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Chapter 8 Power Abuses in


Human Relationships


Not?So?Hot Topics


1. The role of power and communication in abusive situations


2. Forms of rape and the language of survivors


3. The prevalence of date rape and date rape drugs in American society


4. Myths about rape and sexual aggression


5. Advice for men and women about sexual activity


6. The language of partner violence


7. Statistics, types, and myths about partner violence, including gay and lesbian


partner abuse


8. Battered woman syndrome, one explanation of why victims stay with abusers



A Non?Case Study


The information in this chapter is difficult to write about, and it?s going to be difficult to


read. Certainly it isn?t the first time you?ve read or heard about sexual assault and


partner violence. But it may be the most concentrated presentation of these topics


you?ve been assigned in college. This chapter focuses on power abuses in human


relationships, the downside of interacting with others, and how communication creates


options for those situations.


It doesn?t seem appropriate to start this chapter like the others?with a case study to


engage your thinking and energize you for the pages to come. Many cases could be


included because many people suffer abuse in relationships. But we prefer to tell some


of those stories in context, along with the information on each topic. Here?s why: It?s


very hard to focus on how people abuse one another? it takes us out of our comfort


zones to think or talk about it. Even when we do decide to think or talk about it, we still


tend to distance ourselves from it?to view it as a social problem, a bunch of statistics,


or something that happens to someone else. These are understandable ways to


protect ourselves from having to confront the tough issues. But you don?t really


understand a problem until you put a face on it. That?s what the cases in the chapter


are designed to do?to make these issues real by putting human faces on them. You


may be able to put the face of a relative, friend, or coworker into the situations we


describe. While that?s painful, we encourage you to do just that, because it will enable


you to more fully understand these problems and what can be done about them.


We also realize that some of you reading this material are those human faces?your


case could be substituted for one here. The abuses we discuss don?t just happen to


someone else? they happen to us. We hope that none of you has experienced what we


examine in this chapter, but it?s very likely that some of you have. If you?ve lived


through power abuses in the past, reading this chapter will no doubt bring up


unpleasant reminders for you. But perhaps you will gain a deeper understanding of


what you went through or a comparison for how you coped with your situation. If you?re



currently in an abusive situation, our sincere hope is that this information will help you


realize that you do not deserve or cause the abuse, and that you have options.



At the Center of Abusive


Situations: Communicating Power


What do sexual assault and partner (domestic) violence have in common? Neither is


primarily about sex, but instead they are about power (Berryman?Fink, 1993).


Whereas the gender or sexuality of the target of abuse may be an issue or play a role


in the offense, an abuser?s behavior is more often related to an attempt to control,


influence, and dominate the other person (Angier, 2000). Rapists and batterers all


have varying degrees of anger and needs for power that they inflict on their targets in


the worst way, by preying on their sexuality, physicality, or insecurities.


Another common thread throughout these issues is that they involve communication.


Acquaintance sexual assault or rape and partner violence usually involve a context of


communication that precedes the assault, as well as follows it. Most important, full


recovery from these abuses must involve communication. Not talking about an


experience doesn?t make it go away or allow the survivor to get past it. One of the


worst things a survivor can do, but something that happens frequently, is to hide in


shame and guilt and not tell anyone what happened. Communication makes an


experience real, which is frightening but necessary for recovery. So these abuses are


things that communication people?especially people with an interest in gender


communication?should study.


Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact, power has no sex.


?Katherine Graham, author/Washington Post publisher



Personal Rights and Sexuality


Although significant strides have been made in recent years toward gender equity in


sexual matters, the goal is not yet reached. Teachers see vestiges of these attitudes in


some students who express in overt or subtle ways an expectation that men have a


right to assert their sexual needs. Recall our discussion in Chapter 2



about biology



becoming a cop?out from focusing on sociocultural factors to explain gender


communication. The belief that some men commit sexual assault because their


physical urges overtake their reason, that ?men just have to have it,? is a similar cop?


out. This is blaming biology, taken to the extreme. In this section of the chapter, we


explore the difficult topic of sexual assault and rape and the critical role of


communication in sexual encounters.



Power at the Core


We?ve said that the abuses explored in this chapter are primarily about power, not


about sex. Of the two offenses we?re studying, rape is more closely associated with


sex. As Pulitzer Prize?winning author Natalie Angier (2000) explains, ?rape is about


sex and power and a thousand other things as well ? rape is not a monolithic constant


but varies in incidence and meaning from culture to culture and epoch to epoch? (p.


81). The role of power is obvious in stranger rape, because a stranger must render a


target powerless in order to assault. Here?s how power emerges when the assaulter is


someone the target knows: When sexual expectations and interests in a romantic or


social situation differ, when one person?s sexual intentions or desires don?t match


another?s, then the sexual motive becomes a power motive, a case of someone getting


his or her way no matter the cost or the wishes of the other person. One person


engages in sexual conduct against the will of another person? someone?s personal


rights are violated.



Case Study An Evening Out with Annie and Kris


Besides being a professor of communication, the author of your text (whom we?ll


simply refer to as ?the professor?) served as the director of the Women?s Center at her


university. In that capacity, she frequently made presentations on gender?related topics


on campus and in her community. One campus event will stay in her memory because


it so clearly illustrates our discussion of socialization and sexuality. The professor was


asked by a dorm resident assistant (RA) to speak to a group of her residents about


gender communication. The event drew about twenty or so students on a weeknight,


with more women than men in attendance. The discussion started generally, but as


usual in addressing gender communication in an informal setting, it fairly quickly turned


to topics of sex. At one point, the RA said that a friend of hers (whom we?ll call Annie)


was studying and couldn?t attend the gathering, but had an important question she was


going to call in.


Annie did phone in and her question was about ?blue balls? (pardon the bluntness and


use of this term). She said that at the end of a date, she?d been making out with her


boyfriend (whom we?ll call Kris) in his car and the activity went a bit further than usual,


at which point she resisted. She told Kris, ?You know I?m not into that? I?m not ready to


do it with you yet.? He got flustered, as she said was typical of him, but this time he


became angry as well. Kris said Annie was responsible for him having a ?permanent


case of blue balls? and that she had to have sex with him or it would hurt his health.


His claim was that being sexually aroused but ungratified caused an uncomfortable


and unhealthy condition for men. He said Annie owed it to him not to tease him, and


he knew she really wanted sex as much as he did.


As best she could, not being a physician (or a man), the professor explained Kris?s


condition. A state of pressure, swelling, and discomfort can develop in men as a result


of arousal that doesn?t consummate in ejaculation, and, over time, it can actually cause


the testicles to take on a pale blueish tint. But the condition isn?t permanent, as Kris


claimed. It goes away shortly, as the buildup of fluid due to arousal retreats, is


absorbed, or is ejaculated via masturbation. But here?s the main point the professor


tried to get across to Annie: The physical state termed ?blue balls? is in no way a



justification for sexual coercion or aggression. Kris had no right to make Annie feel


guilty for arousing him by kissing and then not giving in to his insistence on sex


because of the threat of some debilitating condition. On hearing this, Annie started to


cry over the phone.


There was more to the story. Annie said she felt bad about making Kris angry, she


cared about him, and she didn?t want to do something that would hurt him physically


because she really didn?t know anything about ?blue balls.? She?d had sex before in a


prior relationship, but wasn?t ready to have sex with Kris. But it turned out that Annie


did have intercourse with Kris that night in the car. In Annie?s perception, she didn?t


really say yes, she didn?t say no?she just didn?t resist when Kris started in again. But


she kept saying no all the time in her head. She didn?t enjoy the experience because


she wasn?t ready to go that far with Kris and she was worried someone would see


them in the car. It wasn?t until later that she started to question what had happened.


Was this a case of consensual sex or date rape? One could argue that this was a


classic case of date rape because Annie felt coerced into sex? although she complied


with Kris?s desires, she didn?t really consent because she kept saying no in her head.


He should have stopped when she first said she didn?t want to have sex. But what


about Kris?s point of view? What if he thought he was just being honest with Annie by


telling her that he was frustrated and needed to have sex? He first got a ?no? to sex,


but later Annie didn?t resist or say no, so things continued. Kris may have thought that


he was just fulfilling his male role?that it?s up to the guy to make the first move and


the woman to resist. Then when the man keeps pressing, the woman gives in and gets


what she really wanted all along. Whose interpretation is the right one? Is there a right




Answers to these questions reveal the complexity of the issue. A court dealing with a


situation like this might find merit in both Annie?s and Kris?s interpretations. On Annie?s


side, the incident could be considered date rape because she initially said no to Kris?s


advances and later said no in her head as Kris continued. She may have felt


powerless to stop Kris, since they had argued and he had gotten angry. However, a


court might find merit in Kris?s interpretation by believing that Annie was inconsistent?



at first saying no, but when physical activity continued, she made no attempt to push


Kris away or say no again. If she was saying no in her head, Kris couldn?t read her


mind. At the core of this example, and so many like it, is the issue of consent.


Communication?and the lack of it?is also at the core of the problem.


One lesson among many emerges from this story: A sexual situation like this involves


power, but that power isn?t always easy to detect or counter. In this situation, Kris used


the power of persuasion by talking about a male condition he knew Annie probably


wouldn?t understand and by making it sound like dire consequences would result if she


didn?t comply. This is a classic ?men have to have it? example in which one person


controls events by declaring a ?need,? then claiming that the other person is at fault if


she doesn?t meet his needs. The result is that someone felt she had to do something


she really didn?t want to do. In Kris?s mind, the incident was just sex, certainly not rape.


Annie knew what had happened was wrong, but she had a hard time calling it rape.


She couldn?t fathom charging Kris with rape, but she ended their relationship right after


this experience. It was clear that the event would stay with Annie a long time.



Changing Language as We Learn More


Naming or labeling something takes it out of the shadows and gives us a way to talk


about experiences, especially traumatic experiences, so understanding the language


surrounding sexual violence is important (Gay, 2007? Harned, 2004? Young &


Maguire, 2003). The law recognizes different types of rape. Forcible rape, as defined


by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is ?the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly


and against her will? (FBI, 2009). According to the FBI?s Uniform Crime Report (2008,


2009), incidences of violent crime (the category that includes rape) have trended


downward in recent years? however, it is still the case that one forcible rape occurs in


the United States every 5 minutes. The FBI?s conservative stance on rape has been


roundly criticized because it narrowly views rape as vaginal intercourse without


consent. Because of that narrowness, we prefer the definition provided by the Bureau


of Justice, in their Statistical Tables Index (2010)? rape is defined as follows:


Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion as well as physical force.


Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s). This


category includes incidents when the penetration is from a foreign object. Includes attempted


rapes, male as well as female victimization, and both heterosexual and homosexual rape.


Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.



A very broad definitionof rape is ?taking possession of another?s sexuality? (Moore,


2000, p. 25). A complicating factor in discussions and research, as well as laws about


rape, is disagreement on a definition.


Stranger rape is just what the term says?rape by a person unknown to the victim.


While people used to associate the general term rape primarily with stranger rape, this


form of rape occurs with far less frequency than rape by a person known to the victim.


Date rape (also termed acquaintance rape) occurs in the context of people who know


each other, even if they have just met. Researchers Jean Hughes and Bernice Sandler


(1987) define date rape as ?forced, unwanted intercourse with a person you know. It is


a violation of your body and your trust? (p. 1). After decades of being ignored, attention



is now being paid to the very serious societal problem of acquaintance rape. We spend


a good deal of time in this chapter on this form, because it?s the most common sexual


offense college students experience. While cases of same?sex date rape continue to


be documented, few targets of date rape are male? the vast majority of targets are


female (National Institute of Justice, 2008b? Tewksbury, 2010). Thus, most of the


literature refers to the rapist as ?he? and the person raped as ?she.?


The word rape is the historical term for this crime, but that term can be a trigger word


for people who?ve experienced it. By trigger word, we mean that simply hearing the


term can remind targets of the trauma they went through, sometimes making them feel


victimized again. This is one of the primary reasons you hear the term sexual assault


instead of rape. The impact of trigger words for our readers who have survived rape is


a concern, but part of the healing process may be to call an act what it is rather than


using a euphemism that can dilute or trivialize the experience. Women who have


experienced sexual violence tend to avoid static labels when talking about their


experiences, which reveals the challenges the language presents (Young & Maguire,




Another factor in word choice is the fact that in some information on the topic, sexual


assault is a broad term that applies to a range of offenses. Some definitions include


unwanted sexual intercourse? others describe a range of sexual activities, but don?t


include intercourse. To clarify, again we turn to the Bureau of Justice (2010) which


defines sexual assault as follows:


A wide range of victimizations, separate from rape or attempted rape. These crimes include


attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual conduct between victims and


offenders. Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or


fondling. Sexual assault also includes verbal threats.



Note that for both the definitions of rape and sexual assault, mention is made of


?threats,? meaning that communicating a threat of committing rape or sexual assault is


also viewed as criminal.



The preferred term for people who?ve lived through the ordeal of rape and sexual


assault is survivors, which is a great term because it signals respect and hope (Young


& Maguire, 2003). Rape also occurs among marital or committed partners (together or


separated) and between people who used to be married or legally committed. At long


last, all fifty states (and federal lands) have laws on the books addressing this form of


rape (Wife Rape, 2004). Other terms include marital rape, spousal rape, and wife


rape, defined as ?sexual acts committed without aperson?s consent and/or against a


person?s will, when the perpetrator (attacker) is the woman?s husband or ex?husband?


(Wife Rape, 2004, p. 1). We prefer the term partner rape, because homosexual


partners and people who are cohabitating can be raped just as people who are legally


married, separated, or divorced.



Underestimates of an Underreported Problem


Although we provide statistics to illustrate the extent of the problem, realize that


numbers don?t tell even half of the story when it comes to rape and sexual assault. FBI


crime statistics for 2009 indicate that rates of violent crimes (murders, robberies, and


rapes) declined nationwide from the previous year (FBI, 2009). Forcible rape rates


showed a decrease of 1.6 percent in this period. But remember: Rape rates reflect


reported cases. The crime least likely to be reported and least likely to result in a


conviction in the United States is rape (Crawford & Unger, 2004? Koss, as in Dusky,


2003). Determining rates of sexual assaults among college students is a difficult task,


again because of underreporting (Burnett et al., 2009? Karjane, Fisher, & Cullen,


2010? Lipka, 2009). According to National Institute of Justice (2008b) statistics,


studies of self?reported sexual assaults (not crime reports) indicate that about 3


percent of college women are sexually assaulted in any given nine?month academic


year. That may not seem like a large figure, but on a campus with 10,000 female


students, 3 percent equals 300 assaults.



Remember ?



Rape: Forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration


Stranger Rape: Rape by a person unknown to the target


Date/Acquaintance Rape: Rape by a person who is known by the target,


even if they have just met


Trigger Word: Use of a term that can remind a target of past trauma,


sometimes making her or him feel victimized again


Sexual Assault: Wide range of victimizations, including attacks or attempted


attacks involving unwanted sexual conduct


Research estimates that 14 percent of married women will be raped by their husbands


(Martin, Taft, & Resick, 2007). Underreporting is particularly the case for partner rape


because some women do not consider sexual assaults by their husbands, ex?


husbands, or cohabitating partners to be rape (Wife Rape, 2004).


Once in cabinet we had to deal with the fact that there had been an outbreak of assaults on


women at night. One minister suggested a curfew: women should stay home after dark. I said,


?But it?s the men who are attacking the women. If there?s to be a curfew, let the men stay home,


not the women.?


?Golda Meir, former Israeli prime minister



FACTS ABOUT DATE RAPE It?s a devastating fact that most women are raped by


people they know? only one in five rapes are committed by strangers (FBI, 2009). The



effects of date rape on younger women are enormous, especially in the damage done


to their ability to trust or form intimate relationships.


Date rape situations are extremely difficult for survivors to understand and grapple


with, because many people who are victimized by someone they know are especially


reluctant to call what happened rape. They often call it a ?bad date.? Sexual assault


survivors often blame themselves for getting into the situation in the first place, not


seeing it coming, using substances that altered their judgment or impaired their ability


to resist, and being generally unable to prevent the assault. Research over three


decades consistently shows that alcohol and/or drugs are involved in most date rape


situations (Abbey, Ross, McDuffie, & McAuslan, 1996? Lannutti & Monahan, 2004?


Muehlenhard & Linton, 1987). The most common factors that increase the risk of


sexual assault for female college students include alcohol use, sorority membership,


numerous sexual partners, days of the week (more assaults occur on weekends than


weekdays), and attendance at off?campus parties (National Institute of Justice,


2008a). In addition, being in one?s first or second year of college increases the risk? the


first few months of the academic year are the highest risk periods.


SLIP ?EM A MICKEY Some of you are too young to know what ?slipping a Mickey?


means, but it?s a reference to a Mickey Finn, a substance used to involuntarily sedate


someone for the purpose of assaulting or taking advantage of her or him. The old


phrase ?get her drunk and take advantage of her? has a twenty?first?century incarnation


in the form of date rape drugs.


You may have heard or read about date rape drugs, because many colleges and


universities are offering programs to educate students about the problem. The practice


of placing substances in people?s drinks without their knowledge is increasing at an


alarming rate. According to information found on the Women?s Health (2008) website,


the most commonly used, easily obtained drugs are as follows (street names


included): Rohypnol (Circles, Roofies, Roachies, La Rocha, the Forget Pill)? Gamma


Hydroxybutyrate or GHB (Grievous Bodily Harm, Easy Lay)? and Ketamine (Black


Hole, Special K). The most well?known of these, Rohypnol, is a medication prescribed


internationally for people with severe and debilitating sleep disorders. It?s illegal in the



United States, but continues to be smuggled in and sold as a street drug. The Swiss?


based company that manufactures Rohypnol has reformulated the drug so that it


releases a blue dye when dissolved in a liquid. While this is a step in the right


direction, the problem is that the blue dye is difficult to detect in dark drinks and dark


settings, such as bars and clubs. Various groups, including



Hot Button Issue



?Avatar Rape??


On the website, journalism professor Michael Bugeja


(2010) posted an interesting (if not disturbing) article about the popular 3?D


virtual world known as Second Life, which many students enjoy. Bugeja


explained how different forms of abuse are frequently reported to Linden Lab,


creator of Second Life? at the end of 2006, the lab received close to 2,000


abuse reports per day.


As sexual assaults and rapes are becoming more of a problem in the Second


Life world, Bugeja suggests that research is needed on three points: (1) how


avatar rape happens in virtual worlds? (2) what concepts and theories apply


when the act is neither physical nor geographical? and (3) why the discussion


is even necessary. How is virtual rape even possible, you ask? Bugeja


explains that, ?typically, users encounter the act through three scenarios: You


can lure others or be lured into it yourself. You can purchase or role?play it.


You can ?grief? it?a term that means to cause grief?or suffer it because of a


griefer.? Bugeja provides examples of sexual assaults he?s been made aware


of in the Second Life world, such as a situation when one avatar invited


another to go skinny?dipping, and then the interaction turned into an assault. In


the situation the target rebuffed her attacker, dressed her avatar, and exited


Second Life, but later explained that she felt taken advantage of and violated.


Bugeja cites research from 1997, an online publication entitled ?Virtual Rape?


by Richard MacKinnon. In the article, MacKinnon states, ?The concept of rape


is currently being addressed by participants in virtual reality and adapted so


that the virtual act of rape is recognizable as such and condemnable within


their virtual society.? It appears that the ?concept of rape? either wasn?t


adequately addressed in the 1990s and early 2000s, or the threat such virtual


worlds pos...


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