Women are learning to be more wary of the men they go out with


March 07, 1991|By Mary Corey

The break-up had been messy. He wanted to stay together. She didn't. So when he called months later pleading to see her, she agreed, mostly out of guilt and sadness and pity.

When she entered the apartment, she immediately knew something was wrong. Her ex-boyfriend was bolting the door shut. And when she turned around, he had a knife in his hand.

Robin Warshaw thought she was dead.

Instead, she was raped, the knife held to her face, his arm pinning her to the bed.

At dawn, he released her. She was alive, but all she could do was feel angry and frightened and betrayed. For months and even years after, she kept asking herself:

How could the first man she had ever made love to have turned out to be a rapist?

It happened half a lifetime ago, but Ms. Warshaw relived a bit of it yesterday when she spoke to teen-agers at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson about acquaintance rape.

"The myth of rape is . . . the stranger in the darkness," said Ms. Warshaw, 40. "The reality is that most women are raped by men they know; people they meet at parties, in bars, guys they know from their dorms."

Due, in part, to women like Ms. Warshaw, who has written "I Never Called It Rape," society is growing more sensitized to the issue of acquaintance or "date" rape. From Ivy League scholars to soap opera storywriters, people are now examining its causes andaftermath. But despite these efforts, date rape continues to be one of the most shame-filled and least-reported crimes in the country.

In Maryland, "forcible rape" increased 23 percent last year, to 2,184 cases, according to state police statistics released this week. (The state police don't separate rape by acquaintances from rape by strangers.)

That number, however, only represents the cases police know about. Less than one in 100 date rapes is ever reported and of those, only one in 10 ever makes it to court, said Andrea Parrot, a Cornell University professor and expert on the subject. Some researchers, in fact, prefer to call the crime "hidden rape."

In a groundbreaking study of college women, 25 percent said they'd been the victims of rape or attempted rape -- and 84 percent of these knew their attacker. This 1985 study, conducted by psychologist Mary P. Koss, Ms. magazine and the National Institute for Mental Health, included 32 campuses.

Although date rape is generally defined as forced sexual intercourse without consent by an acquaintance, Jan Sherrill chooses to fine-tune those words. Force, said the director of Towson State University's Campus Violence Prevention Center, can take the form of physical violence or mental coercion.

"Men take silence as consent," he said. "One of the more typical examples is that two people meet at a party. They go back to his or her room. The men tries to initiate sexual activity. The woman says no. The man then says, 'You've led me on, now you stop and pull away.' In the end, the woman may have sexual intercourse, but she has clearly been raped."

He cautioned, however, about considering date rape merely a college phenomenon. More than one-third of the rape victims in the Ms. survey said they were between 14 and 17 when the crime occurred.

That comes as no surprise to Rachel Hayden. The 17-year-old Notre Dame Prep senior knows of three friends who have been date-raped. Hearing their stories, as well as having read about the issue in magazines since she was 13, has left her more cautious, even wary, about relationships.

"You don't go out by yourself on the first date anymore," she said. "It's you and six of your friends. . . . You really can't trust people. You always have to be on your guard."

It's also caused her to approach college with some trepidation. "It's the one part of college life they don't tell you about in the brochures," she said.

Trying to understand the causes of date rape is a complicated endeavor. Researchers point to several factors, including the way that men and women are socialized and myths about sexuality.

Prominent among these are the following ideas: "Good" girls say to sex when they mean yes; "real" men never take no for an answer; a woman who dresses "provocatively" or drinks to excess is "asking for it."

Alcohol does figure into a disproportionate number of date rapes, said experts, with fraternity members and athletes, more than other college groups, being charged with the crime. Next week, six St. John's University students, including several lacrosse players, will be tried for allegedly sodomizing and sexually abusing a 21-year-old woman.

"What's at the root of it is that very often athletic teams and fraternities are built around male societies that emphasize women to be used as sexual objects," said Ms. Warshaw. "They view sexual scoring as the most important element of being with a woman."

Fraternity member Jim Cowan said that's an over-generalization. Women often send mixed signals to men, said the former president of Towson State University's Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

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