Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Rapist You Know

Date Rape Creates Guilt, Self-Doubt

Acquaintance rape can be difficult to understand because it can be difficult to define. It does not fit the traditional definition or picture of rape. Consequently survivors of acquaintance rape often question whether or not their experience was rape, whether or not to report it to police, and why they are feeling so traumatized. This typical rape story rarely captures headlines. 

When Sara Wilson (not her real name), a 23-year-old woman was raped by a long time college friend, she found little support and a great deal of self doubt. Shortly after moving into her first apartment, Steve her former classmate, dropped in with a bottle of wine and some take out. One bottle of wine turned into two. Later that evening Sara suggested it was time for him to go. She remembers that out of the blue, "Steve was there kissing me. I tried to push him away but he just kept kissing me." Her head felt cloudy and hazy from the wine. Steve started to move her skirt up her leg. "I was telling him to knock it off, it wasn't what I wanted but I was so drunk. I definitely didn't want to have sex with him. We were friends for God's sake!" Sara recalls. But Steve did have sex with Sara that night. She remembers being pushed down on the couch. She remembers his hands on her shoulders. "It was like it was happening but not to me to someone else." The next day Sara awoke alone with her head throbbing to find a note on the kitchen counter from Steve. It read "I had a nice time. I'll call you later — S." Sara didn't know what to think but she knew what she felt — ashamed, betrayed, and embarrassed. Looking back at that morning Sara recalls, "I kept thinking how could this happen? I felt sick to my stomach and violated and I didn't use that word at the time, but looking back that's exactly what it was —  a violation."

Acquaintance rape often creates guilt and self-doubt in survivors. Acquaintance rape survivors make comments such as, "I trusted him," "I had no idea he would do something like this," and "I don't know who to trust now." Many victims hold themselves accountable for not having better judged the character of their perpetrators, or for allowing themselves to be in the situation in which the rape occurred. Sexual assault by an acquaintance may be even more traumatic than rape by a stranger because it involves a breech of trust. That was the case with Sara. Years later she recalls "I remember thinking to myself how stupid I was to trust him. It made it really hard to trust men because I would have never thought Steve would do that to me. How was I going to be able to figure out who to trust? My poor husband, it took him over a year to get me to go on a date. I just didn't believe him."


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