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Talking About Date Rape

Spotting a Predator

Did you know that somewhere in America a woman is raped every two minutes?* If you've ever waited anxiously for your daughter to come home from a night out, now you can find out how to teach her to protect herself from sexual predators.

Don't miss this exclusive interview with Gavin de Becker, author of Protecting the Gift, and America's leading expert on violence.

Q: How can parents prepare their daughters to recognize the behaviors of "predatory" men?

A: There are many strategies a predatory man might use, but they are all about persuasion. We need to teach girls not to think of persuasion as something someone does to us; persuasion is an internal process, not an external one. We decide whether we'll be persuaded. A predator merely manipulates how things seem to us.

Whatever the method, persuasion requires the participation of the target, and human beings are the creatures who most cooperate with their predators. The lion on the other hand, has a more difficult predatory challenge than the man who would rape a teenager does. The lion, after all, must walk around in a lion suit; he is burdened by the obviousness of his size, claws, and teeth. Hunting would be easy if the lion could look like a timid kitten when it served him. Man can.

Parents need to tell their girls that niceness doesn't equal goodness. Being nice is a choice, and virtually all men who hurt women are nice at first. The same goes for charm. It can be turned on and off. Charm means "to compel by allure," so instead of describing a man as "charming," think instead, "he is trying to charm me." Then you can ask yourself why he wants to charm you.

Avoiding Date Rape

Q: When it comes to date rape, is the solution to avoid certain places or social events?

A: No, the solution is to avoid vulnerability. The person who will attempt to molest or rape a teenager needs an environment in which that's possible. He needs to get her to a place where nobody is nearby who will hear her if she resists loudly or calls for help. But he can also try to get her in a frame of mind where she doesn't resist loudly or call for help.

Dangerous men are only dangerous if they can get you somewhere. They are not dangerous on the dance floor, in the restaurant, in the crowded mall. That's where they may meet you, and it may be where they seek to persuade you--but that's not where they'd try to hurt you.

Since much of what I've said about the nature of men is anything but PC--as in politically correct--I'll borrow the acronym from that tired phrase to characterize the contexts in which young women (and women in general) can recognize their disadvantage: PC will now stand for privacy and control.

If a man who intends sexual assault or rape has privacy and control, he can victimize someone. If he does not have PC, he is not dangerous, period. Of course the mere presence of privacy does not mean a man is sinister, but it does mean a girl is vulnerable. A girl must evaluate this private moment: was it by circumstance or by design?

Cars, hotel rooms, apartments, houses, closed businesses, wilderness areas, the auditorium after hours, back corridors at work, a remote parking area--all these places can afford a predator privacy.

If a predator gets a target to cooperate, he has a lot more flexibility when it comes to privacy. This man can use a room in the girl's home, even if family members are somewhere in the house. For him, privacy is also adequately afforded by a room at work that people don't frequent, even if the business is open. A few empty seats in a theater can offer enough concealment to sexually abuse a teenager. Teenage girls who can be easily persuaded are more likely to be sexually assaulted than a teenage girl who cannot be easily persuaded.

Signs of Danger

Q: But girls are often in private environments with men. How can a girl tell if a male she knows is about to harm her?

A: Most often girls are in private situations with men who have no sinister intent whatsoever. The driving instructor who takes your teenage daughter all over town is granted some PC opportunities, but if he is a good man, no problem. Still, it's appropriate for a teenage girl to recognize the P in PC if several turns take them to some remote area. Ideally, if this occurs, she'd be more alert for the introduction of control.

Right when a man begins to introduce the P or the C is the defining moment when one can determine--virtually choose--whether to be a target or a victim. If the driving instructor's directions take them out of populated areas, a girl can say: "I'd be more comfortable staying in the city," or "Please stay in familiar areas." If the man had sinister intent, this girl has just asserted in the clearest language that she will not be easily persuaded, thus his options for gaining control are limited to force or fear, and that requirement will exclude the overwhelming majority of predators.

Privacy and Control

Q: Is it easy to teach PC to a teenage girl?

A: It is made far easier when the parent and the teenager recognize that these concepts are already imbedded into the consciousness of human beings. When a teenage girl is alarmed by someone's behavior, she instantly and automatically evaluates PC. She intuitively weighs whether anyone might hear a call for help or whether someone might come along, and she measures what degree of control the predator might have over her. The key--the trick--is to recognize PC before someone alarms her, even in the absence of obvious sinister intent on the man's part. The impala who finds itself alone with the lion doesn't wait to see how the carnivore will behave.


Q: Does this mean a teenage girl must be in a constant state of alertness whenever she is in the presence of men?

A: Absolutely not. This is about being alone with a man in a situation in which she is vulnerable. And then, a recognition of PC might be no more than a passing thought that opens the girl to her intuition about this man. If she feels at ease with her boss at the restaurant even though there are no customers around, fine. But being cognizant of PC means she'll sooner recognize the slightest inappropriate comment or unusual behavior, like locking the front door before closing time.

Teenage girls can memorize PC--Privacy and Control--and when someone has these advantages, be open to signals of that person's intent. That's all, not a fear of every man, just an acceptance of reality.

Dangerous Drugs

Q: What do teenage girls have to know about "date-rape" drugs?

A: Imagine a pill that is tasteless, odorless, dissolves completely into a drink, can incapacitate for hours whomever ingests it, costs a couple of dollars, and then erases the person's memory. Aptly known as the date-rape drug, Rohypnol has a slew of street names: Roofies, R2, roofenol, roche, la roche, roachies, and rib.

In a typical Rohypnol-rape case a young woman accepts a drink and then feels dizzy and disoriented. To all observers she looks like she's drunk, but the person who dropped a Rohypnol in her glass knows better. Though he seems the nice gentleman as he walks her outside, he takes her somewhere to rape her. Most victims have little or no memory of what happened, but they later piece together evidence that they've had sex with someone.

An obvious way to improve what is already epidemic in America (worst in Florida and Texas) is for the government to classify Rohypnol in the same category as drugs with a high potential for abuse, such as LSD and heroin.

Hoffman-LaRoche, the manufacturer of Rohypnol, resists reclassification and notes in their defense that "Alcohol is the number one date-rape drug in the country." Okay, so Rohypnol is the number two date-rape drug in the country--but it is still aiding many predators to victimize girls and women.

The main defense against Rohypnol-rape is knowledge about the drug. Then a young woman can be cautious about accepting drinks and carefully watch that nobody puts anything in her drink.

Don't Be a Target

Q: Why are teen girls such common targets of male violence?

A: Teenage girls are the most victimized segment of our population (and at the same time, the least likely to report a crime). In a survey of prison inmates who had committed violence against young people, three quarters of the victims were girls. Why? For starters, they offer less resistance and they pose less risk than adult women. Next, teenage girls are perceived as sexual objects, prohibited perhaps, but sexual nonetheless.

The issue is complicated by the fact that teenage girls are themselves exploring the dynamics of male attention and the desire to be accepted by men. This coincides with enhanced vulnerability and exposure because teenage girls are old enough to be out of parental supervision, to take a first job, have a first date, and experiment with drugs and alcohol.

* According to U.S. Department of Justice, a woman is raped every 2 minutes. In 1996, 307,000 women were the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.


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