Although you met him at school, a party or through friends, there's no safety guarantee. Knowing your date does not protect you from date rape.
"Date rape is a very violent act," says Katie Wright, clinical director at the Sexual Assault Crisis and Education Center in Stamford, Conn. "The horrific part is that this person they have been with, sometimes for years, takes advantage of that trust and intimacy."
According to research published on the Web site of the Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (www.etr.org/recapp/), 85 percent of rape victims (who generally range between 16 and 25 years of age) know their assailants.
Wright refers to the Alex Kelly case. Kelly, the former Darien High School wrestling champ, was on the lam in Europe for eight years to avoid trial for rape. Kelly was convicted in 1997 of the sexual assault on a 16-year-old neighbor in his car more than a decade earlier. Kelly was given a 16-year sentence.
His now-married victim Adrienne Bak Ortolano met Kelly at a party and trusted him to drive her home, says Wright. Ortolano revealed her identity after Kelly's conviction and has spoken publicly about her ordeal.
"This popular, well-liked boy in high school led her to be in fear of everyone she knew," Wright says. "(Adrienne) had terrible post-traumatic stress disorder. Her mom had to back the car into the garage, she was so afraid of him being outside her home. She was afraid of dating, like a lot of rape survivors" who frequently lack confidence and try to isolate themselves, Wright adds.
Date rape is not about romance and passion, but about power and control over another person, says Melanie Danyliw, program manager of education at the Women's Center of Greater Danbury (Conn.). The agency serves victims of sexual assault as well as domestic and dating violence.
It's all connected, she says, to our sexualized society, where "males feel entitled to certain rights and subscribe to the certain stereotype of what it is to be a male: You take risks, you're a sexual being and you're aggressive."
Because sex offenders have low self-esteem, they don't feel competent to attract someone on a consensual basis, Danyliw explains, observing that their motivation comes when poor self-image combines with feelings of powerlessness.
"If you can get someone to do what you want them to do, you feel you have power; you are not helpless," she says. When they humiliate someone, they feel more important.
Meghan O'Connor, youth community educator at The Women's Center of Greater Danbury, Conn., says most rapists are outwardly charming and friendly.
She cautions, a red flag should go up when you date someone who ignores your personal boundaries, insisting you do something you don't want to do, such as having another drink or seeing a movie that doesn't interest you.
Jealousy is another warning sign, as is the individual with rigid ideas about gender roles, who believes in men's dominance over women. Also, watch out for someone who is verbally abusive.
O'Connor says the victim is never to be blamed for the sexual assault.
Nothing a person wears, does, drinks (or any other excuses commonly thought of as bait for sexual assault) cause rape.
"Nobody is asking to be sexually assaulted, and everyone has the right to say 'no,' " she says. "It doesn't have to be the word 'no.' It can be body language, tone of voice, different phrases like 'I don't want to' or 'not right now,' but they all encompass the meaning 'no."'
In addition, notes O'Connor, if a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, "she is in no position to give consent at that point. If your date is passing out and you are taking advantage of her, that is a rape. The advice I always give is 'wait until tomorrow when you are both sober.' "
Men can be raped, too, says Kari Lincoln, director of education at the Sexual Assault Crisis and Education Center. "Our male numbers have gone up considerably this year," she adds, reflecting reports of sexual assaults by priests on young boys.
Also, rapes are sometimes perpetrated on males by females, she says. "Society so often refuses to say that a girl rapes a boy, but it does happen." It's important for males to know they have the right to obtain the help and services available to females, she notes.
While it's fully understandable that victims would want to put the sexual assault behind them, "what we see at the center is that it doesn't go away," says Wright. Talking about it is the most efficient way to deal with it.
"We see a lot of rape survivors who never dealt with it, and it may come out in other ways," she says. "They may avoid intimate relationships, take risks in life or may become socially isolated. That's not necessary. Ten years of that is far worse than coming in for counseling for three months."
If victims prefer a private counselor, her agency gives referrals. She says, "We urge them to deal with it at some point."
In a date rape, usually the victim knows the suspect, which makes it easier for the police, says Sgt. Paul Guzda, who's assigned to major crimes in the detective-designated unit of the Stamford Police Department.
Once the victim gives a statement to the police, an investigation begins. "Sometimes there is a crime scene and witnesses, sometimes nothing, just the victim's word against the suspect -- it's the more difficult type of investigation," he says. A lot hangs on what kind of witness the victim makes.
"A lot of times," notes Guzda, "a victim tells a close friend, mom or relative long before they tell the police or clergy. The person who they first disclose to helps us corroborate (the case) -- to obtain probable cause to apply for an arrest warrant. Our ultimate job is to get the bad guy."
Following that, police often talk to a prosecutor comfortable with this type of case, he says. Next comes an application for an arrest warrant, which is reviewed by the prosecutor and a judge. If it's signed, the arrest warrant is issued. If it's not signed because there's not enough probable case, it dies. Still, he says, "we work with the victims to get the help they need -- it's a matter of counseling and therapy. We don't like to just say 'we can't help you.' "
One of the first questions a rape victim asks is "Do I have to testify?" says Guzda. "We can't answer that. There's always that possibility they will have to testify."
Some victims are very tenacious, others afraid from the get-go. If a plea bargain is struck, it serves a useful purpose. The perpetrator is forced to have his name put on a registry of sex offenders in some states, he gets a criminal record and the victim usually does not have to testify.
"I feel very strongly when you charge someone with sexual assault, you need to know you have a case and a good shot at winning a trial," says prosecutor Maureen V. Ornousky, a senior assistant state's attorney in Connecticut. . However, she adds, these types of cases are hard to prove. "I think in the public's mind, it's easier to accept that someone was I dragged into a dark alley and sexually assaulted. But the majority of sexual assaults don't occur that way, even with kids."
When plea bargains fail, a lot of time is spent preparing the victim for testimony, she says. "At the time of trial, they feel pretty comfortable and know what to expect."
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