Date-rape reports growing fastest

April 23, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

AGAINST THE backdrop of a steady increase in rapes reported to police, authorities believe that the number of reported rapes by acquaintances is growing even faster. But they're undecided on whether it's a higher incidence in assaults or a heightened willingness to report them that's most responsible for the increase in the rape statistics.

Incidents of forcible rape as tabulated by the FBI's uniform crime reports increased in all but five years of the last three decades. In 1989, the last full year for which data is available, the FBI recorded 94,500 forcible rapes -- the highest ever.

Neither the FBI nor the Bureau of Justice Statistics categorizes rapes according to whether the victim knew her attacker.

Building on figures from studies conducted by Dr. Mary Koss, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, Robin Warshaw, author of "I Never Called It Rape," estimates that women "are actually four times more likely to be raped by a man they know than by a stranger."

Susan Estrich, campaign manager of former presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis and now a law professor at the University of Southern California, says that the increased attention to acquaintance-rape is a manifestation of a changing society, which she says is far more likely to take women's issues seriously than 10 years ago. "What is changing is that people are beginning to recognize forced sex as rape," Estrich contends.

But others argue that society remains misogynistic, with movies, the media, television and commercials all suggesting that rape is acceptable behavior.

"The cultural message for men is to be sexually aggressive," says Meg Nugent, a date-rape victim in 1976 and now an assistant director of the Women's Center at Towson State University in Maryland. "Look at 'Gone With the Wind,' where the incredibly sexy Clark Gable picks up the kicking and screaming Scarlett O'Hara and carries her off and rapes her. The next morning she wakes up humming and singing and happy. These cultural messages are very powerful. The message is if you just keep going they'll come around and dig it."

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