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Chapter 8 Power Abuses in
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
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
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
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.
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
On the website insidehighered.com, 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
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