Is date rape different from rape by a stranger?

Elsewhere in this node it’s stated that date rape is an American concept. This may be so, but if it is, it shouldn’t be. There are differences between date-rape and rape by a stranger or antagonistic acquaintance. I’m not talking about differences of effect on the victim1but rather of motivation on the part of the rapist.

People often say that rape isn’t a sex crime, and as far as rape by a stranger is concerned I believe that to be wholly true. Most often it’s called a crime of violence, which relates to the means rather than the reasons for the crime – this muddies the water; I prefer to call it an ‘act of violence’, but a ‘crime of power or hatred’.

Why? Well, basically, I find it hard to believe that any human male 2 is ever so aroused by the sheer sight and presence of another person that they are driven by a sexual urge to penetrate them. Humans don’t mate in the same way or under the same constraints and impulses as dogs, horses or other seasonal creatures. Personal attraction is a key element in the human mating urge. That’s simple fact, not opinion. That being the case, the motivation to rape someone you don’t know or like must, necessarily, be primarily something other than sexual, and given the dominant nature of the rapist over their victim, exercise of power/expression of hatred seems to be the most logical impulse.

In date rape, however, I don’t think we can dismiss the sexual motivation, since it’s been made explicit by the perpetrator openly expressing a sexual interest in their victim, prior to any assault, and had that interest acknowledged (and to an extent encouraged) by the victim agreeing to a date. It is logical to assume that the reason for forcing intercourse in this case, by whatever means, is primarily concerned with consummating this expressed sexual desire, in the face of rejection (or, in the case of drugging the victim, to avoid the possibility of rejection).3.

Why does this matter? Because it changes the way in which a potential victim needs to act to protect themselves. In some ways it becomes easier, in others, more difficult. How to avoid date rape has some good tips for protecting yourself, but it is strongly aimed at youngsters, assumes that date rape is a heterosexual crime, and fails to be explicit enough about some of the ‘hows’.

So, what’s easier in protecting myself from date rape?

Hey – you know this guy is interested in you, right? Therefore, if you are in any doubt about your interest in him, you can take responsibility for staying in control of yourself.

Take it easy on the drinks, for a start. If you allow yourself to become so drunk that you can’t clearly vocalise a ‘no’, there will always be a doubt as to whether the other person can have reasonably assumed consent. Now, I don’t have a lot of respect for people who take advantage of another person’s drunkenness – I believe before proceeding with sex both partners should both be looking for a clear ‘yes’ from the other person, rather than an absence of ‘no’, but I don’t call it rape. We can’t expect other people to take responsibility for our decisions, so we need to stay in a state that we can make them for ourselves.

Drugs are an entirely different matter, but a little healthy paranoia at the start of a relationship doesn’t go amiss – taking your drinks from the bar-tender yourself, either finishing them or taking them with you if you have to go somewhere away from your date, rather than leaving them standing, asking for a clean glass if yours has been unattended, staying with somebody while they make coffee at the end of the evening are all actions that can be achieved subtly, and will go a long way towards preventing you imbibing anything you didn’t want to along with your drink.

It’s also relatively easy, especially early in a relationship, to suggest double-dates, which provide you with an element of back-up and additional protection.

Okay, what’s harder?

Well, first of all, you probably wouldn’t be dating the guy in the first place unless you liked them and were attracted to them, so you’ve accepted a part of their interest, and indicated a level of reciprocation. This sets up expectations.

If you are getting along well, it’s more likely than not that at some point you are going to end up alone together, there’s a better than average chance that they will be physically stronger than you are, and you may be a fair way along in the ‘making out’ process before you decide that your answer to sex is ‘no’ – getting out of the situation instantly, if they decide to ignore that ‘no’, may be difficult, or even impossible.

The longer a relationship continues, the more expectations are set up, and the less precautions are followed. This is obvious, and right -- after all the main reason for continuing a ‘romantic’ relationship with another person should be, in all fairness, that you believe yourself to be moving (however slowly) towards sex - nonetheless risks increase, as you lose the natural wariness of strangers that everyone has.

There unfortunately aren’t any cast iron answers for these ‘harder’ elements. If there were, date rape wouldn’t happen. The best you can do is keep your guard up as much as possible, without letting suspicion destroy a potentially great relationship.

Was what happened to me really date rape?4

  • If you were under the influence of drugs administered by any person other than yourself, and these prevented you from expressing refusal or consent, it was rape.
  • If you clearly said no to sex, at any point, it was rape. This includes any other clear refusal such as ‘don’t’, ‘stop’, ‘enough’, ‘I don’t want to’, or actively struggling, you don’t need to have specifically used the n-word. There is no excuse for continuing with sex after a clear signal of refusal from the other party – it doesn’t matter how far you’ve gone, until consensual penetration occurs, either party has the right to call a halt – gentlemen, you may not like this, but “I was too turned on, I couldn’t stop myself “ just doesn’t cut it. As my husband says --you have hands, if you really need to climax, use them .
  • Not wanting sex doesn’t make having sex rape, however, if you didn’t clearly express your lack of desire and refusal. Stopping being actively involved, or whispering “I’m not sure…” maybe should give your partner cause for concern and make them hesitate, but if they had reason to believe you were consenting until that point, you must be clear that you’ve changed your mind. If you aren’t, it isn’t rape. Shit happens, and regretting it after the fact doesn’t mean you can blame someone else for it.

But date rape isn’t as bad as real rape, is it?

Of course it is. It isn’t more serious to steal a stranger’s purse than it is to steal a friend’s so why should it be assumed that it’s less serious or traumatic to be raped by a person you know and may have been attracted to than by someone you don’t know or don’t like?

Both experiences are extremely traumatic for the victim, physically and emotionally. My work as a rape counsellor has indicated that the greater fear generally present in ‘stranger rape’ is offset by the violation of trust in date rape and a higher incidence of self-doubt and self-blame. Victims of either crime are profoundly affected by it, and the effects are long term.

The only real differences between one crime and the other are those set out above.

  1. Victim, in this context, indicates only ‘the person against whom a crime has been committed’. No judgement as to effect is meant or implied.
  2. I define rape here as forced penetration, and therefore hugely more commonly a male crime than a female one. This doesn’t deny the existence or significance of sexual crimes committed by woman on men or other women, just states that these are not what I’m discussing in this write-up
  3. There’s a third area between rape and date rape, where the rapist knows and is sexually attracted to the victim, but doesn’t express it openly – the stalker/rapist. The motivation in this case is dual - power and sex. The power element is clear in the fact that the rapist doesn’t give the victim an opportunity to reject him, retaining all power in the ‘relationship’ for himself. This case must be considered rape, rather than date rape, both in terms of self-protection and because the power element is primary – rejection is assumed but disregarded, an exercise of power.
  4. This list is what I, as an experienced counsellor, consider to be a fair and equitable social definition of rape, taking into account the rights and responsibilities of both parties, the relative levels of distress exhibited in different situations, and what would be likely to get a conviction for rape in the majority of developed countries. Many jurisdictions have more stringent legal definitions of what constitutes rape (for instance not differentiating between who administered drugs or alcohol if a person was incapable, through their use, of giving informed consent), up to and including refusing to withdraw on request even after consensual penetration. Both men and women should make themselves aware of what the law in their area says.