ranging from a first date to an established relationship. Date rape may be easily recognised as "rape", or it may involve coercive sex that has left the victim feeling confused and traumatised. Victims of date rape often experience emotional but not physical injury (Bechofer and Parrot 1991). Date rape is not a legal term, and is sometimes referred to as "relationship rape" in the Australian literature.

Measuring the Incidence of Date Rape

It is difficult to accurately estimate the incidence of date rape, which as other forms of acquaintance rape, is a very much underreported crime. Some indication of the extent of date rape in Australia can be found in sexual assault statistics that specify the relationship between the victim and the offender. The most recent official sexual assault statistics available include police records published in Recorded Crime, Australia (ABS 1999b), the results of national crime victim surveys published as Crime and Safety Australia (ABS 1999a) and Women's Safety Australia, 1996 (ABS 1996).

There are, however, some limitations with the available statistics. Police statistics in Recorded Crime underestimate the incidence of sexual assault. According to the recent Crime and Safety Survey, only about 30 per cent of female sexual assault victims in 1998 reported the incident to the police (ABS 1999a).

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