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Date Rape, Rape, Sexual Assault, Prevention, Awareness

 Date Rape, Rape, Sexual Assault, Prevention, Awareness - The Words we Use - by Mike Domitrz - The Date Safe Project


The realities and misconceptions of Date Rape, Rape, Sexual Assault and the true meanings of Prevention and Awareness!

Date Rape, Rape, Sexual Assault, Prevention, Awareness – which are the right words to use? The average person often confuses these words and so this article provides you with simple and basic definitions. Using the wrong word can be extremely damaging to a survivor of sexual assault:

What most people think and/or visualize: a violent and forced sexual encounter during a date where the male physically forces the female to have sexual intercourse against her will.

Reality: “date rape” is a word that is used most often by the media and academia. Very few states have any laws that utilize the words “date rape”. The correct term for the actions that result in a date rape is a “non-stranger sexual assault” (in most states). Date rapes can vary from subtle mental manipulation to horrific violence against a dating partner.

Misconceptions: “Date rape” is a poor choice of words because often the situation is not a “date.” The two people could be at a club, a party, at a house, or a variety of different locations that would not be part of a date. The survivor can know the assailant very well, but not be dating. For this reason, “non-stranger sexual assault” is much more accurate.

Plus, many people can only imagine a “rape” to be committed by a big, ugly psycho (as described below in the next section of this article). When the assault is committed by an acquaintance, it is harder for the survivor to consider the assailant a rapist — because of that stereotypical image of a rapist.

What most people think and/or visualize: a very violent crime in which a female has sexual intercourse forced upon her by a rapist. The rapists is usually pictured as a big, ugly, and scary looking stranger and rape is often assumed to happen in parks, alleys, and other “unsafe” locations.

Reality: Like “date rape, the word “rape” is a word used mainly by academia and the media. As mentioned earlier, “sexual assault” is the proper term for such crimes. Most sexual assaults occur between two people who KNOW each other (80% – 85% of the time both individuals know each other). Just like “date rape”, rapes can vary from subtle mental manipulation to horrific violence against another person.

Misconceptions: By thinking of a rapist as a “big, ugly, and scary looking stranger”, the average person does not think a rape will occur to him/her. Why? The average person says, “I would never find myself in that type of a situation – especially with a person like that”. By creating this false and delusional thought process, people let their guard down in “safe” locations (places you are comfortable in such as your own home, apartment, and/or dorm room). People trust those individuals that they consider to be “safe” people (boyfriends, classmates, people they know). Now, a person’s guard is down and so he/she feels comfortable . Thus, this person does not notice the signs of trouble or danger. Most sexual assaults occur in a place you ARE comfortable in and with someone you know (as discussed previously).

The false concept that all rapists are “big and ugly” has enabled our society to say “he would never rape someone” about the average guy and/or popular person. Not only does our culture have a history of not blaming the male, we actually BLAME the survivor by saying “she must have asked for it because he would never do that”. This way of thinking has been one of most damaging components of sexual assaults in America. By blaming survivors, we make it more difficult for survivors to WANT to report the crime and/or speak out about the crime. Consequently, the crime of sexual assault goes tragically under-reported!

FYI: people of all types (genders, sexual orientations, races, socioeconomic categories, etc…) have sexually assaulted other people.

What most people think and/or visualize: sexual contact against someone’s will.

Reality: Sexual contact WITHOUT CONSENT is the true definition of sexual assault in most states. “Consent” is the key word to understanding all the issues behind sexual assault. For a person to have “consent” to do anything in life, that person must have permission. To get permission or consent to take action, what must you do? You must ask! The legal words “without consent” forces the accused assailant to prove that he/she had consent before taking action against and/or with the survivor.

Sexual Assault is the correct word to use in all cases of sexual contact without consent (not rape or date rape). In various states, differing degrees of sexual assault exist such as 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree, and 4th degree sexual assault (just like the crime of homicide has multiple degrees).

Misconceptions: By thinking sexual assault is “sexual contact against someone’s will”, the issue of sexual assault is much more confusing because you would have to prove what the person’s “will” was in that situation. “Against someone’s will” can mistakenly place the burden on the survivor to prove he/she did not want it. How do you prove that? You have one person’s word against another. In most courtrooms, a defendant’s lawyer will try to push this concept “of against someone’s will” on the jury to help confuse the jury and to complicate both the issue and the case against their client.

Consent is very simple to understand. Asking for and gaining consent is an action that everyone takes throughout their daily lives…asking their parents to borrow the car, asking their boss to have a day off, and you can think of many more daily examples. To get consent, you ask. If you tell me, “I can’t ask. I would not be comfortable asking someone.” Do you know what I would say to you? Here is my answer, “you can’t ask her if she wants to have sex with you, but you are comfortable having sex with her? Isn’t something wrong with that picture? If I told you ‘hey, I want to do this certain thing, but I can’t talk about it. Do you think I am ready to do it?’, what would you tell me?” Use common sense: if you can’t talk about it, you’re not ready to do it!

While reading the below script, imagine you are in a courtroom as part of a jury:

Prosecutor: “Did you ask her if you could kiss her before you kissed her?”

Assailant: “No. No one asks. That is just stupid.”

Prosecutor: Well, then how did you know she wanted it?”

Assailant: “I could tell through her body language, the way she looked at me, etc…”

Prosecutor: “Oh, so you can read her mind. Without talking, you knew exactly what she wanted. Maybe you could read a few minds in the courtroom’s audience today. Would you be willing to do that for us?”

Assailant: “No. I never said I could read minds”

Prosecutor: “So how did you get consent?”

Assailant: “You just know when someone wants it? Everyone knows what I mean?”

Prosecutor: “In dating situations, do people ever guess incorrectly?”

Assailant: “Of course.”

Prosecutor: “So people can misread body language, etc..?

Assailant: “People can misread, but I didn’t.”

Prosecutor: “That is nice that YOU believe that. How did you get consent?”

Assailant: “She didn’t say ‘no’ and so that is how I knew she wanted it”

Prosecutor: “What didn’t she say ‘no’ to?

Assailant: “She didn’t say ‘no’ to me touching her?”

Prosecutor: “Oh, so you asked?

Assailant: “No, I didn’t ask”

Prosecutor: “How could she say ‘no’ to a question you never asked her?”

Through the above script, you can see that the assailant goes from trying to make the prosecutor’s argument look stupid TO the assailant sounding foolish and continuously talking himself into a corner. The assailant tried to argue “that she didn’t say no” – one of the most common and weakest defenses in courtrooms. The law is written in a way that demands consent! For her to say “no”, someone needs to ask her a question. You probably do not walk down the street and yell “no” to every stranger – just in case the stranger was thinking of mugging you. Yet, many people expect rape survivors to do this.

The word “prevention” is one of the most widely misused words in educating people about sexual assault. The base word being “prevent” implies that you can prevent all sexual assaults from happening to you. You can’t! There is no 100% way to “prevent” sexual assault. By using the word “prevention”, many people will assume the survivor “could have prevented the assault if….” – thus, placing blame on the survivor for not being able to stop the assault from occurring. Awareness is the correct word to use.

The base word being “aware” defines the concept of sexual assault awareness. By being more aware, each of us can help ourselves and those around us to see potentially dangerous situations. Awareness helps us to keep our eyes and ears out for trouble – without assuming we can always “prevent” an attack. Nevertheless, the more aware each of us is, the less likely an attack can occur. “Awareness” is a wonderful word for survivors and for everyone else.

- written by Mike Domitrz, Executive Director of The Date Safe Project and Producer of HELP! My Teen Is Dating. Realistic Solutions to Tough Conversations. Each year, Mike speaks around the world in over 80 educational and military installations sharing the important messages of respect, consent, bystander intervention and supporting survivors.

 See more articles and The Date Safe Project at

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