The thought of sexual assaults, or rape, might conjure an image 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.
When forced sex occurs between two people who already know each other, it's known as date rape or acquaintance rape. Date rape most often happens to females, but guys can be raped too.
Even though most friendships and acquaintances never lead to violence, it's important for kids 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 that you can 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 be involved 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 ("roofies"), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and ketamine. Drugs like these can easily be mixed in drinks to make somebody lose consciousness and forget things that happen. People who have been given these drugs report feeling paralyzed, having blurred vision, and lack of memory. Even worse, mixing these drugs with alcohol can be dangerous and possibly fatal.
The best defense against date rape is to try to prevent it whenever possible. Encourage your kids to follow these rules:
- Stay sober and aware, especially around people they don't know very well. Teens should also 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.
- Avoid secluded places with a partner until trust is well established. Go out with a group of friends and watch out for each other.
- Don't spend time alone with someone who makes them feel uneasy or uncomfortable. Research has shown that our instincts are often right — so if your child 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, then 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 child 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:
- For rapes that have occurred within 72 hours (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. Take your child to the hospital even before your child changes clothes or showers.
- Rapes that happened more than 72 hours ago (non-acute rapes): Call the police or a rape crisis hotline. Then, seek medical care.
Many medical facilities have people who are trained to take care of someone whose been raped, such as a forensic nurse examiner (FNE) or sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). Depending on the age of the child and the circumstances, the exam may include checking for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and 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.
Providing emotional care and support is also important. It can be hard for teens to think or talk about something as personal as being raped by someone you 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 lingering problems later on.
Rape counselors can also work with parents and loved ones to help them deal with their own feelings about what happened.
When Your Teen Won't Tell
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, unfortunately, 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 child doesn't confide in you, there are some signs that could mean your child is struggling emotionally — whether due to date rape or something else — and needs your help. For example, your child might:
- act unusually irritable, moody, or cranky
- seem angry, frightened, or confused
- feel depressed, anxious, or nervous, especially about being alone
- withdraw from friends and family
- have trouble sleeping
- have changes in appetite
- be unable to concentrate in school or to participate in everyday activities
If you see symptoms 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 distress, seek a therapist's help to get to the root of the problem.
Reviewed by: Michelle New, PhD, and Allan R. De Jong, MD
Date reviewed: April 2011