What Is “Rape”, And What Isn’t?

Ken AshfordCrime, Women's IssuesLeave a Comment

Apparently, some men still need training on this relatively simple matter. 

Let's compare two similar scenarios.

In the first, Stacy is a college freshman.  She goes to a fraternity party and meets Derek, a sophomore at the same college.  The pair hit it off.  It's a college party, and alcohol is consumed.  Stacy, impaired by alcohol, and Derek, who has also been drinking, find an empty dorm room.  Stacy flirtatiously takes off her clothes — the two have sex.  The next morning, Stacy wakes up and regrets what has happened.

The second scenario is exactly the same, EXCEPT Derek initiates the sex, and Stacy, coming in and out of consciousness, is simply too drunk to resist.

Surprising, an astonishing number of college males don't see much difference between the two.  BOTH scenarios, in their mind, are not rape.

How do we know?  This NPR story today tells us:

There's a common assumption about men who commit sexual assault on a college campus: That they made a one-time, bad decision. But psychologist David Lisak says this assumption is wrong —-and dangerously so.

Lisak started with a simple observation. Most of what we know about men who commit rape comes from studying the ones who are in prison. But most rapes are never reported or prosecuted. So Lisak, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, set out to find and interview men he calls "undetected rapists." Those are men who've committed sexual assault, but have never been charged or convicted.

He found them by, over a 20-year period, asking some 2,000 men in college questions like this: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?"

Or: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn't want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn't cooperate?"

About 1 in 16 men answered "yes" to these or similar questions.


It might seem like it would be hard for a researcher to get these men to admit to something that fits the definition of rape. But Lisak says it's not. "They are very forthcoming," he says. "In fact, they are eager to talk about their experiences. They're quite narcissistic as a group — the offenders — and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag."

What Lisak found was that students who commit rape on a college campus are pretty much like those rapists in prison. In both groups, many are serial rapists. On college campuses, repeat predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.

And these offenders on campuses — just like men in prison for rape — look for the most vulnerable women. Lisak says that on a college campus, the women most likely to be sexually assaulted are freshmen.

"It's quite well-known amongst college administrators that first-year students, freshman women, are particularly at risk for sexual assault," Lisak says. "The predators on campus know that women who are new to campus, they are younger, they're less experienced. They probably have less experience with alcohol, they want to be accepted. They will probably take more risks because they want to be accepted. So for all these reasons, the predators will look particularly for those women."

Still, Lisak says these men don't think of themselves as rapists. Usually they know the other student. And they don't use guns or knives.

"The basic weapon is alcohol," the psychologist says. "If you can get a victim intoxicated to the point where she's coming in and out of consciousness, or she's unconscious — and that is a very, very common scenario — then why would you need a weapon? Why would you need a knife or a gun?"

Sex without consent is rape, period.  It doesn't matter if it was forced by a knife or a gun.  Alcohol, too, is a weaon for committing rape.  And as the above story shows, even the perpetrators themselves don't belief that unforced rape is "rape", which is probably why they are repeat offenders.

What's really scary is that the myth goes beyond the rape perpetrators themselves:

At Texas A&M, Elton Yarbrough was a promising student. Then he was linked to five rapes.

The first woman went to the student health center. She says that as staffers did a rape examination, one asked, "Well, were you drunk?" The woman felt she was being blamed. Because of that — and because she'd considered herself a friend of Yarbrough's — she didn't report the assault to campus police.

Here we have a rape examiner insinuating that victim bore some blame with the old chestnut: "Well, you were drunk". 

Happily, the subject of this part of the story, Elton Yarborough, was convicted of rape, but it wasn't until the fifth victim came forward that the campus authorities realized they had a problem.  But on college campsuses, this isn't always the case.  (Another story here)

To me, the "rule" is pretty bright-line.  If the woman does not give her consent, either because she says "no" or because she is too impaired to say anything, it's rape.  Not a very hard rule to understand, or to follow.  Why can't universities make this clear to their students?  And why can't they strictly enforce this rule?


Tickets: $10
Tickets can be purchased at the door or you can make reservations by calling the number below. Cash or check only please.

Info Phone: (336) 687-1319

Performances are March 12, 25, 27 @ 8p
Open Space Cafe Theatre
4609 West Market Street Greensboro, NC 27407