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Violence against women

Sexual assault
Learn about rape trauma syndrome, date rape, and the impact of rape on relationships

Domestic violence
Learn why it happens and how to get help.

Child sexual abuse/incest
Learn how to spot child sexual abuse and how to report it.

Sexual assault

Acquaintance sexual assault/date rape

Women's Web gratefully acknowledges the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Center (UASAC) for granting us permission to repint its materials and resources on our Web site. Be sure to visit the UASAC website for additional information, resources, and link to other sites.

If you have been sexually assaulted, be sure to go immediately to your local hospital or police detachment. If you are unable to get to a hospital, call the police, your community sexual assault center, or your community's 24-hour crisis line.

Sexual assault is a serious crime. Compassionate support is available and such crimes must be reported to the police.

Acquaintance sexual assault, or date rape is just as serious and harmful as all other forms of sexual assault, and it is similar to all other forms of sexual assault in that it is motivated by power and control, not sex.

There are varying methods by which perpetrators assert their attempts for power and control. In acquaintance sexual assaults, coercion is one of the primary tools used to force sexual contact.

In fact, coercion was used in 40 percent of the sexual assaults that were reported to the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre in 1998. This is the same percentage as reported sexual assaults where physical violence was used. Because coercion is a less clear form of violence, many dismiss it as less serious. Yet, verbal and emotional threat is just as damaging and controlling as physical threat.

Coercion can take many different forms; the following are examples of coercion:

  • constantly putting pressure on someone
  • making someone feel guilty for not complying
  • threatening to withhold something or to do something to make someone comply
  • making false promises
  • being emotionally manipulative
  • using body position or physical size to imply threat

Reactions to date rape/acquaintance sexual assault

Reactions to acquaintance sexual assault vary with the individual. Yet there are some common reactions which many survivors have. For instance, many survivors of acquaintance sexual assault blame themselves for their assault(s). This is a common reaction because often the perpetrator is someone the victim trusted, and thus, she or he may question why she or he trusted that person.

In some cases of date rape, victims are—knowingly or unknowingly—given GHB or Rohypnol (commonly known as "date rape drugs") to render them unconscious.

In cases where the survivor was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the assault, he or she may feel that they are to blame because they chose to get drunk or stoned. Choosing to get drunk or stoned is not choosing to be sexually assaulted. §273.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada clearly states that one cannot consent to sexual activity if she or he is "blacked out, impaired by alcohol or narcotics, unconscious, or sleeping."

Other common reactions are changes in everyday behaviors such as eating or sleeping. Some people react by eating more than usual, and others decrease their food intake, even drastically. Some survivors start sleeping a lot more than before while others are unable to sleep well at all. Still others find it difficult to sleep at certain times of the day or are not able to get out of bed in the morning. Instead of eating more or sleeping more, some use alcohol and drugs to numb the emotional pain they have from their assault.

It is also very common for a survivor to feel unsafe and afraid more often than before. This can affect how much he/she goes out, whom he/she socializes with, if he/she goes to work or school, and so on. Another reaction to sexual assault is feeling depressed and even going into a depression. This will not only affect how he/she feels, but it will affect his/her actions and life choices.

Recovering from date rape/acquaintance sexual assault

Recovery from acquaintance sexual assault involves a complicated and multifaceted healing process. Some issues that a survivor may deal with during her/his recovery include:

Safety

It is difficult to feel safe after the betrayal of an acquaintance sexual assault. If the assault was perpetrated by a stranger, the survivor could just dismiss all strangers as dangerous, but when the perpetrator is an acquaintance, it makes the survivor feel that he/she cannot trust people close to him/her.

Trust

In an acquaintance sexual assault, the perpetrator abused the trust placed in him/her by the survivor, and thus, it is normal for the survivor to feel unsure about whom is worthy of his/her trust in the future. Thus, survivors may have a difficult time establishing new relationships, whether they are intimate ones or friendships in general.

Sexual intimacy

Survivors of sexual assault may experience problems with, or uneasiness about, sexual intimacy right after the assault or even years after. Two common adjustments that can be seen after an acquaintance sexual assault are:

Promiscuity

If sexuality has been devalued in the eyes of the survivor, or if the survivor tried to say "no" verbally or otherwise, and it did not matter, he/she may have learned not to say "no" in future sexual situations, and therefore, he/she may have an increased number of sexual partners in the period of time following the assault. In addition, the survivor may use future sexual experiences to regain a sense of control in his/her sex life.

Isolation

The survivor may withdraw from having any sexual relationships, and any opportunities toward establishing relationships. He or she may feel too frightened at the thought of an assault happening again. He/She may isolate himself/herself from social activities for fear of making a wrong decision. Survivors may feel that they can no longer trust their own judgments.

Disclosure

It is hard to know whom to trust to tell about a sexual assault. Unfortunately, many people hold attitudes and beliefs about sexual assault that are misguided and potentially damaging to the survivor, and there is no guarantee that a person the survivor chooses to disclose to will be supportive.

It is especially likely that they will not believe the survivor's disclosure if they also know the perpetrator; many people are not willing to hear that people they trust could be dangerous. Instead of seeing the incident as a sexual assault, they may lay blame on the survivor.

Since acquaintance sexual assault does not fit the stereotypical stranger sexual assault situation, many potential supporters have a difficult time seeing it as sexual assault.

On the other hand, many people make wonderful supporters, as being a great support involves listening to the survivor, believing what he/she says, and providing options for him/her by letting him/her make his/her own choices.

When choosing to whom to disclose, it can be as simple as using intuition and choosing someone who would be a good and supportive listener.

Defining the experience

Our culture and our media portray almost all sexual assaults as stranger sexual assaults. Because of this, people often think of sexual assault as forced intercourse from a stranger.

Survivors of sexual assault are not immune to this way of thinking, and thus, can sometimes neglect to define their own experience. The further their experience was from the stranger scenario, the harder it can be to define.

For example, if the assault involved alcohol, was perpetrated by a partner or close friend, and/or involved unwanted sexual touch and not forced intercourse, it could be more difficult to define the experience as acquaintance sexual assault, even though it definitely is.

Not defining the sexual assault as such can cause further confusion in the survivor's life because it leads him or her to feel as though he/she is "going crazy." By not defining the experience, survivors often do not allow themselves the space they need to heal and get frustrated when they are "not over it" already.

Minimizing and denial

Some survivors of sexual assault deny or minimize their experience by passing it off as "just a bad sexual experience." Although this is a useful coping mechanism in that it allows the survivor's life to return to some kind of normalcy, denying the experience often leads to frustration later on when establishing new relationships, as issues of trust and safety often resurface.

Sexual assault

Web resources

These are third-party resources and links will open a new browser window. As these are third-party resources, Women's Web claims no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information provided.

Men Can Stop Rape
Men Can Stop rape mobilizes male youth to prevent men's violence against women. It does this by building males' capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.

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