Date Rape A Serious Subject At Colleges

Posted: September 22, 1991

She was 18, a college freshman from South Jersey, just settling in at a private school in New Hampshire. She made some new friends. And late at night, in the darkness of her dorm room, she says one of them raped her.

The woman had gone to sleep with the door unlocked - a common practice in her coed dorm - and a guy she knew slipped into her room, and into her bed, and attacked her.

She was too scared even to scream.

"I was just so frightened," said the woman, who asked not to be identified, as she recounted the story last week at Trenton State College, where she studies business administration. "I tried to shove him off, but he had me pinned down. I was just in shock. I was so numb. My body felt like lead."

What happened to the South Jersey student in the bucolic setting of a quiet New England college is happening at campuses all over the country, including those in the Philadelphia area, as the problem of acquaintance rape, once not even acknowledged as a serious crime, comes out into the open.

Last week, in an announcement that rocked the 31,800-student campus of Temple University, school officials disclosed an alleged gang rape at an off- campus fraternity house and another alleged rape in a campus dormitory.

In both instances, the victims were female students who knew one or more of their alleged attackers.

By all accounts, the problem of acquaintance rape - also known as "date rape," "social rape" and "cocktail rape" - has been around for a long time. But only recently have people begun regarding it as a criminal act - forced sexual intercourse with someone you know.


At Temple, the recent incidents have spurred calls from students and feminist groups for an on-campus rape crisis center. To protect themselves, students are flocking to a self-defense course offered as part of the university's physical education program.

"There's a panic right now to get into my class," said John Maberry, who teaches the self-defense class to 90 Temple students, most of them women. Last week, after the reported rapes, limited space forced him to turn away 800 who were clamoring to get in.

But Temple is not the only campus where fears of acquaintance rape run high.

"What happened at Temple can happen at any campus and we all know that," said Barry M. Millett, associate provost for student life at the Camden campus of Rutgers University.

"My opinion is the problem (of acquaintance rape) has always been there, but now it's gotten a name that's easily identified, " said Father John Stack, dean of students at Villanova University.

Elena M. Dilapi, director of the Women's Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said acquaintance rape had become "an epidemic" on campuses around the country. "Schools," she added, "are finally becoming alerted to this."

Despite the sensational publicity given to it, fraternity gang rape - one form of acquaintance rape - appears to be a relatively rare occurrence, according to school officials.

Besides the alleged gang rape at Temple's Alpha Phi Delta on Sept. 12, there has been only one other reported gang rape at a local fraternity in recent years: a 1983 attack at a Penn fraternity house.

Still, Peggy Sanday, a Penn anthropologist who has studied fraternity gang rape, says her research indicates the crime may be more widespread.

"I've been all over the country, and everywhere I go, I find fraternities that have something called 'the rape room' or 'the sex room,' " Sanday said. ''It's not all fraternities, but some."

By far the more common problem, however, is one-on-one acquaintance rape in party and dating situations. Nobody knows exactly how much of it occurs, primarily because the victims rarely report it.

At Temple, for instance, no acquaintance rapes involving students were reported to campus police in 1990. Yet school counselors estimate they see at least 10 female students a year who say they have been raped or sexually assaulted by someone they know. The actual number of acquaintance rapes is likely much higher, officials acknowledge.

"Women are not crazy," explained Robert Schiraldi, coordinator of a peer counseling program at Temple. "They know what victims who are brave enough to go ahead and prosecute can go through. It takes an extremely courageous person to carry a case through in the legal system."

In addition, victims often feel guilty, don't want their parents to learn about it and fear losing their friends if they speak up.

National data indicate that as many as one in four women on college campuses say they have been the victims of rape or attempted rape, primarily by people they know.

The data come from a confidential 1985 survey of 3,187 women and 2,971 men on 32 college campuses. The survey, conducted by psychologist Mary P. Koss, found that 84 percent of the attacks were by people the victims knew.

Officials at many schools in the Philadelphia area said they had no reason to doubt the findings. And a recent poll of Penn students also seems to confirm the figures.

Of 1,265 students polled by the Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper, most estimated that 24 percent of the women at the Ivy League school had been the victims of acquaintance rape.

Only 3.7 percent of the 535 women polled said they had been raped by someone they knew, but 20 percent said they had been sexually assaulted.

Whatever the incidence of acquaintance rape, school officials say it often erupts during the fall semester when new students arrive on campus eager to make friends and win the respect of their peers.

"The (victims) are very commonly freshman girls," said Norman Pitt, assistant counseling director at Villanova. "They're at a party. They meet somebody. Things go nicely. They're both drinking. One thing leads to another. At one point the girl feels things are going faster or further than she wants and she says, 'Stop.' "

What happens after that, Pitt said, is where the problem arises. "A large number of boys don't believe a girl means no," he said. "They believe the girl wanted sex. They'll see the girl the next day and say, 'Hi, how are you doing?' "

And in fact, students who were interviewed on a number of campuses last week expressed widely different ideas about what constitutes acquaintance rape.

Eric Hall, 21, a junior engineering student at Penn, said he was confused about the "fine line" in acquaintance rape. He said if he were kissing someone and she didn't make it clear that she didn't want sex, he would interpret that as her consent.

But senior Pauline Schwartz, 20, said a woman must explicitly give her consent to have sexual intercourse. "In the end, there has to be a mutual agreement," she said. "Even if a woman is drunk, even if she gets physical, she has to give her permission."

The two views reflect the different ways men and women interpret dating behavior, according to Julia A. Ericksen, Temple's acting provost and a sociologist who teaches a class on human sexuality.

As an example, Ericksen sketches this scenario: A man and woman are having a candlelight dinner, looking deeply into one another's eyes. For the woman, it's seen as the beginning of an important friendship. For the man, it's a signal that she wants to go to bed with him.

"I've done that in class and the students are amazed to discover how the different responses break out along male and female lines," Ericksen said.

Nonetheless, even some female students believe that women are partly to blame for acquaintance rape if they dress provocatively, get drunk or go into a man's room.

"I can't blame men in general," said Lori Mazur, 21, a senior at Villanova. "I think women put themselves in the position. They drink too much and get overly flirtatious. They shouldn't give out signs and not mean them."

Countered Dilapi of Penn's Women's Center: "Being drunk is not an excuse for rape. Being drunk doesn't cause rape. No means no."

Robin Warshaw, the author of a book on acquaintance rape, said it might seem perplexing to some that the woman who was allegedly gang-raped at the Temple fraternity house arrived at the party on Diamond Street at 11 p.m., and that the other woman who was allegedly raped let her friend into her dorm room, fell asleep and then woke up to find him sexually assaulting her.

"To outsiders, this may all seem very strange," Warshaw said. "But it's very much a part of college culture today." She pointed out that most college parties did not start until late, most dorms were coed and the social pressure on new students to fit in was enormous.

With a small but growing number of women now willing to report acquaintance rape to school officials, colleges have begun to view the problem as a serious crime, not as a case of boys-will-be-boys behavior.

Increasingly, schools, including most in this area, are providing support services for the victims, adopting codes of conduct that prohibit acquaintance rape, and setting up education programs aimed at teaching both men and women what acquaintance rape is all about.

By all accounts, the most effective program is a student-organized and student-operated group called STAAR (Students Against Acquaintance Rape), which conducts workshops throughout the Penn campus. Each workshop is run by a male and female student leader, and workshop groups are coed.

"It's often easier for students to talk about sex if they are talking with another student," said Derek Goodman, 21, a senior who has been leading STAAR workshops for more than a year.

Despite such model programs, "a lot of institutions are still in denial on this," said Robin Garrett, director of the women's center at West Chester University. "I don't think that they're venal and don't care, it's just that it's a difficult issue to deal with at a lot of different levels. So it sinks toward the bottom of people's list to work on - unless there's a crisis."

At Temple, where the crisis erupted last week, many feminists praised the administration for taking the rape allegations seriously and for providing emotional support to the victims.

Temple President Peter J. Liacouras, who denounced the alleged gang rape as ''an outrage," spent 90 minutes with the victim hours after she reported the attack.

While Temple has included acquaintance rape in its freshman orientation program and discusses the topic in its dormitories, the university has no women's center, no victim's advocate and no education program to inform the student body about acquaintance rape.

"Temple is doing a lot given its limited resources, but a lot more needs to be done," said a school official who counsels students. He said a women's center was "desperately needed," as was a re-examination of the school's policies on alcohol.

He said students were bombarded by images of drinking and bikini-clad women on banners at home football games, billboards around the campus and ads in the student newspaper. "It's all very evident: Drink and sex will come," the official said. "Men play this out every day at parties."

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