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Acquaintance Rape

Definition:

Acquaintance assault involves coercive sexual activities that occur against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, or fear of bodily injury. These sexual activities are imposed upon them by someone they know (a friend, date, acquaintance, etc.).

Key Reminders:

  • A prior or current relationship or previous acts of intimacy are insufficient indicators of consent.
  • Verbal consent must be obtained both in each instance of sexual intimacy and as the level of sexual intimacy increases (e.g., moving from kissing to petting, from petting to oral sex, from oral sex to intercourse or anal sex, etc.).
  • Like other forms of sexual assault, acquaintance assault is motivated by a need to control, to humiliate, and to harm.

Obstacles to Coping & Recovery:

  • Common social myths (e.g. the attack was incited through suggestive dress or intimate acts such as kissing)
  • Fear of:
    1. Retaliation
    2. Subsequent harassment
    3. Future harm
    4. Harassment from family and friends of the person responsible for the assault
  • Returning to a normal routine (this is especially the case if the assailant is a part of the victim's daily routine)
  • Family/friends may blame the survivor, or, worse, they may support the assailant.

NOTE: Despite the violation and reality of physical and emotional trauma, victims of acquaintance assault often do not identify their experience as sexual assault. Instead of focusing on the violation of the sexual assault, victims of acquaintance rape often blame themselves for the assault.

Physical & Emotional Reactions:

  • Sleeping and eating disturbances
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of humiliation and self-blame
  • Nightmares
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Helplessness
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation/behavior, self-harm
  • Depression

Continued Trauma:

Because the perpetrators are known to their victims and are often someone with whom they socialize, victims of acquaintance sexual assault often have to encounter their assailants after the rape. Fear of such encounters can cause increased distress and humiliation for the victims.

Prevention:

In order to prevent acquaintance sexual assault we all need to be aware of the three stages of acquaintance rape so that, whenever possible, we can avoid or prevent such an event from occurring.

Three Stages of Acquaintance Rape:

  1. Intrusion- Attempt by the offender to violate the victim's personal space and level of comfort. May draw close by revealing personal information or through "accidental" touches and stares.
  2. Desensitization- Occurs when the victim feels comfortable with the offender and has come to regard intrusive actions as no longer or, at least less, threatening. The victim of the desensitization may feel uneasy but convinces himself or herself that the feeling is unfounded.
  3. Isolation- The offender uses the victim's trust to isolate him or her from others.

Social Norms:

Social norms put pressure on many of us to be polite and passive. Relying on these norms, many victims of such assaults may suppress feelings of fear and discomfort in an attempt not to offend. Acquaintance assault prevention demands that we set aside such social norms and listen to our instinctual sense of fear and discomfort.


Reference:
This section was adapted from materials provided by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

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