BY: TAYLOR PETTIT
“Stranger Danger” and the fear of being raped in a violent way by a stranger comes up as one of the top fears, as listed in a TIME poll.
Only 16 percent of rapes are committed by the unknown.
“As we know most rapes are acquaintance rapes,” said Dr. Lisa Day, director of the Women and Gender Studies program.
“The whole stranger-in-the-bush idea of rape is much, much less common,” Day said.
According to the National Victim Center, 84 percent of victims of rape or sexual assault know their attacker.
Day said this doesn’t just mean they exchanged names at a party; many of these attacks happen between friends, co-workers and within relationships.
In eight out of 10 cases, the victim knew the attacker, according to the National Institute of Justice.
So, if rape isn’t the random act of violence, what is it?
“It is any sexual act forced upon a person,” Day said.
This doesn’t just mean vaginal penetration by a male against a female. This includes any and all other forms of penetration, unwanted touching, fondling or groping, including within same-sex scenarios.
Although the law may define the situation differently depending on the details, unwanted contact still deserves to be treated as a crime, Day said.
In a recent survey by the Center for Disease Control, 20 percent of college women surveyed said they had been coerced or forced into sex at least once during college.
For men, the numbers hover around 3 percent. But of that number, only about a third report the attack, according to a National Crime Victimization survey.
Brent Shannon, a Women and Gender Studies professor, said so few victims report often because of internal fears; not because they weren’t really raped.
“It becomes the fear of being that girl, or guy, who was raped,” he said.
Shannon said the fear of “crying rape” may also play a role.
“I think that there is this fear of ‘Did I not say no enough?’ or ‘Did I not fight back hard enough,’ Shannon said. “But in reality, any form of saying no, that can be body language or verbalizing, it is not consent.”
Eight percent of reported rapes are falsely reported, according to the FBI who tracked the number of people who reported rapes and were then prosecuted under laws that ban falsely reporting crimes.
But it may not be completely internalized; survivors often cite they were “persuaded” not to report or press charges by friends and family.
“It can be friends who say things that downgrade the seriousness of the situation,” Day said.
This can include comments pointing out that the victim may have been attracted to her attacker or had been drinking.
“There is this feeling of shame,” Shannon said. “I refuse to believe that any victim deserved or asked for what happened to them. I refuse to validate that belief.”
“Jody Smith,” a victim of sexual assault who asked to remain anonymous, said comments made about rape are enough to instill a sense of shame.
“If you’re sitting around with your friends, and they are talking about ‘some drunk slut,’ you may be sitting there thinking that you better not say anything,” she said. The sense of shame of being the ‘drunk slut’ may be enough to silence a victim.
Day said many survivors might deal with some of these feelings after contacting police, causing them to retract their statements.
“Just because a victim chooses not to prosecute doesn’t mean something didn’t happened,” she said.
According to statistics released by the FBI, a woman in college is more likely to be raped than a woman of the same age, race and socio-economic status who is not in college.
Day explained rape culture, plays a large role in why sexual assault is more likely to occur in college.
Our culture trivializes rape in our language such “I just raped that test!, or romanticizes it like in Gone With The Wind as Scarlett is carried up the stairs kicking and screaming. Cut to her gazing lovingly out the window the next day, Day explained.
But the “YOLO” (you only live once) climate of college may also contribute.
According to a recent survey, 72 percent of victims said they, and often attackers, had binge-drank before the incident.
Binge-drinking can be defined in numerous ways, but is most commonly associated with drinking fast and steady until memory becomes sketchy and often reaches far past the legal limit.
“If you can’t drive a car, you can’t consent to sex,” Day said.
Shannon said he realizes college students do drink and they incorporate drinking into meeting new people; but it doesn’t excuse pressuring someone into doing something they don’t want to do.
“There is a way to gauge the temperature,” he said, suggesting to ask if their partner is “cool with this?” in the moment.
The issue doesn’t only fall on drinking – sometimes the blame simply falls on the context of the situation.
“I do think theme parties play a big role,” Day said. “With parties like CEOs and corporate hoes, it creates a hostile environment. Take a look around, are the men wearing their underwear in public?”
Prison and Consequences
With only a third of all rapes and sexual assaults reported and prosecuted, the numbers for rapists and attackers who see jail time is even lower.
According to a National Crime Victimization Survey, only about 5 percent of reported attackers see prison time; meaning 95 percent of attackers see no punishment.
Shannon said he thinks part of the problem lies with the bystanders.
“I hate to say it, but a number of my male students have said they have been at parties and seen situations where someone may have been coming on too strong,” Shannon said. “But they don’t say anything. They don’t want to cock-block.”
Day said this issue could be traced back to the stranger-in-the bush myth.
“People are too smug. They are too complacent. They don’t consider all the possible scenarios of rape,” she said. “So many of them just never cross the street,” as she gestures to the Eastern Department.