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A Woman’s View: Date rape

Just as scary as it sounds – date rape. The sad true fact is that everyone always assumes “it will never happen to me.” Being the most common form of rape, date rape surprisingly is not often reported.

One of the large reasons why women remain silent after these atrocious acts is because of fear; the fear of being persecuted, fear of being blamed, fear of losing social standing or family respect. Another reason women today remain so quiet is because many are unsure that what actually happened to them was in fact rape.

“I used to see too many women come in to my ER with their heads hung low like they did something wrong, and yet, they did nothing wrong,” said Ann, a former nurse at Northeastern Hospital whose name was changed for privacy reasons. “It is just awful how they only want to make sure they are not in peril of a disease. Many don’t even want to give me their name. They would rather not say a word or discuss it. And that’s only the women that show up.”

In Pennsylvania, date rape is commonly defined as “forcible sexual contact during a voluntary social engagement in which a person does not intend to engage in sexual activities and resists the contact.” The fact that the engagement was voluntary and the parties were acquainted is not a defense. Nor is previous sexual contact between the parties a defense to date rape charges. The victim does not necessarily have to reject the advance or physically object to demonstrate lack of consent. Although laws vary by state, usually, a victim intoxicated by alcohol or drugs is incapable of giving legal consent.

Additionally, date-rape drugs have become more common in the past decade. Some of the most frequently used drugs are rohypnol (“roofies”), gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) and ketamine. Use of drugs makes an individual unable to give consent, lose consciousness and may even cause death. Date rape may be the most common form of rape that occurs, but it is also the most commonly unreported type of sexual assault.

Opposing counsel, or the defense attorney, will many times put the victim through a brutal, detail-oriented rehash of the incident’s specifics and try to discredit her character in an attempt to free the accused from charges. Most women are terrified of having to relive these events and because of the nature in which they are put on trial, they decline any action to bring their attackers to justice.

Preparing yourself mentally before a trail can go a long way in helping you stay focused and ward off any confusion that the opposing counsel will inevitable try to finagle. It is never easy to sit through a court room dispute, especially when you or a loved one is being badgered about a circumstance that has already caused enough grief, but bringing a guilty party to justice can be one of the first steps in putting the horrid ordeal behind the victim, allowing her closure to move on.

Another helpful and healthy step is realizing that despite what may have been said during trial, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT AND YOU DID NOTHING WRONG. Women always have a tendency to blame themselves for the outcomes their lives may have, and in this situation, that can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. A long and agonizing trial will only help to prove those fears, but realizing that you did not cause this and it was not your fault can help you to stay as mentally focused and emotionally stable as possible given the circumstances.

No means no, but what happens when no is ignored? With date rape becoming more common and the lines for what constitutes date rape becoming more blurred, it gets hard for women to realize at what point they are in a potentially harmful situation. The obvious signs of a stalker, ex-boyfriend who won’t leave you alone, or a creep at a party who is way too touchy, are always easy to spot. However, many times women find themselves in a very pleasant situation with a seemingly normal gentleman until the night takes a horrible twist.

Signs to be aware of would be a man who seems overly pushy about anything, especially alone time away from a crowd. Listen to your instincts when you feel something is wrong. If a situation doesn’t feel right, don’t be worried about “looking stupid” just get out of the situation fast. Many times women go against all their better instincts for fear of “looking stupid” and are usually sorry later. Another helpful hint is when you are out at a party or bar and a man hands you a drink that you didn’t see made. Decline the drink. Use any excuse you want, but do not drink the drink. You have no idea where it came from, what happened to it or what might be in it. If you set your drink down and are unsure if it was tampered with when you return – throw it out. It is better to lose the money and drink than yourself. Many attackers drug their victims as a means to disorient them so they will have a better chance at achieving their self-pleasure. Making loud noises and trying to draw a crowd can also help to discourage an attacker. Try not to be alone with a strange man you don’t know well.

Sad but true, the shy and quiet girl is also at risk. When being alone with a man hwere physical contact is expected or advances are made, try to make sure your boundaries are set ahead of time. If this is not always possible, as soon as you feel uncomfortable don’t be afraid to make your intentions loud and clear, and then stop all physical contact. Try your best not to leave any room for discrepancies in your intentions.

Do not let anyone peer pressure you into any act that you do not want to do. If advances continue despite the fact that you have made your feelings clear, try to get away as safely as possible or call 911. Even if you leave your phone down and speak loudly, the operator will hear you and can send help. If you feel fighting back will help, then fight back. If you feel that fighting back is harmful or may threaten your life, use your instincts and follow them. Your safety is always top priority.

The bottom line is to try to not put yourself in a potentially harmful situation, but risks are everywhere and there are many times when you can do everything right and still find yourself in a precarious situation. Trusting your instincts and knowing your limitations can help you survive. Bringing an attacker to justice can also help the healing process following a terrible situation and possibly prevent another victim from coming under attack. Date rape happens all over the Northeast – and around the city – everyday and is seldom reported. It is time women take a stand and help each other be safe. “Knowledge is power.”

Note: Donna Ward, though an esteemed NEast Philly columnist, is not a lawyer or trained counselor. While her advice as a woman should be taken seriously, we encourage women who think they have been victimized to consult with a doctor, lawyer or counselor.

A Woman’s View is a column about women’s issues written by Donna Ward. The column appears every other Thursday on NEastPhilly.com. See others here. Read other NEastPhilly columns here.

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