The thought of sexual assault might make you think of a stranger jumping out of a shadowy place and attacking someone. But it's not only strangers who rape. About half of all people who are raped know the person who attacked them.
Forced sex between two people who already know each other is known as date rape or acquaintance rape. Date rape most often happens to females, but males can be raped too.
Even though most friendships and acquaintances don't lead to violence, it's important for preteens and teens to be aware of date rape and learn how to stay safe.
Just the Facts
Here are some important facts about date rape to share with your preteen or teen:
Rape is not about sex or passion. It is an act of control, aggression, and violence.
Even if the two people know each other well — and even if they are dating or have been intimate before — no one has the right to force a sexual act on another person against his or her will.
People are never "asking for it" because of the clothes they wear or the way they act. Someone who is raped is never to blame. Rape is always the fault of the rapist.
Alcohol may play a part in rapes. Drinking can loosen inhibitions, dull common sense, and — for some people — allow aggressive tendencies to surface.
Drugs also can play a role. You might have heard about "date rape" drugs like rohypnol (sometimes called roofies), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and ketamine. Drugs like these can easily be mixed in drinks to induce a temporary coma and amnesia upon waking. These drugs also can be fatal (cause death), especially when mixed with alcohol.
The best defense against date rape is to try to prevent it whenever possible. Encourage your kids and teens to follow these rules:
Stay sober and aware, especially around people they don't know very well. Teens also should be aware of their date's ability to consent to sexual activity. One person may become guilty of committing rape if the other is impaired due to drugs, alcohol, or a medical condition.
Warn teens not to drink something that has been poured for them at a party or gathering unless they can see the drink being poured. Although date rape drugs have been changed to become cloudy in drinks, the older drugs are still around and are colorless and odorless and easy to slip into a drink.
Avoid secluded places with a partner until trust is well established. Go out with a group of friends and watch out for each other. Keep cellphones charged and check in with a parent or friend at regular intervals.
Don't spend time alone with someone who makes them feel uneasy or uncomfortable. Research has shown that instincts are often right — so if your teen feels uneasy or uncertain, he or she should get to a place of safety and call for help, if necessary.
Be clear about what kind of relationship they want with another person. If they aren't sure what they want, they need to ask the other person to respect their decision and give them time. Teens should know that it's never OK to be pressured into doing something they don't want to do.
Take self-defense courses. These can build confidence and teach valuable physical techniques a person can use to get away from an attacker.
Unfortunately, even if your teen takes every precaution, date rape can still happen. If your teen is the victim of date rape, it's important to seek medical care. Medical care is not only crucial to a person's health and safety, but also to provide documentation in the event of a criminal investigation.
Here are some guidelines:
Within 72 hours of rape (acute rapes): Go to the hospital immediately, call a rape hotline — like the national sexual assault hotline at (800) 656-HOPE — or call the police. If possible, go to the hospital even before your teen has changed clothes, showered, or used the bathroom (this will allow physical evidence to be preserved).
More than 72 hours after rape (non-acute rapes): Call the police or a rape crisis hotline. Then, seek medical care.
Many medical facilities have staff who are trained to take care of someone who has been raped, such as a forensic nurse examiner (FNE) or sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). Depending on the patient's age and the circumstances, the exam may include a pregnancy test for girls; testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); checking for internal injuries; testing to see whether the person was drugged; and checking for samples of the rapist's skin, hair, nails, or body fluids. It's best to get this done right away but doctors can gather evidence several days after a rape. In most areas, health care workers are obligated to share this information with the police.
Emotional care and support is also very important. It can be hard for teens to think or talk about something as personal as being raped by someone they know. But talking with a trained rape crisis counselor or other mental health professional can give your teen the right emotional attention, care, and support to begin the healing process. Working things through can help prevent problems later on.
Rape counselors also can work with parents and loved ones to help them deal with their own feelings about what happened.
It can be hard to help a child who's keeping a secret from you. Preteens and teens often turn to their friends to discuss deeply personal issues — and something as serious as rape is no exception. In fact, some states have privacy laws that don't require parents to be notified if a teenager under age 18 has called a rape crisis center or visited a clinic for evaluation.
But even if your teen doesn't confide in you, there are some signs that could mean he or she is struggling emotionally — whether due to date rape or something else — and needs your help.
For example, your daughter or son might start to:
have trouble sleeping or want to sleep all the time
have changes in appetite
be unable to concentrate in school or participate in everyday activities
show signs of self-harm or self-destructive patterns of behavior
If you see new behaviors like these, reach out and let your daughter or son know that you're always available to listen, no matter what. If your child still won't open up and you continue to suspect some kind of trauma or upsetting event has happened, seek a therapist's help to get support for your child and your family.