Monday, March 10, 2008

Crime in America: Acquaintance rape and self-defense

By George J. Bryjak

Posted on: Friday, March 7, 2008

Editor’s note: In Thursday’s part 1 of this two-part series on rape, the Enterprise regretfully forgot to mention that it would be continued today, with a list of sources for both parts at the end of this report. Part 2 is less graphic in its descriptions of these crimes than part 1, but again, we encourage discretion as it may be inappropriate for sensitive readers, including children.)

According to the United States Department of Justice, “Rape is the most common violent crime on American college campuses.” College women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and raped than women the same age who are not pursuing a university degree.

The risk of victimization is not randomly distributed, as females at some schools have a greater risk of sexual assault than females at other institutions. Schools associated with frequent, unsupervised parties, easily accessible alcohol and single students living alone are thought to have higher rates of sexual assault than institutions without these characteristics.

One study of two- and four-year schools discovered 35 rapes per 1,000 female students over a seven-month period. This translates to 350 rapes per year on a campus with 10,000 females. Approximately nine of 10 women college rape victims know their assailants. Rana Sampson, author of the USDOJ study, states the frequently used term “date rape” is inappropriate for these crimes. Rather, college “acquaintance rape” is a more accurate designation, as these incidents typically occur when two people are in the same locale: for example, at a party or studying in a dorm room.

Fewer than one in 20 college rape victims report the attack to campus police or local law enforcement personnel, although approximately two-thirds of victims confide in a friend. Among the reasons college women give for not contacting the police are:

¯embarrassment and shame

¯fear the police will not believe them

¯fear their family will learn of the attack

¯fear or reprisal from the assailant

¯self-blame for being alone with the attacker

¯their use of alcohol or drugs prior to the rape.

Many young rape victims mistakenly believe that if they did not physically resist their assailants, the sexual act was consensual. Victims of college acquaintance rape often drop out of school, fearing they will have to confront their assailants on a regular basis.

At least three drugs have been associated with sexual assault and acquaintance rape, substances that greatly reduce an individual’s ability to resist or refuse sex. These drugs typically have no distinct color, smell or taste and can be added to a victim’s drink without his or her knowledge. So called “date rape” drugs can impact victims within 10 to 20 minutes. Their potency may be facilitated by alcohol.

¯GHB, or gamma hydroxybutyric acid, can produce drowsiness, dizziness, slow heart rate, dream-like sensations and, in some cases, death.

¯Rohypnol can cause sleepiness, a feeling of drunkenness, dizziness, confusion, problems speaking and loss of consciousness. Individuals ingesting this substance often cannot remember what happened while they were drugged.

¯Ketamine can produce hallucinations, a lost sense of time and identity, out-of-body experiences, dream-like feelings and convulsions.

Women raped under the influence of these drugs may not have a clear understanding of what happened to them and, as such, are less likely to report sexual assaults to police. Because these drugs effect cognition and memory, victims who do come forward make poor witnesses, significantly reducing the chances of convicting offenders. In addition, traces of the substances typically leave the body within 72 hours and are not detected with routine toxicology and blood tests. Medical personnel not specifically looking for date-rape drugs will almost certainly miss them.


The question of how females should respond to a sexual assault suggests that individuals who resist their attackers are much less likely to be victims of a completed rape than non-resisting victims. In addition, most types of resistance are not associated with an increased risk of injury to the victim. However, there are exceptions to these findings. As one offender told A. Nicholas Groth, author of “Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender,” “When my victim screamed, I cut her throat.” The latter response is most likely to occur at the hands of a “sadistic” rapist whose primary pleasure comes from brutalizing women, torturing them in often bizarre rituals. An aggressive act of failed resistance and escape is likely to trigger an especially violent response that could result in a sexual homicide. Five percent of Groth’s subjects were sadistic rapists.

The esteemed psychologist notes that “there is no defense strategy that will work successfully for all victims, against all offenders, in all situations, and the goal of survival is more important than the goal of escape.” Other than vigilance and trusting the people one is with, there is no defense against date-rape drugs. Successfully warding off a sexual attack not only spares females from the often physically injurious effects of a rape but months if not years of emotional anguish. Rape victims have poorer mental health than women who have experienced an attempted, although not completed, sexual assault.

While the criminal justice system has more vigorously pursued and prosecuted sexual assailants over the past 30 years, feminists and women’s rights advocates correctly point out this system still has significant shortcomings. As recently as 2002, an estimated 180,000 to 500,000 “rape kits” across the country had not been processed by law enforcement agencies. Rape kits consist of the material — seminal fluid and pubic hair, for example — taken from victims after the attack. Obviously this material is crucial in obtaining sexual-assault convictions. Speaking of the unexamined rape kits, Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden noted that “the cause of this backlog seems to be pretty straightforward — woefully inadequate funding and understaffing in forensic laboratories. And the result of the backlog is clear — justice delayed and sometimes denied.”

Now retired after teaching sociology at the University of San Diego for 24 years, George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale. The Enterprise “Crime in America” series is adapted from “Myths and Realities of Crime and Justice: What Every American Should Know,” George J. Bryjak and Steve E. Barkan, forthcoming 2008, Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Sources for parts 1 and 2 of this Crime in America series on rape:

Benedict, H. (1992) “Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Depicts Sex Crimes,” New York: Oxford University Press

Bergen, R.K. (February 2006) “Marital Rape: New Research Directions,” National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women,

Campbell, J.C. (1989) “Women’s Responses to Sexual Abuse in Intimate Relationships,” Health Care for Women International, No. 10, pp. 335-346

Cantalupe, J. (Jan. 23, 2003) “Rape Evidence Sits Unprocessed,” San Diego Union-Tribune

Groth, A.N. (1979) “Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender.” New York: Plenum Books

Hazlewood, R. and J. Warren (February 1990) “The Criminal Behavior of the Serial Rapist,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, pp. 11-16

“Marital Rape” (2007) Abuse Counseling and Treatment Inc. p. 2

National Crime Victimization Survey (2005-2006) U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics,

Sampson, R. (2002) “Acquaintance Rape of College Students,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services,

Van Hasselt, V.B. (1988) “The Handbook of Family Violence,” New York Plenum Books

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