Rape and Sexual Harassment Around the World - Acquaintance Rape
women alcohol college force
According to a number of widely publicized studies, young women are at high risk of sexual assault by acquaintances or boyfriends. Studies have found rates ranging from a low of 15% for rape to a high of 78% for unwanted sexual aggression. Researchers surmise that acquaintance rape is especially underreported because the victims believe that nothing can or will be done, feel unsure about how to define the occurrence, or are uncertain about whether the action qualified as abuse.
Date rape is considered a form of acquaintance rape, especially if the perpetrator and victim have not known one another for long and the abuse begins early in the relationship. In "Adolescent Dating Violence and Date Rape" (Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 14, no. 5, October 2002), a review of the current research and literature about date rape, Vaughn I. Rickert, Roger D. Vaughan, and Constance M. Wiemann observed that female teens aged sixteen to nineteen years old and young adult women aged twenty to twenty-four are not only four times as likely to be raped as women of other ages, but also that teens who have experienced rape or attempted rape during adolescence are twice as likely to experience an additional assault when they are college aged.
Rickert, Vaughan, and Wiemann also focused on high-risk subgroups of adolescents that, although less often studied, appear to experience high rates of date rape and other dating violence. They cited academically underperforming teens as at high risk, with 67% of female students and 33% of male students in a high school dropout prevention program admitting to having perpetrated dating violence, including sexual abuse and rape.
Acts of Aggression
David Riggs and K. Daniel O'Leary, in their study "Aggression between Heterosexual Dating Partners" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 11, no. 4, December 1996), analyzed questionnaires from 345 undergraduates and found that overall rates of aggression by men and women are quite similar. About one-third of both men and women report engaging in physical aggression in their current relationships, and nearly all have used at least one form of verbal aggression.
Men are somewhat more likely to use serious forms of aggression, while women are twice as likely to slap a partner and more than five times as likely to kick, hit, or bite. Women are more likely to engage in nearly all forms of verbal aggression. Riggs and O'Leary acknowledged that their research does not reveal how much of the aggression reported by women was in self-defense.
The Influence of Alcohol on Sexual Assault
Alcohol reduces inhibitions and, in some cases, enhances aggression, so it is not surprising that researchers examine the link between alcohol and sexual assault. In "Alcohol and Sexual Assault in a National Sample of College Women" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 14, no. 6, June 1999), Sarah E. Ullman, George Karabatsos, and Mary P. Koss examined how drinking prior to an assault influenced the severity of the attack.
The researchers administered a questionnaire to 3,187 college-age women, more than half of whom had been victims of rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual contact, or sexual coercion. They measured the participants' alcohol use, the severity of the sexual attack, the social context in which the assault occurred, and the victims' familiarity with the offenders. As expected, victims who reported getting drunk more often also reported more severe assaults than those who were drunk less often. Neither the victim's family income nor how well the victim knew the offender was related to the severity of the attack, although older women experienced more severe victimization.
The researchers also found that alcohol's role in predicting the severity of an attack did not vary according to how well the victim knew her attacker or whether a social situation, such as a party, was the setting for the assault—with one exception. Unplanned social situations were associated with more severe assaults when offenders were not drinking prior to the assault than when they were drinking. The victim's use of alcohol was related to the severity of the attack in cases where the rapist was not drinking. According to Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss, this finding suggests that intoxicated victims may be targeted by offenders, who perceive an opportunity to engage in sex without using coercive behaviors.
As anticipated, the study found that victims who abused alcohol or offenders and victims who used alcohol prior to the attack suffered higher rates of severe assaults. The study also found that offender drinking was related to more aggressive offender behavior and more severe victimization, suggesting that more violent assaults occurred when assailants had been drinking. Conversely, victim drinking was related to less offender aggression, possibly because force was not needed to complete the rape of intoxicated victims.
Not all researchers agree that the use of alcohol by offenders increases the severity of sexual assaults. Leanne R. Brecklin and Sarah E. Ullman found that alcohol use of offenders did not affect victim physical injury or need for medical attention. They reported their findings in "The Role of Offender Alcohol Use in Rape Attacks: An Analysis of National Crime Victimization Survey Data" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 16, no. 1, January 2001). They also found that alcohol use was related to less completed rape. They suggested, however, that alcohol use might be indirectly associated with injury outcomes, because offenders using alcohol were more likely to assault in more dangerous situations (assaulting at night and outdoors, and attacking strangers).
Sexual coercion is any situation where one person uses verbal or physical methods to obtain sex or sexual activity without consent of the other. Two studies examining the frequency of sexual coercion in dating relationships were published in Violence and Victims, vol. 10, nos. 3–4, 1995.
The first, "Male and Female Sexual Victimization in Dating Relationships: Gender Differences in Coercion Techniques and Outcomes," by Lisa Waldner-Haugrud and Brian Magruder, found that a "phenomenal" amount of sexual coercion was reported by 422 college students. Only 17% of the females and 27% of the males reported never experienced any coercion. The most common coercion techniques experienced by both sexes were persistent touching and the use of alcohol and drugs. Together, these methods comprised more than half the reported incidents of coercion. Women were more likely to experience unwanted detainment, persistent touching, lies, and being held down.
In the second study, Michele Poitras and Francine Lavoie questioned 644 adolescents between fifteen and nineteen years of age. Their results were published as "A Study of Prevalence of Sexual Coercion in Adolescent Heterosexual Dating Relationships in a Quebec Sample." The most frequently occurring unwanted sexual experiences reported by the adolescents were kissing, petting, and fondling. Verbal coercion was the most frequently used technique. Two in five girls reported sexual contact resulting from verbal coercion, and one in five reported intercourse resulting from verbal coercion. Approximately one out of ten females reported intercourse resulting from the use of force, alcohol, or drugs. Boys rarely reported the use of force, although 2.3% reported that they had had sex after giving their partners drugs or alcohol, and 2.9% reported intercourse as a result of verbal coercion. Poitras and Lavoie speculated that some of the differences in the reported rates of girls as the recipients of coercion and boys inflicting it may be attributed to the fact that adolescent girls frequently date older men, who may be more likely than boys to engage in coercive behaviors.
Leah E. Adams-Curtis and Gordon B. Forbes complicate the view of sexual coercion in their review of research, "College Women's Experiences of Sexual Coercion" (Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, vol. 5, no. 2, April 2004). They argued that coercive sexual behavior must be understood within prevalent sexual values on college campuses, including attitudes toward women, beliefs about sexual behavior, rape-supporting beliefs, coercionsupporting
|Extent of rape among women college students, by number of victims, and number of incidents by type of victimization incident, 1996|
|Type of victimization||Number of victims in sample||Percentage of sample||Rate per 1,000 female students||Number of incidents||Rate per 1,000 female students|
|*Total has been rounded (from 27.665 to 27.7).|
|SOURCE: Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, "Exhibit 3. Extent of Rape, by Number of Victims, and Number of Incidents, by Type of Victimization Incident," in The Sexual Victimization of College Women, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, NCJ 182369, December 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf (accessed October 15, 2004)|
peer groups like fraternities and athletic teams, gender concepts of both victims and perpetrators, and sexual promiscuity and its link with alcohol.
The researchers posited that sexual coercion has its roots in traditional sex roles and expectations. Perpetrators of sexual coercion are not psychopaths, but rather, men not particularly different from other men. Instead, the authors wrote, "We view sexual coercion as a complex, multiply determined, social behavior that has its origins in normal heterosexual interactions…. The factors influencing the progression from normal sexual negotiations to coercive sexuality are often commonplace elements of college life." The authors recommended that work be done to change traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity that result in the large percentages of college women being coerced into unwanted sexual activity.
The National College Women Sexual Victimization study found a disturbingly high rate of rapes among college women. The study was based on a telephone survey of randomly selected, national sample of 4,446 women attending colleges and universities in fall 1996. Respondents were asked between late February and early May 1997 if they had experienced sexual victimization "since school began in fall 1996."
The study found that in that period of almost seven months, 2.8% of the women had experienced either an attempted or completed rape. (See Table 5.2.) The authors suggested that the data show that nearly 5% of women college students are victimized in a given calendar year, and that the percentage of attempted or completed rape victimizations of college women during their college careers approaches one in four. The authors concluded that although the 2.8% figure might "seem" low, "from a policy perspective,
|Extent of sexual victimization among women college students, 1996|
|Type of victimization||Number of victims in sample||Percentage of sample||Rate per 1,000 female students||Number of incidents||Rate per 1,000 female students|
|SOURCE: Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, "Exhibit 5. Extent of Sexual Victimization," in The Sexual Victimization of College Women, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, NCJ 182369, December 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf (accessed October 12, 2004)|
|Completed or attempted|
|Completed sexual coercion||74||1.7||16.6||107||24.1|
|Attempted sexual coercion||60||1.3||13.5||114||25.6|
|Completed sexual contact with force or threat of force||85||1.9||19.1||130||29.2|
|Completed sexual contact without force||80||1.8||18.0||132||29.7|
|Attempted sexual contact with force or threat of force||89||2.0||20.0||166||37.6|
|Attempted sexual contact without force||133||3.0||29.9||295||66.4|
|Threat of rape||14||0.31||3.2||42||9.5|
|Threat of contact with force or threat of force||8||0.18||1.8||50||11.3|
|Threat of penetration without force||10||0.22||2.3||50||11.3|
|Threat of contact without force||15||0.34||3.4||75||16.9|
college administrators might be disturbed to learn that for every one thousand women attending their institutions, there may well be thirty-five incidents of rape in a given academic year. … For a campus with ten thousand women, this would mean the number of rapes would exceed 350."
Researchers also asked respondents about other types of sexual victimization. They found that 1.7% of their sample had been victims of completed sexual coercion (unwanted sexual penetration with the threat of punishment or promise of reward), 1.3% had been victims of attempted sexual coercion, 1.9% had been victims of unwanted completed sexual contact with force or the threat of force, and 1.8% had been victims of completed sexual contact without physical force. Smaller percentages of women had been sexually threatened. Table 5.3 shows these additional types of sexual victimization. Figure 5.1 displays the data slightly differently, showing that 7.7% of college women surveyed had experienced sexual victimization involving physical force, 11% had experienced sexual victimization involving nonphysical force, and 15.5% had experienced any victimization since the start of the academic year.
The National College Women Sexual Victimization study also found that fewer than 5% of the rapes and attempted rapes had been reported to police, and even lower percentages of other types of sexual victimization were reported. (See Table 5.4.) A national study of college students reported by the Centers for Disease Control backed up this result, finding that 27.5% of women said they had suffered rape or attempted rape at least once since age fourteen, but just 5% of victims reported the incidents to the police.
These numbers confirm other researchers' findings that students overwhelmingly do not report acquaintance rapes or attempted rapes, including those of Bonnie S. Fisher et al. in "Reporting Sexual Victimization to the Police and Others: Results from a National-Level Study of College Women" (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 30, no. 1, February 2003). According to the Centers for Disease Control, the term "hidden rape" has been used to describe this finding of widespread unreported and underreported sexual assault. Anecdotal reports from college and university administrators suggest that many female students who have been raped not only fail to report the offense, but also drop out of school.
|Reasons for not reporting incident to the police, by type of victimization, 1996|
|Reason for not reporting incident*|
|Type of incident||Incident was not reported
|Did not want family to know
|Did not want other people to know
|Lack of proof that incident happened
|Fear of being treated hostilely by police
|Fear of being treated hostilely by other parts of justice system
|Not clear it was a crime or that harm was intended
|Did not know how to report
|Police wouldn't think it was serious enough
|Police wouldn't want to be bothered
|Afraid of reprisal by assailant or other
|Did not think it was serious enough to report
|*Percentages may be greater than 100 because a respondent could give more than one response.|
|SOURCE: Bonnie S. Fisher, Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner, "Exhibit 12. Reasons for Not Reporting Incident to the Police, by Type of Victimization," in The Sexual Victimization of College Women, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, NCJ 182369, December 2000, http://www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf (accessed October 15, 2004)|
|Completed or attempted|
|Completed sexual coercion||100.0||41.9||43.8||33.3||8.6||1.9||58.1||14.3||24.8||21.9||31.4||71.4||1.9|
|Attempted sexual coercion||100.0||21.2||19.5||15.9||2.7||2.7||46.9||6.2||28.3||18.6||11.5||86.7||0|
|Completed sexual contact with force or threat of force||99.2||19.5||16.4||21.9||9.4||0||37.5||7.0||37.5||30.5||22.7||81.3||3.1|
|Completed sexual contact without force||98.5||4.7||11.7||18.0||4.7||1.6||43.0||5.5||29.7||18.8||12.5||91.4||0.8|
|Attempted sexual contact with force or threat of force||97.0||13.8||21.9||23.1||8.8||6.3||37.5||10.0||31.3||22.5||23.8||80.0||2.5|
|Attempted sexual contact without force||99.3||7.2||10.2||18.1||4.4||1.4||39.6||6.1||22.9||18.4||10.9||88.4||2.7|
|Threat of rape||90.5||26.3||34.2||31.6||13.2||7.9||39.5||13.2||34.2||31.6||26.3||65.8||2.6|
|Threat of contact with force or threat of force||90.0||22.2||20.0||20.0||8.9||4.4||51.1||13.3||37.8||26.7||17.8||68.9||4.4|
|Threat of penetration without force||100.0||20.0||22.0||24.0||4.0||4.0||46.0||6.0||30.0||30.0||12.0||88.0||2.0|
|Threat of contact without force||98.7||6.8||8.1||21.6||8.1||6.8||31.1||2.7||21.6||9.5||13.5||83.8||0|
In "Acquaintance Rape and the College Social Scene" (Family Relations, vol. 40, January 1991), Sally Ward et al. surveyed 518 women and 337 men at a large university. Thirty-four percent of the female respondents had experienced unwanted sexual contact, such as attempted or actual kissing, fondling, or touching; 20% had experienced unwanted attempted sexual intercourse; and 10% had unwanted intercourse, which was defined as any form of sexual penetration, including vaginal, anal, and oral. The majority of incidents were party related, and most involved alcohol, with 75% of the males and over half the females reporting alcohol consumption at the time of the incident.
Women reported that the majority of the perpetrators initiated the acts without warning. The percentage of cases involving force by men ranged from 8% for sexual contact to 21% for completed intercourse. Most of the women verbally protested, although 20% of victims said they were too frightened to protest. Victims most frequently chose to confide in a roommate or close friend, although 41% of the women told no one about the rape. Counselors were almost never told of the incidents.
The men reported a very different picture of unwanted sexual behavior on campus. Only 9% reported committing either unwanted sexual contact or attempted intercourse, and 3% admitted to incidents of unwanted sexual intercourse. Ward et al. proposed that the reason for the different results is that men and women read sexual cues and form sexual expectations differently. A 2003 study titled "Likelihood of Acquaintance Rape as a Function of Males' Sexual Expectations, Disappointment, and Adherence to Rape-Conducive Attitudes" found that men are far more likely than women to interpret a woman's behavior as sexual and misconstrue it as an invitation to sexual intimacy. The study's authors, V. J. Willan and Paul Pollard, wrote, "In conjunction with the finding that males significantly misperceived the female's sexual intent to engage in sexual intercourse, following the initial contact, this suggests that males, in a bid to calculate the probability of obtaining sexual intercourse, overestimate the predictive value of the female's initial consent to 'attend a party together.' This consequently leads to greater goal expectation, which, combined with hostile beliefs about women, might result in a greater likelihood of nonconsensual sexual intercourse" (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 20, no. 5, 2003).
Fraternities and Athletics
Fraternity members are frequently blamed as perpetrators of college rapes. Martin Schwartz and Carol Nogrady, in "Fraternity Membership, Rape Myths, and Sexual Aggression on College Campus" (Violence against Women, vol. 2, no. 2, June 1996), think this characterization is false. They argue that men who are most likely to rape in college are fraternity pledges, and postulate that fraternity members are more likely to have a narrow conception of masculinity, espouse group secrecy, and sexually objectify women. Schwartz and Nogrady asserted that alcohol is the crucial variable, and because fraternity members are often heavy drinkers, researchers have mistakenly linked these men and sexually aggressive behavior.
Mary Koss and Hobart Cleveland, in "Athletic Participation, Fraternity Membership and Date Rape: The Question Remains—Self-Selection or Different Causal Processes?" (Violence against Women, vol. 2, no. 2, June 1996), tried to determine whether date rape is more likely to be perpetrated by athletes and fraternity members. They speculated that a fraternity-sponsored party draws acquaintances of the same social network together, while the fraternity controls the limited physical space with very little supervision. Together, these circumstances create an environment that legitimizes the actions of the members, thereby minimizing the chance of reporting as well as the credibility of women who do report sexual misconduct. Koss and Cleveland concluded that there is very low reporting of fraternity rape.
Several studies have found that peer support of violence and social ties with abusive peers are predictors of abuse against women. In addition, training for violent occupations such as athletics and the military can "spill over" into personal life. Athletic training is sex-segregated, promotes hostile attitudes toward rivals, and rewards athletes for physically dominating others. Todd Crosset et al. in "Male Student-Athletes and Violence against Women" (Violence against Women, vol. 2, no. 2, June 1996), gathered data from the judicial affairs offices of the ten Division I schools with the largest athletic programs. Although male student-athletes made up just 3% of the student population, they accounted for 35% of the reported perpetrators.
Crosset et al. contended that the special society of athletics promotes violent, woman-hating attitudes. In "Sports' Dirty Secret" (Sports Illustrated, vol 83, issue 5, July 31, 1995), Crosset explained that it is an important aspect of male athleticism to not be considered feminine, meaning a "wimp" or a "sissy." Women are despised, degraded, and not respected. In this climate, the athlete needs to "act like a man," and to be accused of acting like a woman is a grave insult.
Researchers Stephen E. Humphrey and Arnold S. Kahn have complicated the question of whether fraternity members and male athletes are more likely to perpetrate sexual assaults than other college males in "Fraternities, Athletic Teams, and Rape: Importance of Identification with a Risky Group" (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 15, December 2000). They argued that one reason that previous studies have yielded conflicting results is that they treat all sports teams and fraternities as the same, but that "there is evidence that fraternities vary widely in their attitudes toward women and their behavior toward them." They concluded that some "high-risk groups" had higher levels of sexual aggression and hostility toward women, as well as more support for sexual violence than did other "low-risk groups." In other words, the members of some fraternities and athletic teams are more likely to perpetrate sexual assault, while others are not.
Alcohol on Campus
Alcohol has been implicated in most sexual assault cases on campuses. According to the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, in Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on America's Campuses (New York: Columbia University, 1994), 90% of all college rapes occur when either the victim or the rapist is under the influence of alcohol. Other studies estimate that one-third to three-quarters of all rapes and sexual assaults involve the use of alcohol by one or both parties.
Antonia Abbey et al. in "Alcohol and Dating Risk Factors for Sexual Assault among College Women" (Psychology of Women Quarterly, vol. 20, 1996), concluded that having one's sexual intentions misperceived was directly related to experiencing sexual assault. They argued that women tend to send misperceived messages when alcohol is consumed.
Other researchers also suggest that alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of sexual assault. In men, it appears to promote the expression of traditional gender beliefs about sexual behavior and creates expectancies associated with male sexuality and aggression, providing justification or a rationale for men to commit sexual assault. Furthermore, drinking increases the likelihood that men will misread women's friendly cues as signs of sexual interest. For women, alcohol consumption limits the ability to correct men's misunderstanding of cues. Drinking also decreases women's capacity to resist sexual assault and often prompts the victims to feel responsible for assaults.
In "Alcohol and Sexual Assault in a National Sample of College Women," Sarah E. Ullman, George Karabatsos, and Mary P. Koss polled a group of 3,187 college-age women about their own alcohol abuse, sexual victimization, sexual assault experience, and the social events surrounding their experience (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 14, June 1999). Of the 54.2% of women who had experienced some sexual victimization, over half (53.4%) reported that their assailants were using alcohol at the time of the incident, and 42% reported that they themselves were using alcohol. Over a third of the assaults (39.7%) occurred during dates with men that the women knew well or moderately well. Most assaults were committed without weapons, although 40% of the men used physical force. More than 90% of the victims said they attempted to resist the assault.
Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss found that the victim's propensity to abuse alcohol and the use of alcohol prior to the assault by both victim and assailant were associated with more severe sexual victimization. The research revealed that a victim's use of alcohol before the assault did not predict more severe sexual victimization, as hypothesized; instead, researchers speculated that victim drinking may have been related to less offender aggression, because force was not needed to complete the rape of an intoxicated victim. Nor did alcohol's role in predicting the severity of sexual victimization vary in relationship to how well the victim knew the offender or whether a social situation was the setting for the assault. Ullman, Karabatsos, and Koss concluded that assaults in unplanned social situations were opportunistic in nature, and therefore were not affected by offender drinking.
Overall, the study findings indicated that alcohol use by victims and offenders before an assault plays direct and indirect roles in the severity of assaults, but generally the woman's drinking behavior contributes less strongly to the outcome of the attack.
Rohypnol—The "Date Rape Pill"
While alcohol abuse remains a significant problem on college campuses, other drugs, such as Rohypnol, have made resistance to attacks practically impossible. A hypnotic sedative ten times more powerful than Valium, Rohypnol (known as "Roofies," "Roches," and "Ropies") has been used to obtain nonconsensual sex from many women. Mixed in a drink, it causes memory impairment, confusion, and drowsiness. A woman may be completely unaware of a sexual assault until she wakes up the next morning. The only way to determine if a victim has been given Rohypnol is to test for the drug within two or three days of the rape, and few hospital emergency departments routinely screen for this drug. Health educators, high school guidance counselors, resident advisors at colleges, and scores of newspaper and magazine articles advise women not to accept drinks at parties or to leave drinks sitting unattended.
Although Rohypnol is legally prescribed outside of the United States for short-term treatment of severe sleep disorders, it is neither manufactured nor approved for sale in the U.S. The importation of the drug was banned in March 1996, and the U.S. Customs Service began to seize quantities of Rohypnol at U.S. borders. In response to reported abuse, the manufacturers reformulated the drug as green tablets that can be detected in clear liquids and are visible in the bottom of a cup.
In October 1996 President Bill Clinton signed a bill amending the Controlled Substances Act to increase penalties for using drugs to disarm potential victims of violent crime. Anyone convicted of slipping a controlled substance, including Rohypnol, to an individual with intent to commit a violent act, such as rape, faces a prison term of up to twenty years and a fine as high as two million dollars. The law also increased penalties for manufacturing, distributing, or possessing Rohypnol with the intent to distribute it.
Two other drugs are also used as date rape pills. Gamma hydroxybutyric acid (GHB, also known as "Liquid Ecstasy") enhances the effects of alcohol, which reduces the drinker's inhibitions. It also causes a form of amnesia. Ketamine hydrochloride (also known as "Special K") is an animal tranquilizer used to impair a person's natural resistance impulses. During 2002, anecdotal reports about another dangerous drug surfaced—a combination of methylenedioxymethamphetamine (known as "Ecstasy," "MDMA," or "crystal methamphetamine") and Viagra (a prescription drug used to treat erectile dysfunction)—dubbed "Sextasy." According to media reports, the drugs are taken together by male teens because Viagra offsets impotence, a potential side effect of methamphetamine use. Public health officials are alarmed by this "off-label" use of Viagra and fear that it may contribute to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases and sexual assault.
The Political Conflict: "One in Four"
The frequency of date rape has become a highly controversial subject. The most widely publicized rate of date rape, and the source of this dispute, was that "one in four" women are victims. This number originated in a study by Mary Koss, C. Gedycz, and N. Wisniewski. In "The Scope of Rape: Incidence and Prevalence of Sexual Aggression and Victimization in a National Sample of Higher Education Students" (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 55, 1987), Koss, Gedycz, and Wisniewski interviewed more than three thousand women nationwide about sexual violations. Among the ten questions asked by the researchers were: "Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs? Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn't want to because a man threatened or used some degree of physical force to make you? Have you had sexual acts (anal or oral intercourse or penetration by objects other than the penis) when you didn't want to because a man threatened or used some degree of physical force to make you?"
Based on the interviews, Koss, Gedycz, and Wisniewski determined that 15.4% of the women had been raped and 12.1% had been victims of attempted rape, making the total number of women who were victims of rape or attempted rape 27.5%. The women, however, saw things differently. Only 27% of the 15.4% Koss et al. had labeled as "raped" agreed with that classification. Of the remainder, 49% said it was "miscommunication," 14% said it was a crime but not rape, and 11% said they didn't feel victimized. Furthermore, Koss, Gedycz, and Wisniewski found that 42% of the women they had classified as rape victims had sex again with their attackers on at least one other occasion.
Critics of this study faulted Koss, Gedycz, and Wisniewski for counting among their rape victims women who had had intercourse as a result of alcohol or drugs. If a woman passed out and her partner had intercourse with her, she had been raped, since the act was committed without her consent. But not everyone agreed that she had been raped if she had too much to drink and engaged in sex because her judgment was impaired, regardless of whether or not she regretted her actions later.
Katie Roiphe, the author of The Morning after: Sex, Fear, and Feminism (Boston: Back Bay, 1994), observed in a 1993 interview that date rape has become a synonym for bad sex, sex that is pressured, sex while drunk, or next-day regrets. If all these situations were called rape, she concluded, then almost everybody has been "raped" at one time or another. The Roiphe interview was conducted by Judith Stone and published as "Sex, Rape and Second Thoughts" (Glamour, 91, October 1993).
If the women in Koss, Gedycz, and Wisniewski's study who did not identify themselves as raped while under the influence of drugs or alcohol were removed from the total, the rate of rape and attempted rape drops from one in four to one in twenty-two and one in thirty-three, respectively. Koss, Gedycz, and Wisniewski defended their inclusion of these women, citing the Ohio law that states, "No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another person… when… for the purpose of preventing resistance the offender substantially impairs the other person's judgment or control by administering any drug or intoxicant to the other person." But the researchers later conceded that the question was ambiguously worded, because they omitted the portion of the statute that refers to "the situation where a person plies his intended partner with drink or drugs in hopes that the lowered inhibition might lead to a liaison."
Despite the firestorm of criticism that followed the widespread dissemination of the rates cited in Koss, Gedycz, and Wisniewski's study, their research continues to be cited by credible providers of health and social policy data, including the Centers for Disease Control in the Dating Violence Fact Sheet and Dating Violence (Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2002).