People who sexually assault others do not look different from any other person. However, one characteristic is that they ignore the feelings of the person they are with. Because sexual assault is an act of aggression, power and anger, someone who is sexually violent tends to behave in ways that are intended to control others. Often they do things that are intended to "test" someone, to see how much they can get away with. While not everyone who exhibits these behaviors is a rapist, if you know someone who acts in these ways, you may want to use caution or avoid that person.
- Not listening to what the person says; not stopping when asked to stop
- Talking about or looking at the person's body in a way that makes her or him uncomfortable
- Calling someone names
- Blocking someone's path or following her or him
- Touching someone in intimate places without permission
- Trying to get someone drunk or giving drugs
- Not respecting a date's feelings and limits
- Not stopping sexual foreplay when told or asked to stop
- Seeming to enjoy someone's discomfort
- Acting as though a relationship is more intimate than it really is
- Being disrespectful of women; treating women as sexual objects
- Making comments or jokes about women that are degrading
- Focusing only on women's bodies; not treating women as people
Offenders often use a system of specific behaviors to break down someone's defenses and make that person more vulnerable to being assaulted. This is especially true of those who rape people they know (the majority of rapists). Sometimes people think that "date rape" is the result of miscommunication between a man and a woman. However, while a man may misinterpret a woman's friendliness as interest in sex, and be frustrated, embarrassed or disappointed when he finds out that this was not her intent, this is not a cause of assault. The normal responses to this sort of misunderstanding would be the same as to any other: to get angry and leave; to try to clear up the confusion; to ask, "why not?" The normal response to a misunderstanding is not to attack the person you've misunderstood!
Many of these behaviors can seem like normal dating rituals, and may not necessarily lead to an assault. However, having an understanding of these strategies can be helpful.
Stage One: Intrusion
This is the strategy a rapist uses to "test" someone, to see what will "pass." During this stage, the rapist will try to cross someone's boundaries in various ways: by sitting or standing too closely, touching the person in ways which make her/him feel uncomfortable (and ignoring the discomfort), or saying things that are inappropriate.
Stage Two: Desensitization
Desensitization is the tactic used by the rapist to get someone "accustomed" to sexually coercive behavior. During this stage the offender tries to make the person feel less sensitive to the intrusion by minimizing his/her reactions to the offensive behavior. A person may begin to question his/her feelings, or to feel that s/he may be overreacting, and not recognize the assault for what it is.
Stage Three: Isolation
Isolation means removing someone physically from sources of safety and support, or convincing her that no one cares or will believe her. The person is often manipulated to the point where a quick and assertive response may be difficult or impossible.
Understanding this system of strategies may or may not help someone to avoid being assaulted; however, it shows that an assault does not happen because the victim was not assertive enough or did not communicate clearly enough. These tactics clearly demonstrate an intentional strategy of manipulation.
For more information e-mail Hotline@vsdvalliance.org. E-mail is not a secure form of communication. To ensure confidentiality please call the Family Violence & Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.838.8238 (V/TTY).