Understanding the Problem: Four Acquaintance Rapes Reported During Past Two Months

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By Kayli Farris
Lemke Newsroom

Acquaintance rapes, situations in which the victim knows the attacker, frequently are not reported, authorities said. In the past two months, however, four acquaintance rapes have been reported to police.

Only one was reported from July 2010 until September 2012, according to the UAPD Daily Crime Log.

To combat these assaults, groups on and off campus focus on the prevention and awareness of acquaintance rape.

Employees at the Pat Walker Health Center manage the office of Support, Training, Advocacy and Resources on Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence (STAR Central), which also consists of a group called R.E.S.P.E.C.T. — Rape Education Services by Peers Encouraging Conscious Thought.

Peer educators provide information about rape awareness, prevention and risk-reduction education, according to the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. website. The group focuses on “a message of advocacy for victims and survivors to university classes, organizations, residence halls, Greek organizations and other campus groups.”

By implementing classroom presentations, awareness activities and events and campus-wide programs, the group is able to maximize its message while evolving attitudes toward rape, according to the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. website.

During the holiday season, health center officials display a “Holiday Tree of Hope and Support” — decorations and ornaments that encourage students to share their concerns about sexual assault. Students can share awareness messages, risk reduction strategies and messages of hope “for a campus free of sexual violence and support for victims and survivors of sexual assault.”

In addition to campus groups, there is also one off campus. The Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, with headquarters in Fayetteville, focuses on eliminating sexual violence and advocating for sexual assault victims’ rights and services, according to acasa.us.

These group members work continuously to assist assault victims and inform the public of prevention methods and awareness.

“I help teach a women’s self defense class; rape prevention lectures are good too,” said Clay Simpson, junior in political science. “The fact that most rapes happen with people who know each other shows how difficult of an issue (it) is; the fact it happens so much on this campus is a travesty.”

Despite efforts to increase awareness, students said more can be done.

“I do not feel properly informed about these occurrences, nor do I feel that UA officials are doing their best with this situation,” said Flannery Wasson, a junior in political science.

The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. student group visited one of Wasson’s classes, and she said she was astonished by reactions by her peers.

“I have had the student group R.E.S.P.E.C.T. in my class and I appreciate their efforts, but my classroom was full of people who had no idea the startling statistics when it comes to rape,” Wasson said. “One male in my class couldn’t believe rape was rape, even when the girl wasn’t fighting back and ‘just laying there taking it.’ The fact myself and one other person were the only ones visibly disturbed by this comment shows that there is a lot of work to do when it comes to rape education.”

There are methods UA officials can adopt to improve awareness, students said.

Nine out of 10 college rape survivors know their attacker, according to STAR Central.

“Too many people think that rape is just strangers that take advantage of you late at night when you’re walking alone, but when nine out of 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, that misconception is very dangerous,” said Kristie Flournoy, senior social work student.

Wasson thinks it would be helpful if officials sent an email when acquaintance rapes occur on campus, she said. Additionally, information for victims of rape could be more readily available, she said.

“I’d just like to see an email sent with information as to what you do if you or your friend was raped, what the consequences of being caught are, etc., to everyone considering how many times this has happened in this past semester,” Wasson said. “It’s time to be proactive and reach out, rather than waiting for something bad to happen and starting then.”

Police said they agree that students are unaware of acquaintance rapes.

“Acquaintance rape is actually far more common than stranger rape,” said Detective David Williams, with the Fayetteville Police Department. “Many of these occur in domestic violence situations.”

Acquaintance rapes are not limited to domestic violence, Williams said.

“The other form we see most often relates to friends at a party where significant use of alcohol and/or other intoxicants are used,” Williams said. “Rape occurs when one person, generally the female, is so inebriated that she is unable to resist, cry out or say no. The classic example is that she’s passed out or nearly so, and her male acquaintance sexually assaults and/or rapes her.”

One in four college women are victims of rape or attempted rape, according to STAR Central, and 90 percent of college rapes involve the use of alcohol.

Acquaintance rapes on campus could be associated with either domestic violence or they could be party-related, Williams said.

“You have to understand that rape is not so much about sex as about control,” Williams said. “Think in context of soldiers raping and pillaging after a battle won. Are they truly that turned on, or do they want to throw further insult at the enemy? Given that, you can either have the violent boyfriend who is angry that she’s not ‘respecting’ him, or you can have the predator at a party taking advantage of an unconscious victim. Both pertain directly to conquest.”

Statistics are difficult to determine, Williams said, because officers think that many domestic violence and party-related rapes are never reported. Frequently, a victim will begin the reporting process, but back out rather quickly.

Reasons for this are usually the victim realizes that reporting the rape is a very long and detailed process with an uncertain ending, or an investigating officer or other professional conveyed judgment or a negative reaction while taking the report, Williams said.

Police and health officials who don’t convey a professional attitude can end up “turning someone who is frightened and confused away,” Williams said.

Certain factors contribute to the underreporting of party-related rapes, Williams said.

“On the party-related side, we believe reports are never made because victims aren’t sure if they were raped, they don’t want to get the guy in trouble, they don’t want to endure that level of scrutiny, they have no faith in their local police and/or prosecutor or they don’t want to be in trouble for their own illicit behavior such as underage drinking or drug use,” Williams said.

Thinking ahead is a key factor in preventing acquaintance rape, Williams said.

“For the party-related rape, the buddy system, responsible alcohol use, jealous guarding of one’s drink in a crowd and not falling asleep in a party house are reasonable measures,” Williams said.

When the event is related to domestic violence, there are factors involving fear of an abusive partner or concern that officials won’t believe her, Williams said.

“There are often threats from the perpetrator that he’ll take custody of the children, have her deported if she’s undocumented, make her homeless if she is jobless or that he’ll have her arrested for trumped up reasons,” Williams said. “Threats work, unfortunately, and for this reason I think we never hear about many assaults.”

In the case of domestic violence-related rape, friends and family should advocate for the victim, Williams said. This could be encouraging her to leave safely when in an abusive relationship or emphasizing what resources are available to her.

Reporting a rape could have a greater impact than the victim can perceive, Williams said.

“There is also clear evidence that rapists are often repeat offenders,” Williams said. “Thus, one person having the courage to come forward and participate in the criminal justice process may well be the key to stopping a serial rapist.”

Students arrested on the charges of rape likely will encounter negative consequences, not only with the law, but academically as well, Williams said.

“Students charged with an offense, especially a felony, often go through the university’s judicial board,” Williams said. “The investigating officer in the criminal matter is often asked to testify at J-Board hearings.”