By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“I was drunk and I blacked out at a party at his house,” she recalls. “When I woke up in the morning, I was bleeding — he was a big person, in every way, and when he had sex with me I wasn’t ready — I wasn’t wet.” In the morning, she took a shower in his bathroom, reality still dawning on her, while Van Morrison’s “Moondance” played on the radio, a song that to this day makes her leave the room. “I was in incredible pain, and I confronted him and said, ‘What did you do?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we were both drunk.’” She regrets that she did not storm out the door in anger. Instead, she made him breakfast.
The next day, she saw the nurse practitioner at her college. “She said, ‘Do you want to tell me what happened?’” says Karen. “I told her I didn’t really know. And she said it again — ‘Do you want to tell me what happened?’ And I told her what I didknow — that I’d been drunk, that someone had sex with me while I was blacked out, and that he injured me. The amazing thing is, I considered that my fault.
“Neither of us had words for what reallyhappened,” Karen says now. “I’d never heard the term ‘date rape.’ I completely assumed that because I’d gotten so drunk it was my fault. I even thought it was my fault that I was bleeding. It wasn’t until a few years later, when a woman came to campus and hosted a ‘speak-out’ — remember those? — that I realized what had happened to me. Everybody got up and told their stories about being raped or assaulted by someone they knew. And as I heard the stories, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s me. That’s what happened to me.’ So I stood up too, and told my story. And that was the first time I’d talked about it since the week it happened.”
It all started with Mary Koss. In 1985, after conducting interviews with more than 6,000 college women and men over a three-year period, the University of Arizona psychiatry professor published a report in Ms.magazine on the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. The results startled everyone: One in four women had been victims of rape or of attempted rape; another one in four had been verbally coerced into having sex or had been touched sexually without their consent. Most jarring of all, 84 percent of women who had been raped knew their attackers. Well over half the assaults happened on dates.
Thus was the world introduced to the notion of acquaintance rape, along with a muddle of stories about women who thought they’d said no and men who didn’t hear them, about all-night drinking parties ending in sex that left one partner bruised and the other bewildered, and about intimidation tactics once categorized as a peculiar sort of foreplay now reclassified as coercion. The resulting shift in our thinking was shattering and permanent, and it has dogged romance ever since.
Consider its epic effects on the culture: Without Koss, Desiree Washington might have slinked meekly back to her family after Mike Tyson raped her in his hotel room; women pilots might still be running the gauntlet of groping men at annual Tailhook conventions; William Kennedy Smith’s name might have stayed on the society pages. And nobody would be accusing Kobe Bryant of anything worse than unnecessary roughness — or adultery.
Funded by a $267,500 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Koss’ Ms.Campus Project on Sexual Assault survey posed 10 questions, including: “Have you given in to sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because you were overwhelmed by a man’s continual arguments and pressure?” And “Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man used his position of authority (boss, teacher, camp counselor, supervisor) to make you?” If a woman answered yes to any of the first seven questions, Koss concluded that the woman had been a victim of unwanted sexual contact, attempted sexual assault or sexual coercion. If she answered yes to any one of the last three questions — “Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?” plus two more involving physical force — Koss considered the woman raped.
It may seem axiomatic now that any man who drugs a woman or physically forces an unwilling partner is a rapist, but when Koss’ data was repackaged and presented in Robin Warshaw’s 1988 book, I Never Called It Rape,it provoked thousands of women to reassess their sexual histories. No longer were the ranks of rapists populated only by strangers attacking lone women in dark alleys; using Koss’ definition, women retroactively came to understand that sex without consent — be it on a first date, with long-term boyfriends, or even with their husbands — was rape.
The introduction of the term “date rape” into the national vocabulary also sent a chill through the ragged pockets of the sexual revolution, which had already grown cold under the specter of HIV. Although it didn’t extend beyond most states’ legal definitions of rape, Koss’ distinctions were blamed for further confusing men about women’s desires, for reducing sex talk to dull, falsely egalitarian terms or rendering women as passive victims.