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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

College, Rape, Alcohol and Secrecy

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jul 21st 2006

All too often during my career as a psychotherapist, college aged women have reported to me the fact that they were raped. At times, the rape occurred many years in the past while in other cases, it occurred quite recently. Typical of this type of crime, the rapes did not happen on some empty street in the middle of the night. Rather, the incidents occurred in a friend's apartment or during a party or gathering among people who were known to the victim. Very often, the young woman had been drinking, along with everyone else at the party. A common scenario is that the woman is invited to sleep over at the friend's house. After she agrees to do so, rather than risk driving home while under the influence of alcohol, a male member from the party enters her bedroom and assaults her while she is in an intoxicated sleep. All the other reported stories are a variation of this one.

In all cases, the women were devastated by what had happened. Their emotions included anger, range, shame, guilt, fear, disgust, and embarrassment. What is particularly difficult about this situation is that shame and guilt motivated too many of these rape survivors to keep the crime secret from friends and family. This secrecy meant that the police were not called and the friends in whose homes the rapes occurred were not told about what had happened. The reasons for the shame and guilt were that they blamed themselves for having been drunk - as though that is an explanation for why someone would rape another person at the party. They also feared humiliation at the hands of friends and family. They were convinced that parents, brothers, sisters, and boy friends would reject them for having "allowed" the rape to occur. This type of reaction is not unlike abused children who blame themselves for the punishment because they were not good enough. Incredibly, victims blame themselves for the crime rather than the perpetrator.

This type of self blame is a terrible distortion of the truth. Criminally speaking, rape occurs when one person does not consent to intercourse. An individual who is asleep, under the influence of a drug or alcohol, or otherwise unable to consent to having sex, is the victim of a crime. Unfortunately, too many women are unaware of this fact. It is healthier to blame and be angry at the perpetrator than at one's self.

What is particularly devastating about the crime of rape is that it is a violation of a woman's body. When one thinks about it this way, rape becomes particularly horrific because there is nothing more personal and intimate than one's own body. At the very same time, this violation is what motivates many rapists. It has been said that rape is not motivated by the quest for sex but by the need to exert power and control over another individual. Of course, part of this includes acting out enormous hatred on the part of the rapist. Forcing another human being to have sex because one is bigger and stronger or has the victim at a disadvantage is a cowardly act.

However, there are two mains point to this post: The first point is to emphasize the fact that any woman who has been raped should not blame herself. Instead, she should report the crime to the police. Today, most police departments have advocates for the victims of sexual crimes who can help them cope with this awful experience. The second point is to not keep the crime secret. Those who have kept such secrets, only to reveal them later in psychotherapy, experience enormous relief and begin the real process of healing. In addition to and in conjunction with psychotherapy, there are many excellent women's self help groups for those who have survived this crime.

Your opinions and comments are welcome.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    College, Rape, alcohol and Secrecy - Eva Feldman - Sep 20th 2007

    Dear Dr. Schwartz,

    In April of 2006 my daughter was raped at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana.  The man who raped her was permitted to live on her coed floor in spite of serial offenses, the first being the felony battery of a male student 7 months prior to raping my daughter. 7 weeks before he raped my daughter he was transported by campus police for psychological evaluation for disturbing and violent speech, after a few days of observation he was returned to the coed floor the University assigned our 18 year-old to live on. (Not disclosing it in our housing contract)  The US dept of Justice research report states that 20-25% of all college women will be raped during their college carreers. Armed with this knowledge Indiana University does not have sexual assault awareness programs that incoming freshman must attend.  Their campus police who have sole jurisdiction did not have specialized training and did not even do basic police work like preserve physical evidance. Torn clothes and bed sheets were not collected.The rapist was suspended for less than one year, he was never charged with anything and there was no validation given to the victim.  After exhaustive investigation I have learned that there is a systemic indifference to rape on college campuses.  Administrators talk the talk but do not walk the walk. No Enforcment is the norm. No effort to make women understand the risks and no enforcement equals a nirvana for predators.  We often do not factor in the reason women do not come forward is that even today in the University setting this crime is swept under the rug.  Women are sent the distructive message that nothing will be done to the predator and you will go looking for another school or continue to be subjected to your attacker as my daughter was.

    You are right to remind victims that the era of victim blaming must come to an end. It is true that in 75% of rapes alcohol is involved. Women should take note of this fact but it no way does it excuse the predator. Often University officials intimidate the victim not to pursue the offender if she was drinking as she could be charged with illegal alcohol possession if the offense occured in student housing or on campus.

    Advise from a caring mother goes like this, let no one take away your happiness. The victim is never to blame not in any crime espically a sexual assault  Report this crime to Police and do not be intimidated. If you need help as a victim of campus rape or sexual assault go to www.securityoncampus.org. They can help you pursue your attacker and work with campus police and administrators. 

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