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 has confided in you that he or she is the victim of date rape, it's important to seek medical care right away, even before your child changes clothes or showers.
This can be hard — it's a natural human instinct to wash away all traces of a sexual assault — but immediate medical care is not only important for a person's health and safety, but also to provide documentation if you and your daughter or son decide to report the crime to the police.
Most communities have local rape hotlines listed in the phonebook that can counsel you about where to go for medical help. You also can call the national sexual assault hotline at (800) 656-HOPE. Most medical centers and hospital emergency departments have doctors and counselors who have been trained to take care of someone who has been raped.
The physical care of a rape victim will typically 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 has occurred.
Providing emotional care and support is also important. It can be hard for teens and parents alike 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
Date reviewed: April 2011
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2015 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.