Sexual Assault Awareness Month: rapists aren’t always strangers

When people think of rape, they often imagine a woman walking down a dark alley in a bad part of town with a dead phone and broken shoes. But that scenario is much less common than people believe it to be. In fact, rapists are more often people the victim knows than a violent stranger, and, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 80.5 percent of rape is committed by someone who knew the victim. These perpetrators may be acquaintances, significant others, coworkers or relatives.

According to prevention organization Campus Clarity, rapists partake in “identifiable behavior patterns when they are grooming a target for assault.” Colloquially, we surmise this process as “grooming.” Desmond Daniels, Title IX assistant coordinator at NSU, described the process as a grouping of behaviors ultimately used to develop trust, which the perpetrator subsequently uses to take advantage of the target.

Laura Bennett, Title IX coordinator, said these behaviors are often pretty explicit, both in informal and formal capacities. She mentioned incidences of fraternities teaching new pledges how to lure woman in. In particular, Georgia Tech’s chapter of Phi Kappa Tau sent out a letter in 2013 that criticised members for not “succeeding” at parties and gave instructions on how to get women into a vulnerable state using alcohol and sexually aggressive dancing. Towards the end, the letter advised, “if anything ever fails, go get more alcohol.” Unfortunately, this culture is not confined to one letter. It’s prominent amongst different perpetrators in an assortment of communities. In recent media, a good example is the Brett Kavanaugh case.

Bennett mentioned that perpetrators often pursue freshman or other people they perceive as more naive and easier to exploit, and they prey on their target’s insecurities by flattering the target and creating a sense of social inclusion. Whether the rapist gains trust through alcohol or other forms of grooming, Campus Clarity said the perpetrator eventually desensitizes the target to intrusive actions through premeditated methods, whether over the course of one night or several years. Then, the perpetrator isolates the victim based on the trust they have gained.

For anyone who has experienced rape at the hands of an acquaintance, friend, romantic or intimate partner, dealing with the aftermath can often be difficult. Survivors often experience self-blame stemming from doubts about their own reaction during the assault such as freezing up and cultural attitudes towards rape in general. Further, Bennett mentioned that mutual friends of the survivor and assaulter will often choose the assaulter’s side because they don’t believe the perpetrator would rape someone.

In the time after the assault, Daniels recommends seeking attention for physical health, using campus resources and potentially making a police report. The Nancy J. Cotterman Center in downtown Ft. Lauderdale offers rape kits without any obligation to file a police report and counseling services.

As for anyone friends with a victim, Daniels said, “Being a resource is the best thing a friend can do.” It’s important to educate yourself on sexual assault, the culture around it and the trauma that accompanies it. Be there for your friend, but never pressure a victim to do more than they are willing or betray trust in any fashion.

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