In response to the Steubenville Rape Trial, I want to share one of the most powerful lists you’ll ever read. Before photography, I spoke around the country on the topic of sexual assault after publishing my first book, Beauty Restored: Finding Life and Hope After Date Rape. Whenever I would read this list, the room would go silent. And I heard the cry of my own heart as college student after college student, teen after teen, said “If only I had heard this list before I was raped. Maybe I would have known.” Below are thirteen characteristics of Date/Acquaintance Rapists. If you know someone who is displaying these characteristics, does that make them a rapist?
But if you know someone who is in a relationship with someone exhibiting several of these behaviors, and especially if that someone is you, you can be affirmed through this list that this person is not a safe or healthy person to be in intimate relationship with. This is the list I wish I would have known before my own date rape. This is the list I’ve shared with thousands of youths, college students and women conferences over the last twenty years.
Below this list, I will share how these characteristics looked in my story with the numbers of the specific characteristic inserted at different points, so you can see how this list plays out in real life. In light of the current news, I encourage you to share these thirteen characteristics with all the young people in your life–especially those in a place of vulnerability.
13 Characteristics of Date/Acquaintance Rapists
Although there is no profile of a typical date or acquaintance rapist, experts have identified behavioral characteristics that tend to be exhibited by date and acquaintance rapists.
1. Displays anger or aggression, either physically or verbally (The anger need not be directed toward you, but may be displayed during conversations by general negative references to women, vulgarity, curtness toward others, and the like. Women are often viewed as adversaries.)
2. Displays a short temper; slaps and/or twists arms
3. Acts excessively jealous and/or possessive (Be especially suspicious of this behavior if you have recently met the person or are on a first or second date.)
4. Ignores your space boundaries by coming too close or placing his hand on your thigh, etc. (Be particularly cognizant of this behavior when it is displayed in public.)
5. Ignores your wishes
6. Attempts to make you feel guilty or accuses you of being uptight
7. Becomes hostile and/or increasingly more aggressive when you say no
8. Acts particularly friendly at a party or bar and tries to separate you from your friends
9. Insists on being alone with you on a first date
10. Demands your attention or compliance at inappropriate times, such as during class
11. Acts immaturely; shows little empathy or feeling for others and displays little social conscience
12. Asks personal questions and is interested in knowing more about you than you want to tell him
13. Subscribes excessively to traditional male and female stereotypes
*excerpt from Beauty Restored: Finding Life and Hope After Date Rape and Adapted from Carol Pritchard’s book, Avoiding Rape On and Off Campus
I met him the first week of my college freshmen orientation. He was charming, funny and a leader on campus. He was studying to be a Youth Pastor. I had never been away from home, and due to a painful relationship with my dad, I was hungry for love and attention.
The same week, he showed up at my dorm room. I remember wondering how he knew where I lived, but pushed the question aside. He asked if I wanted to go out on a date. I suggested a group date, but he pushed for time alone. I ignored the uncomfortable feeling inside and agreed (#9). The older girls were excited for me. They knew him, and he was funny with everyone. Why should I worry?
Soon after, we started dating more consistently. At first, he loved everything about me. But after a few weeks, things shifted. I remember coming out to the dorm lobby to meet him for dinner, and he asked me why I had chosen to wear something so awful. I went back to my dorm room embarrassed, in tears, and changed my clothes. He began telling me that my friends were talking about me and were not to be trusted (#8). I should spend more time with him, and after all, I hardly knew these new college friends.
One day, while driving in the car, I disagreed with something he said. He grabbed my thigh and squeezed tightly. While holding my thigh and smiling, he calmly told me that I was out of line. I felt trapped and afraid, but again, I didn’t listen. Then he let go of my leg and laughed. This was the beginning of him grabbing my thigh with an iron grip when he wanted me to pay attention (#4 and #7). If only I had known this was an actual characteristic of date rapists.
When I finally broke off the relationship, he followed me everywhere. He wanted another chance, another date, another opportunity to make up for how wrong things were going. No matter how many times I said no, he didn’t give up. Flowers showed up at my door, cards with confessions of love. He felt that God had brought us together. I was being too uptight, unforgiving. How could I not give him another chance, he asked. The girls around me swooned. Was I making a big deal out of nothing? He would not accept no for an answer. (#5 and #6)
So I agreed to one more date, as friends, on Valentine’s Day. But after dinner, he didn’t take me back to my dorm. He took me to an abandoned parking lot.
I remember being trapped, unable to get free from the car.
I remember the moment I gave up fighting and went far away in my head to survive what was happening to my body.
I remember him driving me back to my dorm, telling me that he’d give me a call some time soon, with a casual smile and wave goodbye.
I remember standing in the shower with all my clothes on, shaking and crying.
I remember changing the way I dressed, so that baggy clothes and dark colors hid my shape, my joy, hid me.
I remember hearing that he had done this before. I was number four.
I remember standing in the court room. Alone. And a woman judge asking me why I didn’t just get out of the car if things were “that bad”.
I remember feeling raped a second time by the court system.
It was Valentine’s Day, over 21 years ago.
If someone would have told me about these thirteen characteristics, I may have realized my gut instinct was in fact, telling me the truth. I may have thought twice about spending time with him. And even though everyone on campus seemed to love him, I may have given this list a second look and decided not to date him. But I never saw the list, and I was a broken nineteen year old who had zero self worth.
Before I became a photographer, I authored the book Beauty Restored: Finding Life and Hope After Date Rape. I spoke wherever I could at women’s conferences, college campuses, and youth groups and did over 40 national TV and radio interviews to bring awareness to a topic that is often kept quiet.
In my many years of speaking, I have witnessed how far reaching date rape is. I have held high school girls in my arms as they have sobbed uncontrollably. I have seen junior high boys weep under the chairs of the church. I have had grandmas confess that they have not told anyone of their rape for over 60 years. The loss in their voice, the grief, believing that swallowing the shame year after year was necessary.
These characteristics came to me after my rape. But you can share this list with friends, young people, youth groups, and college students to help prevent this horrible crime. Awareness is the key. Awareness has the power to make all the difference. Date/Acquaintance rape is never about sex, but power. The mind often feels crazy, second guessing everything, wondering if you are making a big deal out of nothing. And too often, I have found that the victim has been deprived of healthy love to know the difference. But we can change that. With our culture struggling to know how to respond to rape, you can have a powerful conversation with the young people you know. Working together, we can stop the shame and confusion. And even speak a word of hope to the one who is already hurting in silence.
You can find her at merakoh.com.