Non-stranger rape is a form of sexual assault involving coercive sexual activities perpetrated by an individual known to the rape survivor. The perpetrator is almost always a man, and though both men and women can be raped, women are most often the targets of this violence. It is difficult, because of a lack of research on the subject and the tendency for rape survivors not to report attacks, to come up with precise statistics on male survivors. However, men are raped by other men and are also survivors of sexual violence. Non-stranger rape can happen to or be perpetrated by anyone. Incidences are very high: they comprise from fifty to seventy-five percent of all reported rapes. However, even these figures are not reliable. According to conservative FBI statistics, only three and a half to ten percent of all forms of rape are even reported.
Non-stranger rape is quite prevalent on campuses. One in four college women has been raped; that is, has been forced, physically or verbally, actively or implicitly, to engage in sexual activity. A 1985 study revealed that ninety percent of college rape survivors knew their attacker before the incident.
If a person says no and is still coerced or forced into having sex, then a rape has occurred.
Many times women or men who have been raped by a non-stranger do not view the assault as a rape. They may experience some or all of the symptoms of rape trauma stemming from the violation of the body and the betrayal of someone known to them, but still may not consider the incident rape. Some symptoms of rape trauma include sleep disturbances, eating pattern disturbances, mood swings, feelings of humiliation and self-blame, nightmares, anger, fear of sex, and difficulty in trusting others. Often, especially in a college situation, the rape survivor and the attacker live near each other or may see each other every day. This can be particularly stressful to the survivor because the perpetrator may see the rape as a conquest or "just a mistake." Bystanders and friends of both people may not view the incident as the rape it is and consequently will not lend the survivor the support needed. Friends of the survivor may misinterpret the incident and feel that somehow the rape was deserved or that the survivor "asked for it" by wearing a miniskirt or getting drunk. Some people may belittle the survivor's traumatic experience, saying things such as, "She liked the guy anyway, so what's the big deal?" These attitudes that blame the survivor, some say, are embedded in our culture and help to perpetuate violence against women and sexual violence such as date and acquaintance rape. Survivors, living and learning in this culture, may also accept "explanations" of "why it isn't rape," although they have been inwardly traumatized.
There are many organizations which are designed especially to support rape survivors, give referrals, and talk about concerns they may have. All services are confidential.
Unfortunately, non-consensual sexual contact occurs all too frequently during the college years. Sexual assault can happen to both males and females. However, over 90% of people who are sexually assaulted are female. Statistics suggest that 1 in 8 college women have been sexually assaulted. However, it is difficult to determine with certainty the actual incidence of sexual assault because most women do not report what happened to campus security, school administrators, or police. In fact, many women never tell anyone about the assault, and are left to cope with the emotional consequences alone. Unfortunately, avoiding seeking help from others limits recovery and healing from the trauma of a sexual assault.
Non-stranger rape, in which a woman is assaulted by someone known to her, is by far the most common kind of sexual assault for both college-aged women and women in general. It is estimated that 85% of women who have been sexually assaulted know their assailant. For college women, a potential assailant may be a man she meets on campus or through friends, someone she encountered at a bar or party, or a current or ex-boyfriend. In many cases, substance use, especially alcohol, plays a role in sexual assault. Estimates are that 3 out of 4 men who assault a woman, and 1 in 4 women who are assaulted were drinking or using drugs at the time of the assault. Alcohol use increases the likelihood of assault in part because intoxication contributes to poor communication about sexual intention and expectations. A man may also wrongly assume that a woman is automatically sexually “available” when there is alcohol involved. Sexual assault also may result from an assailant taking advantage of a woman’s diminished capacity to set limits or protect herself when she has been drinking.
For a woman who has been sexually assaulted, these kinds of justifications can be confusing and difficult to reconcile with her own experience of violation, betrayal, and serious emotional and physical pain. To recover, she must recognize that situational circumstances (e.g. being drunk, losing one’s friends, going off alone or getting a ride from him, having her dinner paid, having had previous consensual sex with him) do not mean she asked for or deserved to be sexually assaulted.
Emotional Consequences of Sexual Assault
Women who have been sexually assaulted typically experience symptoms of emotional trauma. Each woman’s response to sexual assault will differ depending on individual circumstances, prior history of sexual assault or other types of trauma, and her typical style of coping. The following emotional consequences of sexual assault are common, and are expected reactions to a traumatic event:
- Shock or Numbness
After being sexually assaulted, many women initially experience emotional shock and numbness. Common reactions to sexual assault include feeling emotionally detached, feeling confused and in a state of disbelief. A woman is likely to feel that something very wrong has happened, but does not yet know how to understand or make sense of what occurred. It is also common to experience difficulty keeping track of time, making it to class and keeping appointments.
- Fear and Anxiety
Feelings of fear and anxiety typically occur after a sexual assault. A woman who is sexually assaulted may fear encountering her assailant, and may experience intense distress at reminders of the assault. She may also have more general fears, such as fearing men, being afraid of being alone, or just feeling afraid much of the time without obvious cause. It is also common to feel keyed up and nervous, to experience panic attacks, or to be unable to sit through class or interact with others. Some women may cope by appearing outwardly calm and controlled, but underneath feel very distressed.
- Reliving the Memory of What Happened
A woman who has been sexually assaulted typically relives the event in some way. She may feel upset and distressed in an ongoing way, experience nightmares or “flashbacks,” or have unexpected, intrusive thoughts or feelings about the assault.
- Minimizing or Not Believing What Happened
A woman who is sexually assaulted may want to just forget what happened, and may avoid thinking about it. She may be reluctant to label the experience as an assault or rape. She may insist she’s fine. She may even feel that it is behind her initially, but then experience difficulty later. Abuse of alcohol or drugs may result from trying to forget. A woman who has been sexually assaulted often fears not being believed, and she is likely to avoid going to friends and family who could provide support and legitimize her experience.
- Self-blame and Guilt
Many women who have been sexually assaulted feel that they are to blame for what happened. Self-reproach about incidents leading up to the assault, or not doing enough to prevent it is common. It is important for her to recognize that freezing or emotionally shutting down during a sexual assault is a common way that the mind deals with serious threat. Women who do not tell friends or family what happened are forced to deal with the emotional aftermath alone. This can lead to long term psychological difficulties. It is important to remember that she is not responsible for his actions.
Many women who have been sexually assaulted feel deeply ashamed. This shame contributes to feeling isolated and different from others. It is common to feel degraded or damaged, and these feelings may translate in to a sense of being “dirty” or “ugly.” Many women want to shower or bathe immediately after the assault, and there may be an ongoing concern with cleanliness.
A woman who has been sexually assaulted may struggle with symptoms of depression, including sleep problems, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
- Loss of Trust and Relationship Difficulties
A woman who has been sexually assaulted often loses her natural ability to trust and rely on others. She may also lose faith in her own ability to discern danger, and to accurately judge the character and trustworthiness of others. Isolation, withdrawal and interpersonal conflicts in friendships and family relationships are also common after sexual assault. Women who have been sexually assaulted may fear dating situations, experience difficulty in relationship with males and have sexual difficulties.
Women who are sexually assaulted may feel angry. Anger may be directed toward the assailant, themselves, the assault itself, or the way others reacted. Anger may also generalize to daily irritations in life that ordinarily would be experienced as minor.
- A Sense of Loss of Control
A woman who has been sexually assaulted is likely to feel that her personal control over her life and her privacy have been taken away from her. She may feel powerless and helpless as a result of the assault.
- Academic Difficulty and Disorganization
College women who have been sexually assaulted may have academic difficulty, due to missing classes, deadlines and appointments. Confusion, sleeplessness at night, depression, anxiety and withdrawal can lead to academic crisis.
- Physical Problems
Emotional consequences of the assault may emerge as physical symptoms, such as stomach distress, headaches, or muscle tension.
For more information please visit Hofstra University’s complete Sexual Misconduct Policy.