Rape experts define the crime, offer aid

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS — All three of the rapes reported at NT in 1999 were considered date rape.

U.S. Department of Justice statistics indicate at least one out of eight female students have been raped or been the victim of attempted sexual assault. Over 60 percent of them will know their assailants.

While most agencies refer to acquaintance rape as forced, unwanted intercourse with a person the victim knows, interpreting the broader view of that definition is the job of law books, not dictionaries.

“The real problem is that some men just don’t understand that no means no,” Cindy Bruns of Denton’s Friends of the Family said. “The typical rapist simply hears no as another stop on the way to yes.”

According to Jennifer Spugnardi, legal advocate for the Rape Crisis Center in Collin County, much of the confusion stems from a lack of understanding how the law is interpreted.

“Sexual assault is sexual assault,” Spugnardi said. “The police and the courts see date rape through the same lens as a rape committed by a stranger.”

If a couple has shared consensual sex, and 10 minutes later the man forces her to continue against her will, she has been raped. If a woman engages in sexual activities while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and wakes up regretting it, rape charges may be in order because a woman must be in control of her body when consent is given. As of 1993, Texas law declares that a husband who forces his wife to have unwanted sex is guilty of rape.

The legal lines are clear: A woman must actively consent to having intercourse, and that consent must be explicit, not merely passive. Passionate kissing, petting or even allowing the man to perform oral sex does not constitute active consent. While some men may interpret these actions as an understood prelude to the main event, they tread dangerously close to a jail sentence in doing so.

A study of 7,000 college students by Ms. magazine found one in every twelve men had forced or attempted to coerce a woman to have intercourse with him. Virtually none of these men considered themselves rapists. What’s more, of the women who were violated, 43 percent of them failed to recognize it as date rape.

The strongest statement a woman can make if her partner goes too far is not “no” but may be instead- “This is rape.” But Spugnardi warns “every woman should follow her instincts, both during and after the rape. What shocks one man into reality may throw another into a fit of rage.”

The road to recovery following any sexual assault is long, but help is available to victims who decide to pursue criminal or civil cases. The Texas crime victim compensation fund makes it possible for a prosecuting victim to gain financial assistance in some cases, and the “pseudonym law” allows victims to use assumed names in the press. Spugnardi and Bruns say that both of their respected organizations provide services for victims from start to finish, 24 hours a day, free of charge.

Both organizations try to educate the public about the reality of date rape. They send representatives to the hospitals, simply to hold the woman’s hand, or to explain the rape kit to her. They offer group and individual counseling services, and they provide legal assistance. They will be there when the victim gives her statement to police, and navigate them through the criminal justice system, should she decide to file charges.

Bruns said that not every woman decides to pursue legal action. Of the victims who do seek justice, most make that decision weeks or even years after the offense. The statute of limitations for rape has been raised from 5 years to ten because of this very issue.

If you think you have been a victim of date rape, call the Rape Crisis Center of Collin County at 972-985-0951 or in Denton call Friends of the Family at 800-572-4031 24 hours a day.

NT also offers free rape counseling to all persons at the Testing and Counseling Center located in the University Union 640-565-2741. Counselors at the Center are either graduate students working on their Doctorate have already accomplished the Doctorate level. The Psychology clinic in Terrill Hall offers counseling and can be contacted at 940-565-2671 If you would like information regarding an upcoming Sexual Assault Advocate Training program, contact Peggy Fogle at 940-565-2787.

Copyright North Texas Daily