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Most studies involve heterosexual

contact and assume that women are the

victims and men are the perpetrators

of rape. Research on college students

yields oft-cited statistics supported

in many studies: Approximately

one in four women report having

experienced sexual aggression that

could be legally defined as rape

or the threat of rape. Only a small

percentage of these women see

themselves as rape victims. Other

research shows that approximately

one in ten men say they have engaged

in sexual aggression. These men do

not see themselves as rapists, even

though they describe circumstances

that are legally defined as rape.

The presence of an extreme rape

script interferes with victims’ and

perpetrators’ understanding of rape.

Victims of unacknowledged rape

— mostly acquaintance rape — show

the same physical and psychological

symptoms as victims of acknowledged

rape. Victims often experience anxiety

and depression. They may have sexual

problems. They could even have suicidal

thoughts. These symptoms are no less

traumatic when the forced sex was with

someone the victim knew and trusted

rather than a stranger. They are no less

traumatic if victims continue to interact

with their rapists.

Debunking myths, particularly

that all rapes are physically

violent and between strangers,

could help change cultural


Kathy Ryan, Ph.D., is a personality

and social psychologist at

Lycoming College. Her research

and studies focus primarily

on rape and intimate partner

violence, playful aggression and


In addition, acquaintance rapists

are very similar to men who are tried

and convicted of rape. They share the

same focus on hyper-masculinity and

the same belief systems. Rapists hold

rape-supportive beliefs and they are

preoccupied with sex. Rapists also have

sexual scripts that including fantasies

and plans for sex that do not allow for

women to refuse sex. Moreover, our

culture inadvertently encourages people

to objectify others and fosters the belief

that some individuals deserve to be raped.

This feeds the sexual narcissism that causes

rape. So, it is what rapists think that gives

them permission to rape.

Debunking myths, particularly the

script that holds that rapes are physically

violent and between strangers, could help

to change cultural attitudes. People need to

stop saying things like “she shouldn’t have

dressed like that” or “she shouldn’t have

drunk so much,” in other words, blaming

the victim. People need to stop saying

“boys will be boys.” Rape is not a biological

mandate, it is a behavioral choice.

We must challenge rape-prone beliefs

in others. We need a firm belief that sex

must always be completely consensual.

Begging, cajoling, and pleading are

annoying, but acceptable behaviors. Drugs,

threats, physically restraining a person, or

using group pressure are never acceptable

behaviors. Only yes means yes!

Understanding rape is

not simple; it is a complex

phenomenon with multiple

determinants. To end it,

we need to have an honest

conversation about sex and


Ultimately, our goal is zero tolerance for

rape — zero tolerance for rape on college

campuses, zero tolerance for rape in

prisons, and zero tolerance for rape in

cultural and religious institutions. Zero

tolerance of rape will be achieved only

when societal perceptions about rape

are expanded to include the truth about