Module 4 : The Guises of Rape

Discussion Question #1


Case Study: Was It Rape?

Coercion and Consent

Discussion Question #2

Attitudes Supporting a Rape Culture: Adolescents and Statutory Rape

Campus Sexual Assault

Discussion Question #3


Discussion Question #4

Hotline Information


"When I returned to New York after my first trip, I was in a state of outrage. Outraged that 20,000 to 70,000 women were being raped in the middle of Europe in 1993, as a systematic tactic of war, and no one was doing anything to stop it. I couldn't understand it. A friend asked me why I was surprised. She said that over 500,000 women were raped every year in this country, and in theory, we were not at war."

-The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler (for more information on The Vagina Monologues, go to


This week's Module is written by: Jamie Kohen, Joanna Helferich, Jess Dubin, Claire Prestel.

Discussion Question #1

Unlike previous modules, we ask that you take a moment before reading this week's materials to consider the topic of rape and how it has affected your life. Our hypothesis is that whether you are female or male, rape has impacted you either directly or indirectly. Please write and submit a brief essay on this subject. As with the discussions from previous modules, we expect that you will be respectful of one another's experiences. If you do not feel comfortable contributing your essay, you do not need to. But do feel free to check the discussion page often during this week, as you might feel more comfortable responding to someone else's story, or have something helpful to say.

Group A: Post your thoughts here.

Group B: Post your thoughts on the general discussion board.

Also unlike other Modules, we have discussion questions throughout this Module - but they are more in the nature of thought-guides. We want you to think about rape and sexual assault and its role in our culture as you read through the materials, and respond with whatever thoughts you have. The submissions do not need to correlate with the particular questions. We want to encourage a healthy dialogue on issues surrounding sexual assault.


Rape is an enormously important and often divisive topic for all people. The existence and toleration of rape in our society shapes our lives and opportunities in ways we are not even conscious of - yet when we think about them, they become glaring instances of a systematic inequality.

Rape occurs in several different contexts, under many different guises, and it is the context that seems to shape our thinking about whether the act was in fact a rape. At one end, when a male stranger attacks and rapes a woman on the street, we understand this to be rape. We understand the violation, we want vengeance, we consider the rapist to be a criminal. But if there is any relationship between the rapist and the victim, our focus shifts from the criminal violation that has occurred to an examination of the details of the story, and ultimately, the credibility of the victim.

Our focus on context takes attention away from the profundity of the act of rape. It divides us over issues of consent and thus prevents us from addressing the more fundamental and important questions necessary to consider in any effort to stop rape.

To acquaint yourself with some of the theories currently in play regarding rape, see the Theories of Rape section (note: this reading is optional). If you haven't spent much time thinking or reading about the issue of rape, go here to take a short quiz on rape facts and myths.

To encourage you to think about how the existence of rape in our society has affected your life, we begin our examination of rape first with the Discussion Question above. We then move on to a Case Study involving a rape at Harvard University. In considering the different claims made concerning the rape, we focus on the questions of Coercion and Consent. These factors are central to rape analysis. Consent is the locus of most disagreement about whether a rape has in fact occurred. The discussion of consent is offered to encourage you to envision new ways of imagining what real consent might look like in a society where gender roles still dictate male aggression and female passivity as we have discussed in earlier modules.

Then, we briefly consider Attitudes Supporting a Rape Culture. Alarmingly, social attitudes enforcing male entitlement to female sexuality are apparent in young teenagers, the focus of this section. Because teens are at high risk for both dating violence and intimate partner homicide (see Scope section, Module 1), these attitudes are particularly dangerous, as they may contribute to male violence against females. Thus, much of this Module focuses on Campus Sexual Assault as a microcosm of the problem of rape in our society.

Finally, we look at resistance to rape in the context of Self-Defense. Recall when approaching this section our discussions in the first Module on women's use of the language of violence. (Or feel free to refresh your recollection by reading over the materials there--accessible through the syllabus link to the course.)

Case Study

In this section, we will look at how the law's current definition of rape as a mixture of both force and lack of consent does not does not provide an accurate framework in which women can properly seek redress for their injuries. Myths about the sexuality of both men and women are embedded in this conceptualization, and as a result, women are denied full sexual autonomy by the law.

Think about your own notions of consent, force, and rape as you read the following court account of a sexual assault that occurred at Harvard College in April, 1998, as related by the Harvard Crimson:

The court's account of the incident is taken from the hearing in which [the assailant] pled guilty to indecent assault and battery. In the court records, the prosecutor reads an account of the incident, after which [the assailant] is recorded as saying, "I admit to committing the crime." According to the account, both students had been friends for a year. On April 3, the night of the incident, the woman saw [the assailant] while on a date with another man. The victim told The Crimson yesterday that she was "feeling the effects of alcohol" that night.
Court documents state that the three attended a party together. Afterwards, as her date walked her home, [the assailant] began walking along with the pair. The other man left her at her dorm, but [the assailant] "told her he wanted to go home with her," and stayed behind, prosecutors told the court. "She told him that wasn't going to happen and was attempting to get into her door," the prosecutor told the court. The defendant was blocking access to the card key [reader] she needed to use." He followed her into the dorm and up the stairs. "She repeatedly told him that he was not going to come in," the document states. "The defendant kept telling her that it's his choice; she did not have input into that decision." Outside her room he threw her against the wall, pushed her dress and grabbed her buttocks. He also began kissing her, the prosecutor said.
"[She] told him to leave [and] was struggling to get away from him," the documents said.
She managed to open the door to her suite, but did not shut it in time to prevent [the assailant] from following her inside. "Once she was inside, although annoyed that the defendant was still there, because she was a friend of the defendant, [she] wasn't particularly frightened," the prosecutor said. "She told him to leave; she was going to bed."
She lay down fully clothed on the bed and began to doze off. "She next became aware that [the assailant] had removed all of his clothing and had gotten into bed with her," the document reads. Once in bed with her, he proceeded to sexually assault her, though the court document does not describe any penetration. Some time later, the prosecutor said, [the assailant] left the bed."These are essentially the facts as they relate to this incident, Your Honor, although the incident continued," the prosecutor said. The prosecutor said the woman assaulted by [the assailant] found a handwritten note under her door the next day apologizing "for pressuring her, forcing her to engage in these activities."

"On April 20, she had another conversation with the defendant in which he again admitted that he had not been under the influence of alcohol, that he had forced her to do things she had not wanted to do and apologized," the prosecutor told the court.


Was this rape? The victim thought so. The perpetrator admitted to the rape to Harvard's Administrative Board. The Board also found that a rape had been committed. But the ensuing discussion over whether to punish him with expulsion (permanent separation from the College), dismissal (separation from the College but with a slight possibility of re-entry), or withdrawal (a temporary separation, typically lasting one year) is revealing and gives us a good context in which to assess our conceptions of rape.

The Board eventually voted to dismiss the assailant 119-19 (expulsion was never really considered as an option and has typically only been enacted in cases of admissions fraud), but a small contingent was advocating the lesser punishment of withdrawal. According to the Crimson, some of the Faculty had trouble "determining degrees of consent and miscommunication between [the assailant] and the woman he assaulted." Some "still had questions about the force with which the woman refused [his] advances-whether she sent nonverbal signals which may have blurred any clear message about consent." It was also Some observers argued that "the woman's behavior had created an ambiguous situation prior to the assault" and the situation was called "hazy" - "It was friends who were together. He may have assumed one thing and she another." Lastly, a senior administrator said that "several people supporting the requirement to withdraw held the position 'that it was consensual.'"

If this type of debate ensued despite the fact that the assailant had confessed to rape, one must wonder what would have happened if he had denied the accusation.

But the facts of the case seem clear. She told him "no" when he wanted to come inside her dormitory. She told him "no" when he wanted to enter her room, to which he repeatedly replied that "she did not have input into that decision." And she was asleep when he began to assault her. What kind of conception of consent is held by our society that leaves room to question whether this was a case of rape?

Lois Pineau, in her article "Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis," states that "the reasoning that underlies the present criterion of consent is entangled in a number of mutually supportive mythologies which see sexual assault as masterful seduction, and silent submission as sexual enjoyment." Pineau argues that male aggression and female reluctance are widely believed by both society and the courts to be normal parts of seduction. On the basis of this model, sexual aggression "cannot be inconsistent with the legitimate consent of the person allegedly seduced by this means. And if it is normal for a woman to be reluctant, then this reluctance must be consistent with her consent as well." (p.485) Lois Pineau, "Date Rape: A Feminist Analysis" in Applications of Feminist Legal Theory to Women's Lives: Sex, Violence, Work, and Reproduction (1996).

Coercion and Consent

"The law, speaking generally, defines rape as intercourse with force or coercion and without consent...(I)n a critique of male supremacy, the elements 'with force and without consent' appear redundant. Force is present because consent is absent...

"The law of rape presents consent as free exercise of sexual choice under conditions of equality of power without exposing the underlying structure of constraint and disparity...

"The law of rape divides women into spheres of consent according to indices or relationship to men. Which category of presumed consent a woman is in depends upon who she is relative to a man who wants her, not what she says or does...The paradigm categories are the virginal daughter and other young girls, with whom all sex is proscribed, and the whorelike wives and prostitutes, with whom no sex is proscribed. Daughters may not consent; wives and prostitutes are assumed to, and cannot but. Actual consent or non-consent, far less actual desire, is comparatively irrelevant. If rape laws existed to enforce women's control over access to their sexuality, as the consent defense implies, no would mean no, marital rape would not be a widespread exception, and it would not be effectively legal to rape a prostitute...

"Rape, like many other crimes, requires that the accused possess a criminal mind for his acts to be criminal. The man's mental state refers to what he actually understood at the time or to what a reasonable man should have understood under the circumstances. The problem is that the injury of rape lies in the meaning of the act to its victim, but the standard for its criminality lies in the meaning of the act to the assailant. This means that the man's perceptions of the woman's desires determine whether she is deemed violated."

-Catharine MacKinnon, Rape: On Coercion and Consent, Toward a Femininst Theory of the State, 1989 (171-183).

Despite the gender-quake of the past three decades, gender roles in terms of sexual aggression seem to be firmly entrenched. One might suspect this has something to do with rape laws. Women have a hard enough time being believed when they're not aggressors; imagine what it would be like if they were. For example, say a woman approached a man in a restaurant or on a bus, they talked for a while, and she asked for his phone number. If later, they go on a date, and he rapes her, how will it look to a jury when the rapist stands up and says 'She asked me for my number, she approached me." A lot of women probably just don't want to run this risk. And the calculation probably takes place at a subconscious level rather than being a conscious choice.

But what about shifting the paradigm, so that consent on the part of the woman was more than just giving in? Does the phrase "female entitlement" mean anything to you? While "male entitlement" is often a large factor in the commission of rapes, a corollary term for females somehow rings hollow.

How might we develop a sense of female entitlement? The civil right to be free from gender-motivated violence in the Civil Rights Remedy of the Violence Against Women Act is one possible strategy. (See discussion in Module 2). Other possibilities include reforming the rape debate, empowering women to resist coercion and choose affirmatively whom they want to be with and under what conditions. Self defense factors in as an important component of women's self esteem. See self defense discussion below.

Consider this interesting excerpt on autonomy by Stephen Schulhofer, "The Feminist Challenge in Criminal Law," 143 Univ. Pa.L.Rev. 2170 (1995):

Several examples will illustrate the far-reaching implications of the conception of autonomy that is already broadly accepted within our culture. First, when is consent lacking? "No" means no, obviously. But an intrusion on the person requires more than just the absence of a clear "no." A physical intrusion on the person requires actual permission.

Would anyone think that a medical patient's ambivalence, or an ambiguous "maybe," was a consent to medical treatment or surgery? Obviously, anything less than clear affirmative permission would never count as consent. Imagine Atlas, an Olympic weightlifter, consulting a doctor about whether to have surgery on his elbow. The doctor really wants to perform the operation. He thinks Atlas will be very happy with the experience. But the weightlifter is uncertain. He thinks things may not work out the way the doctor has promised. And there is a risk of picking up a serious infection. So Atlas hesitates, says he just is not sure. Can the doctor just go ahead and start cutting? Would we ever treat the weightlifter's silence or indecision as equivalent to consent? No, obviously, but why not? No one compelled him to submit. If he really objected, all he had to do was say so! Yet we would never consider silence or ambivalence as equivalent to consent for surgery. To say that is not to patronize Atlas; it is simply to recognize an obvious violation of the physical autonomy of his person.

Why should the physical autonomy of a woman's body not be entitled to the same respect in a sexual encounter? Clear proof of an unequivocal "no" should not be required. Consent for an intimate physical intrusion into the body should mean in sexual interactions what it means in every other context -- affirmative permission clearly signaled by words or conduct. [FN119] There are many ways to make permission clear without verbalizing the word "yes," and permission certainly need not be in writing. But permission must be an affirmative indication of actual willingness. Silence and ambivalence are not permission. [FN120]

*2182 Next, what if a woman does agree? What kinds of constraints violate her autonomy? Autonomy cannot mean freedom from all constraints upon choice, but it does entail freedom from those constraints that our culture identifies as illegitimate. The scope of that freedom is marked by the rights to bodily integrity and personal independence that existing legal principles already protect. [FN121] This modest conception of personal autonomy offers boundaries that are specific and, yet, far reaching.

One example is sexual harassment in the workplace. This looks like an area that is hardly ripe for criminal sanctions. But if a supervisor tries to get sexual favors by offering a promotion (or by threatening to veto one), he is confronting the employee with alternatives (no matter whether we call them offers or threats) that his position gives him no right to impose. If the supervisor used his position to get an economic payoff from the employee, he would be guilty of extortion. [FN122] If a professor threatened to withhold a good grade or a good recommendation until he got some cash from a student, again he would be guilty of extortion. [FN123]

The worker or student should have the same right to control her sexuality that she has to control her wages or her bank account. What makes the woman's consent invalid is not that the supervisor's act involves too much pressure. What makes the consent invalid is that rules already settled in our culture deny the supervisor the right to require an employee to choose between her promotion and her legally protected interests. One of those interests should be -- and is -- her sexual independence. For the same reason, the high school principal who allegedly obtained sex from a student by threatening to block her graduation [FN124] should certainly be guilty of a crime.

*2183 Two variations will make the implications clearer. Suppose that a highly paid fashion model wants to land a film role to enhance her career. The company's casting director says that unless she sleeps with him, she will not get the part. If you are looking for excessive pressure, this case will seem a lot harder than that of the student or employee. You may not feel sympathy for the model at all. But whether you feel sympathy or not, the violation of her autonomy is the same as in the previous cases. The man's action is extortionate, just as if he had insisted on a side-payment in cash. There is an improper constraint on the woman's freedom of choice under background rights that are already settled in our culture.

The converse of the model's situation, the "hard case" for this analysis, is that of a needy mother of four who finds a partner willing to support her. Suppose that the relationship deteriorates, and the man threatens to kick her out of the apartment unless she continues to meet his sexual demands. Obviously, the needy mother has far less freedom of choice than the successful fashion model does. But the relevant question has to be whether the man's threatened actions are illicit. In the model's situation, the pressure may be slight, but it is clearly impermissible. In the mother's case, the pressure, though severe, might not be illicit. A sexual quid pro quo is not a legitimate condition of ordinary employment, but sexual fulfillment is, for both men and women, an appropriate and valued goal of ongoing, intimate personal relationships. Thus, although the man's action in imposing a sexual condition on his willingness to continue his relationship with the needy mother could be criticized as insensitive in many contexts, it nonetheless involves an exercise of his autonomy that society ordinarily considers legitimate and worthy of social protection. It makes sense to ask whether the nature of the relationship is sufficient to give her a right to remain in the apartment or to receive financial support, and if she does have such a right, the man's threats should render any consent to sex invalid. But if existing norms do not protect her from this sort of economic pressure, then her decision to remain in the relationship, although highly constrained, is not improperly tainted, and her consent to sex would therefore be valid.

With these principles in mind, we can return to the cases mentioned earlier -- the man who takes the woman's car keys and the man whose intimidated girlfriend no longer tries to fight back. In the first case, there is a kind of consent, ultimately the woman says "OK," but the consent is tainted by a clear violation of her right to leave. In the second case, there is never any affirmative permission *2184 at all. These cases make clear that one thing missing in the law of rape is some way to punish sexual misconduct that is not physically violent. It is as if we had a law against armed robbery but no law against theft. The way to fill that gap is not to try expanding what we mean by force but to have statutes punishing, as an offense distinct from forcible rape, any sexual imposition without valid consent. Thus, the men in these two cases should, at a minimum, be convicted of sexual misconduct.

We get these results without having to sort out degrees of force and without having to treat women as dominated or disempowered. The key is in the background structure of rights and privileges that determine what uses of personal power and institutional position are permissible, against either the weak or the strong, against either men or women in our society.

This approach identifies a baseline of existing rights, and it leaves room for evolution in the standards for valid consent. Respect for a woman's autonomy should mean that her interest in controlling her sexual choices receives just as much protection as any person's interest in controlling her property, her labor, or her freedom of action in other areas of life."

Discussion Question #2

Is the above discussion of coercion, consent and autonomy helpful in analyzing questions of rape? Do you know women who have related stories about 'giving in' to men's sexual pressures, not because the women affirmatively wanted sexual engagement, but because they either got tired of fighting or thought it was useless to do so? How does violence against women in general operate as background noise in this situation?

Group A: Post your thoughts here.

Group B: Post your thoughts on the general discussion board.

Attitudes Supporting a Rape Culture


Attitudes supporting a rape culture begin shockingly early. As you carefully peruse the following material, think about your own attitudes and challenge them. This section lends support to the proposition that sex education teaching healthy respect for girls and boys cannot start too early. We have information on exactly what these attitudes are--it seems logical that focusing on un-teaching these could disable harmful attitudes.

Attitudes of Adolescents

In a survey of high school students, 56% of the girls and 76% of the boys believed forced sex was acceptable under some circumstances. A survey of 11-to-14 year-olds found that 51% of the boys and 41% of the girls said forced sex was acceptable if the boy, "spent a lot of money" on the girl; 31% of the boys and 32% of the girls said it was acceptable for a man to rape a woman with past sexual experience; 87% of boys and 79% of girls said sexual assault was acceptable if the man and the woman were married; 65% of the boys and 47% of the girls said it was acceptable for a boy to rape a girl if they had been dating for more than six months. See AMA Report, "Facts about Sexual Assualt," found at:

This 1995 survey of 1,965 8th and 9th graders reveals the early establishment of gender stereotypes in the context of rape:

See Pamela McMahon, "Facts about Sexual Assault," (visited 2/27/00) <>

In a survey of middle school and high school students, 12% of the males and 18% of the females reported a history of unwanted sexual activity, with the majority of these episodes occurring between 13 and 16 years of age. Female adolescents overwhelmingly reported being forced into sexual situations against their will, and male adolescents reported being socially pressured into sexual situations before they were ready for them. In addition, large surveys of college students in both the United States and New Zealand have documented that over 50% of women in college had experienced unwanted sexual activity in the past, and up to 25% of all college women and 6% of college men reported having been the victims of assaults that met the legal definition of rape. Virtually none of these episodes had been reported to the authorities. Several studies show that there is confusion among youth about what constitutes sexual consent, and educational programs for adolescents are now being developed to clarify these issues.

The law is currently unclear on issues of male rape by a female. Of those women surveyed and described in the studies, the highest incidence of acquaintance rape appeared to occur in grade 12 and the freshman year of college. These data were collected from college students and did not include those women who had dropped out of high school. Of the 25% of college women surveyed who reported having had unwanted sexual intercourse, 84% knew their assailant, 57% of the episodes occurred on dates, and 41% of the women stated they were virgins at the time of the assault. Between 25% and 47% of date rape occurred on the first date, with an increased risk of rape if the male had initiated the date, driven the car, and paid for the date. Several studies have also documented that both males and females believe that forced sex may be legitimate and acceptable in certain circumstances. Male victims represent about 5% of the total number 20 of sexual assault cases reported. The actual number of males assaulted is probably much higher than statistics indicate because of the low incidence of reporting by men. A majority of male victims knew their attackers, and the use of weapons and multiple assailants were more common in male rape than in female rape.

Victims of rape have a difficult adjustment to the assault, as they tend to blame themselves, may suffer diminished self-esteem, and may have difficulty establishing trust in future relationships. Date rape usually occurs in the context of a relationship between two people in a social setting before the assault, with subsequent betrayal of trust. The date rapist tends to be sexually promiscuous, to have a hostile attitude toward women, and to use verbal coercion and alcohol to facilitate the sexual assault. In contrast, rapes by strangers usually involve more violence, trauma, and the display or use of a weapon. Little is known about men who rape men, although there is some information about men who are victims of rape.

-- American Academy of Pediatrics "Sexual Assault and the Adolescent," 94 Pediatrics 5, 761-765 (1994). For optional reading, you may read the full article on the web at

Statutory Rape

State statutory rape laws proscribe sexual intercourse with women under a certain age. The American Law Institute's Model Penal Code, which forms the basis of most state's criminal rape laws, defines rape as: "a male who has sexual intercourse with a female not his wife is guilty of rape if... the female is less than 10 years old." Section 213.1 (d).

Some have argued that preventing women, but not men, of the same age from having sexual relations is a violation of equal protection. The Supreme Court, however, in Michael M. v. Superior Court, 450 U.S. 464 (1981), rejected this attack on the constitutionality of California's statutory rape law. The law criminalized intercourse for men who engaged in intercourse with an under-aged woman, but not for women who engaged in intercourse with an under-aged man. In the case, a seventeen-year-old man engaged in sexual intercourse with a sixteen-year-old woman. The plaintiff (the man) attacked the rape statute as a denial of equal protection because he, but not his female partner, was criminally liable for their joint act. A divided Court upheld the rape statute under the "real difference" approach, which permits differential gender treatment in situations in which women and men are not similarly situated because of a biological difference.] According to the Michael M. Court, the fact that only young women can become pregnant as a result of underage sexual intercourse constituted a real difference that justified the differential statutory treatment. (To read the Michael M. decision (optional), click here) .

Professor MacKinnon points out an interesting contrast between statutory rape and rape in that under a certain age, a female is incapable of consent, once she reaches that age, she is presumed to consent. Catharine MacKinnon Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989).

Affects on Adolescent Victims of Sexual Assault

Several authors have reported that women who are sexually assaulted as children and adolescents are at greater risk of being sexually assaulted as adults. Results from the NVAW Survey provide further evidence of the link between sexual assault as a minor and subsequent sexual assault as an adult: 18 percent of the women who reported being raped before age 18 said they were also raped after the age of 18, compared with 9 percent of the women who did not report being raped before the age of 18. See Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, November 1998. Found on the web at

Campus Sexual Assault

One need only look at the intimate violence statistics reviewed in the first module to see the dangerous implications of rape-prone attitudes in adolescents. Teen dating violence is a very serious problem that is a precursor to domestic abuse later in a marital situation. Significantly, women age 16 to 19 and women age 20 to 24 had nearly identical rates of intimate victimization. See

In this section, we examine Campus Sexual Assault. [For an example of a model campus sexual assault and sexual harassment policy, see (optional reading)]. Campus sexual assault is particularly problematic as it limits a woman's opportunities for educational advancement. The common reaction to sexual assault on campus is that the woman withdraws from school, while the administrative board decides how or whether to punish the offender. But like other areas of male violence against women, the burden is borne by the victim. Consider for example Christy Brzonkala, the plaintiff in the first Civil Rights case initiated under the Violence Against Women Act (Module 2). After she was raped, she withdrew after learning that her rapist would be returning to school on a full athletic scholarship, even though he had been found guilty of rape.

Sexual Assault of College Aged Women

Many studies of college-aged men and women demonstrate the continuity of rape-prone attitudes that were evident in the adolescent studies. Consider the following excerpt from AMA Report, "Facts about Sexual Assualt,"

"A survey of 6,159 college students enrolled at 32 institutions in the U.S. found: 54% of the women surveyed had been the victims of some form of sexual abuse; more than one in four college-aged women had been the victim of rape or attempted rape; 57% of the assaults occurred on dates; 73% of the assailants and 55% of the victims had used alcohol or other drugs prior to the assault; 25% of the men surveyed admitted some degree of sexually aggressive behavior; 42% of the victims told no one
. . In a survey of male college students: 35% anonymously admitted that, under certain circumstances, they would commit rape if they believed they could get away with it. One in 12 admitted to committing acts that met the legal definitions of rape, and 84% of men who committed rape did not label it as rape.
In another survey of college males: 43% of college-aged men admitted to using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman's protest, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse. 15% acknowledged they had committed acquaintance rape; 11% acknowledged using physical restraints to force a woman to have sex. Women with a history of rape or attempted rape during adolescence were almost twice as likely to experience a sexual assault during college, and were three times as likely to be victimized by a husband. Sexual assault is reported by 33% to 46% of women who are being physically assaulted by their husbands."

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, young women (ages 16-24) are most at risk of being raped. A study published in American College Health (September 1997) found that one out of every five young women surveyed reported they had been forced to have sexual intercourse. Yet even the largest universities report only a few sexual assaults per year, despite the requirement to report serious crimes on campus under the Campus Security Act of 1990. The general public may believe their local campus is a safe place, but in reality many young men have been sent the message that they can rape without consequence. Administrators often convince sexual assault victims to utilize the college's disciplinary system by promising that the matter will be handled quietly, an inducement not offered by civil authorities.

College Administration Problems

Many believe that the current practice of allowing college disciplinary boards to adjudicate rape cases is wrong, arguing that all rape cases, campus and otherwise, deserve attention from the criminal justice system. As NOW’s Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, a former prosecutor, argues, "These boards do not have the training or the authority to be judges, and even if they should hold a student responsible, expulsion or suspension from college is hardly an appropriate punishment for the crime of rape." See: Cindy Hanford, NOW and Violence Against Women, "Campus Rape Ignored . . . . . Even When There's a Videotape" at

Critics argue that problems handling rape in the criminal justice system are amplified in the campus disciplinary context.

"Women are well aware of the methods used to keep them silent about rape: the justice system's reluctance to prosecute rapists, even when the evidence is overwhelming; the disbelief that survivors often face; and the insensitive and humiliating treatment women experience when they come forward.

"All of these factors are compounded when rapes occur on college campuses because campus administrators and college police are determined to protect the image of their school—a safe campus image that will attract new students and more money. And that means administrators often discourage women from reporting rapes to local law enforcement, and either covertly handle as internal matters what should be criminal investigations or overtly punish women who speak out.

"A symptom of the problem of college administrative boards handling or mishandling rape investigations is that it is often the rape victim who drops out of school. Another rape survivor at Harvard was actually encouraged to withdraw for the semester after the rape, and had the feeling that people did not want to deal with the problem, so did not want her around as a reminder. She did not drop out, took her case to court after the Ad Board hearing, and won in court. The Ad Board, to whom the rapist admitted the rape, voted to require him to withdraw, which meant that he could later come back and reapply--an outcome unacceptable to the survivor. One of the reasons the Board gave for not expelling him (what the survivor wanted) was that there was no precedent for the expulsion of a rapist. "There was no one previously in Harvard's history who had been expelled for rape." The second reason was that it wasn't a "violent" rape--he didn't hold a gun to her head and she didn't have any bruises; and the third reason was that he was a self-admitted rapist, so he was 'well on the way to recovery.' The survivor was understandably furious at this result, and thus initiated court proceedings. "

--"There in nothing like being able to tell somebody: Two Harvard rape survivors tell their stories," Interviews and sidebars from the Harvard Univeristy Perspective.

For more information on the problem of adjudicating campus sexual assault, see, Eileen Wagner, the lawyer for Christy Brzonkala, discusses the problems with college administrative boards adjudicating rape cases in "The Secret On-Campus Adjudication of Sexual Assault" at .

Discussion Question #3

You are an advisor to a newly-appointed college president. Preventing campus sexual assault is one of your most pressing assignments, and fortunately, one you are passionate about. What kind of plan will you design? What are its component parts? What lines of communication do you think are crucial to establish in any effective prevention program? How would your program attempt to reform student attitudes towards sexual assault? What do you imagine your relationship between the campus police and local law enforcement should be?

When responding to this discussion question, please consider and comment on the suggestions posted by other participants.

Group A: Post your thoughts here.

Group B: Post your thoughts on the general discussion board.


The potential of self-defense to transform a rape culture is underexplored. Many women would be able to avert a sexual assault if trained in self-defense. (This is NOT to imply that it is somehow a woman's fault for not self-defending if she is attacked.) Almost all women live their lives aware of their surroundings and in fear of a potential attack by a male. Yet the majority of women are not trained in self-defense.

Meaningful self-defense would disrupt gender roles of male aggressiveness and female passivity. As we have seen, gender roles are often the locus of male violence against women. While the elimination of gender roles altogether is not likely, a shift in a woman's relative ability to aggressively defend her bodily integrity may produce a corresponding reduction is attacks against her.

Professor Martha McCaughey attempts to marry the fields of self-defense and feminism in her book "Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women's Self-Defense" (NYU, 1997). Consider some excerpts here:

"Self-defense is a counter-discourse: it represents woman, man, and aggression in new ways that oppose those we take for granted. Women's new bodily comportment affects not only their confidence with respect to thwarting assaults; it proves highly consequential for many areas of their lives."

On Gender. "[I]n women's self-defense classes... [i]t becomes clear that women's inability to fight is a cultural matter of sexual politics, not a natural matter of hormones, brawn, or life-affirming biological programming. The feminine demeanor that comes so "naturally" for women, a collection of specific habits that otherwise may not seem problematic, is precisely what makes us terrible fighters. Suddenly, we see how these habits that make us vulnerable and that aestheticize that vulnerability are encouraged in us by a sexist culture. The very things that mark us as successful feminine women make us easy victims.

On Media. "Through television and film and movies and books, we're always shown the woman tries to hurt the guy and he just laughs at her. Or takes the gun from her. And so our power is taken away every night on television, because there's at least three shows that show a woman rped, murdered, or hurt in some way. At lest three shows a night, so we are constantly seeing women being bombarded with all these horrible things that happen so we always imagine, "what would I do if this happened? I don't know." Because we're always scared of getting in those situations but we never see them getting out of them, so we never picture ourselves getting out of them. Men are always shown how to get out of situations everyday, from the time they're little boys until the time they're grown men. Every movie out there is like Rambo taking on fifty guys, Chuck Norris--you know, all these guys...We have a lot of heroes, we have no sheroes."

-Martha McCaughey, Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women's Self-Defense (pp.90-94) (1987).


For the final discussion question, think about the relationship between self-defense and civil rights. Civil rights provides a legal means to protect ourselves. The right to be free from gender-motivated violence under the Violence Against Women Act (discussed in Module 2) is a legal form of self-defense. In a sense, however, it is different because it is not preventative-it is rather a form of redress that could have some social impact.

Think back to the first Module and the questions we discussed about gendered violence and protection therefrom. How much could it alter the language of violence if women knew self-defense, and men knew they knew it? In providing equal protection to women against male violence, should the state BE REQUIRED TO [also] provide a self-defense education to young females?

To read about an influential self-defense program for women - Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) - see

Group A: Post your thoughts here.

Group B: Post your thoughts on the general discussion board.