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Acquaintance Rape

or Acquaintance Sexual Assault

Acquaintance Rape:

forced, manipulated, coerced, or unwanted sexual intercourse by someone known to the individual.

Acquaintance assault is often not considered a “true” sexual assault. Society tends to perceive acquaintance assaults as complaints by a vindictive woman who is dissatisfied with “rough sex” or is trying to blame the man for her own interest in sex. Regardless of whether an assault is perpetrated by an acquaintance or a stranger, these violent acts are motivated by a desire for power and control. Understanding this motivation can help us to get past the stereotype of the “sex crazed” maniac hiding in the bushes, and allow us to see the most common type of perpetrator—an ordinary, regular person who has a need to exert power and control over another person.

Stages of an Acquaintance Sexual Assault:

Typically, there are stages during which a perpetrator attempts to “prime” a situation for an assault, and they can occur in one evening or over an extended period of time. Many of these behaviors can seem to be normal dating rituals and may not necessarily lead to an assault. However, having an understanding of the strategies often used by perpetrators can be helpful.

  • Stage One: Intrusion
    Intrusion is the strategy a rapist uses to “test” the victim, to see what behaviors will “pass.” During this stage, the rapist will try to cross the victim’s boundaries in various ways—by sitting or standing too close, touching the victim in ways which make them feel uncomfortable (and ignoring the discomfort), or saying things that are inappropriate.
  • Stage Two: Desensitization
    Desensitization is the tactic used by the rapist to get the victim “accustomed” to sexually coercive behavior. The intent is to wear down the victim’s defenses by gradually pushing the victim’s boundaries using the intrusive behaviors. During this stage the offender tries to make the victim feel less sensitive to the intrusion by minimizing their reaction to the offensive behavior. A person may begin to question their feelings, or to feel that they may be overreacting.
  • Stage Three: Isolation
    Having successfully intruded upon and desensitized the victim, the next stage is isolation: removing the victim physically from sources of safety and support, or convincing them that no one cares or will believe them. The intended victim is often manipulated to the point where a quick and assertive response may be difficult or impossible.

Recognizing these tactics for what they are may or may not help the intended victim to avoid being assaulted; in any case, it may help to see that the fault does not lie with the victim not being assertive enough or communicating clearly enough; these tactics clearly demonstrate an intentional strategy of manipulation.