Acquaintance Rape: Information
You Must Know
Sexual assault is defined as a non-consenual act committed in circumstances of a sexual nature that violates the sexual integrity of the victim. It does not require sexual gratification or more than a general intent on the part of the perpetrator. Consent means the voluntary agreement of the victim to participate in the sexual activity in question. Consent
cannot be given:
- by anyone other than the participant,
- when the participant is incapable of consenting (due to intoxication, mental disability, age etc),
- when the perpetrator is abusing a position of trust, power or authority,
- when the victim expresses, by words or conduct a lack of agreement to engage in the activity or
- when the victim, having consented to engage in sexual activity, expresses by words or conduct a lack of agreement to continue in that activity.
In a university setting, first year female students are the most frequent victims of sexual assault and upper year male students are the most frequent perpetrators. In over 90% of cases, alcohol is involved. Often, the perpetrators do not realize that what they have done is sexual assault. Often the victims do not report the assaults out of embarrassment, because they feel nothing will be done or because they fear repercussions by the perpetrator, their family or friends, or the system.
Here are five hypothetical situations that may help clarify just what is and what is not sexual assault :
- Peter and Sue are at a party and Sue becomes very drunk. They go back to Sue’s room. Sue passes out. Peter has sex with her. Is this rape?
Analysis: Because Sue is unconscious, she is unable to consent to having sex with Peter. When someone has sex with a person who is incapable of giving consent, it is rape. If your partner is so drunk that he or she does not comprehend what is happening, he or she cannot give consent.
- Peter and Sue are at a party and Peter becomes very drunk. They go back to Sue’s room. Peter makes sexual advances and Sue protests. Peter is drunk and feels that he cannot control his desires. He ignores her resistance and has sex with her. Is this rape?
Analysis: Rape does not depend on the perpetrator’s state of mind. It depends on what is objectively reasonable in the situation. Peter’s incapacity or insensitivity due to drinking is not an excuse for forcing another person to have sex. Drunk or not, it is rape.
- Peter and Paul have been involved in a sexual relationship for several months. Paul decides to end the relationship and goes to Peter’s room to tell him. When he tries to tell Peter, Peter embraces him. Paul protests and resists, but Peter forces him on the bed and has sex with him. Is this rape?
Analysis: Forced sex without a partner’s consent is rape, regardless of any pre-existing sexual relationship.
- Sarah and Sue are alone. Sarah kisses Sue and makes other sexual advances. Sue goes along with it by removing Sarah’s shorts. Sue doesn’t want to have sex with Sarah but she is not comfortable telling her. Sarah thinks Sue is willing to have sex because she does not protest or resist. They have sex, but the whole time Sue is thinking that she does not want to be having sex. Is this rape?
Analysis: In this situation it appears that Sue has consented to having sex. Although she has not verbally granted Sarah permission to proceed, her act of removing Sarah’s shorts would likely be considered consent by a reasonable person. The alleged victim’s state of mind is not relevant to the offence if she does not otherwise communicate her feelings or if she acts in a manner that can reasonably be interpreted as consent in light of the surrounding circumstances. As always, if threat or intimidation were present in the situation then Sarah would have reason to believe that Sue’s cooperation was not voluntary. In the absence of such circumstances, if Sue is responsive to Sarah’s advances and does not communicate her unwillingness, it is not rape.
- Peter and Sue leave a party together. Peter walks Sue back to her room. While alone with Sue in her room, Peter kisses Sue and makes other sexual advances. Sue doesn’t like Peter and doesn’t want to have sex with him. Peter thinks Sue is willing to have sex because she does not protest or resist. He has sex with her. Is it rape?
Analysis: While this situation may seem ambiguous, Sue did not make any statements or gestures that Peter could reasonably have interpreted as an affirmative expression of consent. In such cases, the perpetrator must take reasonable steps to ascertain that the victim was consenting. Lack of objection by someone is not evidence of consent, and consent is essential because sex without it is rape.
What can you do to avoid sexual assault or to avoid being charged with sexual assault?
- Recognize that when you consume alcohol, or when you are around a group of people consuming alcohol, you are much more vulnerable. Aggressive individuals are also much more likely to attempt a sexual assault when their judgement is clouded by alcohol or drugs.
- Go to bars and parties with a friend and stick together. Go home with someone you know and trust, or phone the Walkhome service or Campus Security.
- Lock your doors and windows at night and do not let strangers into the residences. Call Campus Security to register as a lone worker if you are working or studying alone at night.
- Try to avoid dark, isolated areas. Make a point of familiarizing yourself with your surroundings especially emergency exits and emergency telephones. If you are uncomfortable or fearful, use the Emergency phone and Campus Security will respond quickly to escort you to your destination.
- If you feel uncomfortable or fearful, trust your instincts and take whatever action is necessary to change whatever is making you feel uncomfortable. Be prepared to say "no" and mean it. Leave if you have to. Remember, you have the right to control your own body.
- Conversely, recognize that it is never OK to force or manipulate someone into having sex with you. Learn to take "no" as an answer. Ask your partner which limits s/he wants to put on sexual behaviour. Listen to what is being said and respect those limits.
- Should you be assaulted, scream, yell, bite, kick, gouge at the attackers eyes and do your best to draw attention to the situation and break away from your attacker. Your best chance to discourage the attacker is at the beginning of an attack. Try to reach an emergency phone if at all possible.
- Report sexual assault immediately to Campus Security, the Police, a trusted person or a medical professional so that you can be given the support and assistance you need and so that the evidence is not destroyed.
Organizations that can help you if you have been a victim of sexual assault are:
Campus Security 545-6111 or 545-6733
Student Health and Counselling 545-2506
Kingston Rape Crisis Centre 544-6424
Human Rights Office 533-6886
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Page last update: 26 August 1998 (minor refinement April 5, 2000)