Date And Acquaintance Rape Essay

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Endemic to college campuses in North America and elsewhere, date and acquaintance rapes are the most common threats to female students’ safety. Many researchers, rather than restricting their focus to forced sexual intercourse, now define date and acquaintance rape as involving a wide range of unwanted sexual acts stemming from physical force, threats of physical force, verbal coercion, and emotional coercion. Contrary to popular belief, an alarmingly high number of women experience these harms on an annual basis, as shown by surveys conducted in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. For example, the Canadian National Survey on Woman Abuse in University and College Dating Relationships found that 28% of the female participants stated that a male dating partner sexually assaulted them in the past year, while 11% of the males reported having sexually victimized a female dating partner during the same time period. The U.S. National College Women Sexual Victimization Survey estimated that 9 of 10 women knew the male perpetrator who raped them. Of course, the types of assaults uncovered by these and other widely cited studies begin to occur well before women reach college age, as documented by several North American surveys.

Even though a broad spectrum of college students is affected by sexual assault, the problem appears to be of little concern to many students, faculty, and administrators. Date and acquaintance rapes are often dismissed as “boys will be boys,” or as some sort of exaggeration by the woman or something she was “asking for.” There are a number of reasons for this, including ideologies of gender inequality.

Researchers have gathered quantitative data on these crimes. Most studies use some rendition of the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES). Developed by Mary Koss and Cheryl Oros in 1982, the SES consists of 12 yes/no items that can be examined in their totality for one measure of sexual abuse or can be divided into four types of sexual abuse:

  • Sexual contact, which includes unwanted sex play (fondling, kissing, or petting) arising from menacing verbal pressure, misuse of authority, threats of harm, or actual physical force
  • Sexual coercion, which includes unwanted sexual intercourse arising from the use of menacing verbal pressure or the misuse of authority
  • Attempted rape, which includes attempted unwanted sexual intercourse arising from the use of or threats of force from the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Rape, which includes unwanted sexual intercourse arising from the use of or threats of force and other unwanted sex acts (anal or oral intercourse or penetration by objects other than the penis) arising from the use of or threat of force or from the use of drugs or alcohol

Social scientists have also identified various risk factors, including male peer support, alcohol and drug consumption, men’s adherence to the ideology of familial patriarchy, and experiencing sexual abuse prior to coming to college. However, theoretical developments in this field have not kept pace with the empirical literature. Theories attempt to explain what many people define as deviant or criminal behaviors. In response to calls for theory integration in explaining male-to-female victimization, Alberto Godenzi, Martin Schwartz, and Walter DeKeseredy have offered a relatively new theory of conformity. This social bond/male peer support theory asserts that since so many college men sexually abuse their female dating partners and acquaintances, it is college men who do not victimize women who are the deviants and whose bond to the dominant social order is weak or broken.

Most of the safety measures implemented by campus officials to lower date and acquaintance rape have often served to perpetuate the widespread but outdated view that women are most likely to be victimized by strangers. If the problem is defined as stranger rapists wandering around the campus, then curbing sexual assault is mostly a matter of architectural design. For this reason, the typical measures taken across North America include increased lighting, changed landscaping (e.g., removing trees), the provision of escort services, the monitoring of public places, and the installation of alarms and security phones. The main problem with these initiatives is that women are most likely to be sexually assaulted by male intimates in private places, such as houses or apartments.

In addition, because alcohol use is a major correlate of date and acquaintance rape, many colleges throughout North America have shut down student pubs, prohibited campus parties that involve alcohol consumption, and banned alcohol from dormitories and campus apartments. Further, some schools have begun to deal with the fact that many students drink off campus by extending their alcohol codes to include violations by students in off-campus environments. This may not have much more effect than on-campus bans because bar owners and bartenders may not report their patrons to campus officials for fear of losing business.

No matter what alcohol policies are developed and implemented, many sober people sexually assault women. Programs that focus on eliminating alcohol use by themselves do little, if anything, to address the broader social forces that perpetuate and legitimate sexual assault. A man may stop drinking, but this does not mean that he will no longer be exposed to sexist media, other patriarchal institutions, and pro-abuse male peer groups. For this and other reasons, scholars, practitioners, and activists are increasingly calling for prevention and control initiatives that target macrolevel and social psychological factors that motivate men to victimize women.


  1. DeKeseredy, W. S., & Schwartz, M. D. (1993). Male peer support and woman abuse: An expansion of DeKeseredy’s model. Sociological Spectrum, 13, 393–413.
  2. Fisher, B. S., Sloan, J. J., Cullen, F. T., & Lu, C. (1998). Crime in the ivory tower: The level and sources of student victimization. Criminology, 36, 671–710.
  3. Godenzi, A., Schwartz, M. D., & DeKeseredy, W. S. (2001). Toward a gendered social bond/male peer support theory of university woman abuse. Critical Criminology, 10, 1–16.
  4. Koss, M. P., & Oros, C. (1982). Sexual Experiences Survey: A research instrument investigating sexual aggression and victimization. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 50, 455–457.
  5. Schwartz, M. D., & DeKeseredy, W. S. (1997). Sexual assault on the college campus: The role of male peer support. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  6. Schwartz, M. D., & Pitts, V. (1995). Toward a feminist routine activities approach to explaining sexual assault. Justice Quarterly, 12, 10–31.

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