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The Impact of Acquaintance Rape for Female College Students

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Acquaintance rape, commonly referred to as "date rape," is sweeping across college campuses throughout the United States. Described as nonconsensual sexual contact achieved by force, manipulation or coercion between two people who know each other, it is a form of sexual violence that had been given little attention prior to the 1980's. Recent studies indicate that one in four female college students will be the victim of acquaintance rape at some time during four years of college making it the fastest growing crime against females in college institutions. However, because there are widespread false impressions among all college students that acquaintance rape does not exist, is not "really rape" or is not a serious crime, many believe that it is not as traumatic to the victim as rape by someone unknown to them. These erroneous beliefs often leave the victims of acquaintance rape more devastated than the rape action itself. The purpose of this paper is to examine the facts surrounding female acquaintance rape on college campuses and the role that crisis intervention techniques play in the recovery from an experience that many experts describe as crippling.

The Impact of Acquaintance Rape for Female College Students

Every two minutes someone in the United States is raped, and the chance of the victim being a female college student is four times greater than that of any other demographic (Burnett et al., 2009). Research and documentation confirms that college campuses are hotbed environments for rape, and that sexual assault is a considerable problem. In fact, a study conducted by Fisher, Cullen and Turner (2000) found that 1 in every 36 female college students were the victim of an attempted or completed rape act within one academic school year. Another study conducted by Fisher, Cullen, and Turner discovered that approximately 33% of all female students will be the victim of a sexual assault by their senior year of college. Even more disturbing, research has shown that college females are more likely to be raped by someone known to them than by a stranger (United States Department of Justice, 2010). This phenomenon is known as acquaintance or date rape. Specifically, acquaintance rape is a forced sexual assault that is committed by an individual whom is known to the victim. Research (Anderson, 2007; Masser, Lee, & McKimmie, 2010; McMahon, 2010; Paul, Gray, Elhai & Davis, 2009) indicates that when most people think of rape, they see images of a frightening stranger, brandishing a weapon of some sort and a provocatively dressed woman foolishly walking alone down a dark alley. They go on to picture a man filled with such an intense rage and violence that it ultimately leaves the women physically bruised and battered. They vision the woman fighting and resisting the attack with every ounce of strength that she has in her body. This notion has been condemned by experts and labeled as "the stereotypical rape scenario" (Anderson; Masser, Lee, & McKimmie; McMahon; Paul, Gray, Elhai & Davis). In reality, most rapes are committed in an environment in which the victims feel comfortable, and by a person whom they know and trust (Anderson, 2007; Burnett et al., 2009). According to research, 90% of rapes committed on colleges are categorized as an acquaintance rape in which the offender has been identified as a boyfriend, a professor, a supervisor or a recent social contact (United States Department of Justice).

Although sexual aggression towards women by someone who is known to them has been well-documented for quite some time, prior to the 1980's little was known about acquaintance rape as it was rarely discussed in local or national media outlets (Anderson, 2007). Beginning in the late 1980's, female activists on college campuses sought to change the public's perception of the typical attacker and rape scenario. Based on a 1987 study conducted by University of Arizona Medical School professor Mary Koss that determined that 80% of sexual encounters on college campuses met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, they fought to expand the definition to include situations that involved coercive tactics that would persuade females to have a sexual encounter against their will, and situations that involved female who had been violated while intoxicated (Benson, Gohm, & Gross, as cited by Burnett et al., 2009). As a result, the term "acquaintance rape" was coined to offer women a new way to describe sexual assaults that were far more common than and just as devastating as the widely accepted stranger rape.

Despite its long history, the fight by determined feminists and the ever-increasing statistical data, the concept of acquaintance rape did not penetrate the consciousness of American society until 1991 during the trial of William Kennedy Smith. Smith, the nephew of Senator Edward Kennedy, was accused of rape by a single mother whom he had met in a club earlier in the evening. Following several drinks the pair left the club together at which time she accepted an invitation to return with Smith to the multi-million dollar Kennedy compound. The evening quickly turned into a controversial event as the woman alleged that Smith immediately attacked and raped her on the lawn of the Kennedy estate. Although Smith vehemently denied the allegations and described the sexual encounter as consensual, charges of sexual battery were brought against him. Millions of Americans were glue to their televisions to watch the highly anticipated ten-day trial. Heated debate about the validity of acquaintance rape could be heard throughout the country. On one hand, there were those who argued that the woman knew exactly what she was getting into when she left the club with him in a drunken stupor, or she had ulterior motives once she discovered he was a member of the Kennedy clan. On the other side of the argument, there were those who held steadfast in the notion that just because she left the bar with him and may have been drunk, it did not give him the right to assault her. Many even argued that although Smith claimed it was consensual, she was unable to give consent since she was under the influence of alcohol. Others would simply counter that he was just as inebriated so they should both be held accountable for anything that had transpired on that night. In the end, even with the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, William Kennedy Smith was acquitted of all charges on December 12, 1991. The nation was divided; some agreed with the verdict and some did not. One thing that was certain, the matter of acquaintance rape was undoubtedly known by mainstream America.

The introduction of the so-called



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