What You Should Know About Teens and Date Rape

If you’re a parent, one of your biggest fears may be having to talk to your child about rape and sexual assault. These crimes affect teens of all genders, sexual orientations, races, and socioeconomic status. Despite widespread stereotypes, teen date rape is not something that only parents of teenage girls need to worry about.

Anyone can be affected by sexual abuse and harassment but, more importantly, anyone can be part of the solution. That’s why it’s important to talk to your kids about respecting their peers, intervening or alerting authorities when they witness inappropriate behavior, and knowing the true definition of consent.

What Is Date Rape?

The term “date rape” is generally accepted to mean a rape or sexual assault in which the attacker and victim were on a date, dating, knew each other, or were acquainted in some way. Many researchers prefer the term “acquaintance rape” rather than “date rape” to provide a more inclusive description.1Unhappy isolated woman at home

Though drugs and alcohol are not always a factor, perpetrators do sometimes use certain drugs or excessive amounts of alcohol to render their victim unconscious or incapacitated. Researchers prefer the term “drug-facilitated sexual assault,” or DFSA, to describe when a perpetrator either intentionally gives drugs or alcohol to someone or takes advantage of someone’s intoxicated state in order to force sexual contact.

DFSA Drugs to Familiarize Yourself With

Many of the drugs commonly associated with DFSA do not have a particularly noticeable smell, taste, or color when dissolved in a drink—alcoholic or otherwise. Avoiding alcohol at parties or other group settings is not a fail-safe protection, as someone could easily slip these drugs into water or a soda without your teen knowing.

Date rape drugs are powerful and generally lead to confusion, loss of motor control, and/or unconsciousness. There are at least 20 different drugs used in drug-facilitated sexual assault cases, with the most common ones being:1,2

  • Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB): GHB is an extremely potent sedative. The effects of the drug can set in within 15 minutes and last 3 to 4 hours. GHB can cause amnesia, drowsiness, and loss of consciousness, among other effects.
  • Rohypnol: Commonly known as “roofies,” Rohypnol is a trade name for the benzodiazepine flunitrazepam. It has a strong sedative effect and can cause amnesia, lack of coordination, and loss of motor control. The effects of Rohypnol can be felt within 30 minutes and can last for several hours. Pharmaceutical flunitrazepam is not available in the U.S., however other benzodiazepines with similar effects profiles, such as clonazepam (Klonopin) and alprazolam (Xanax), have been used in date rape cases.
  • Ketamine: Ketamine is a fast-acting dissociative drug and general surgical anesthetic. A person who is drugged with ketamine will be aware of what is happening but unable to move. Afterwards, they may not be able to remember what happened to them. Ketamine can cause memory loss, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and out-of-body experiences.
  • Ambien: Ambien (generic: zolpidem) is a short-acting, hypnotic drug that is used to treat insomnia. The drug is used in date rape cases because it can cause confusion and/or amnesia in the user.

Mixing any of these with other drugs or alcohol can compound the effects and, in some cases, result in serious health problems and even death.2 In many date rape cases, the survivor recalls being given a drink by the perpetrator and the next thing they remember is regaining consciousness hours later.

If your child has been drugged, they may act like they are drunk and have difficulty standing, slur their speech, or pass out. They may be missing clothing, not know where they are, and see or feel evidence that they have been subjected to sexual assault. Most survivors have no memory of the actual sexual event itself.3

What Role Does Alcohol Play?

Mixing drugs and alcohol

There is a common misconception that date rape only happens to people who drink too much. Some people believe that if others just drank less, there would be fewer cases of rape or sexual assault. The reality is that drinking alcohol does not cause sexual assault. Plenty of people drink alcohol and never experience, commit, or witness a sexual assault. Similarly, people can experience rape or assault even if they don’t drink alcohol at all.

Though alcohol is not solely to blame, it does play a role in facilitating assault along with other recreational drugs. Like many other criminal offenses, date rape is often an opportunistic crime. This means that perpetrators may take advantage of a victim being unconscious or unable to defend themselves as an opportunity to commit rape or sexual assault.

Perpetrators also sometimes blame their actions on their own inebriation—saying that alcohol caused them to commit the act and that they should not be held responsible. However, being drunk when you commit rape does not excuse the behavior. In any sexual exchange, both parties must give clear consent.4 This is an important lesson for all parents to teach their teens, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, or other factors.

Many misconceptions surrounding alcohol’s role in sexual assault shift the blame from the perpetrator to the survivor.4 Factors such as what the survivor was wearing, where the assault occurred, and whether alcohol or drugs were involved, can all affect how other people perceive what actually happened. One study found that people of both genders are more likely to place the blame for sexual assault on the victim in cases where the victim had been drinking prior to the assault.5 Remember: No person deserves to be assaulted, no matter what they are wearing, whether they’ve been drinking, or where they were when the crime occurred.

Communicating Your Concerns with Your ChildParent and teen bonding

As a parent, you play a major role in your teen’s life. While there is no surefire way to prevent sexual assault from happening, there are strategies you can discuss to help keep them safe and lessons you can pass on to discourage them from committing a heinous crime.

Remaining actively involved in your teen’s life can help ensure that you notice warning signs of possible abuse. Talk to them about:6

  • Touch: Remind your teen that no one has the right to touch them in any way that makes them feel uneasy, including family members. Any tickling, hugging, or touching that makes them feel uncomfortable is not OK. Tell your child that they have the right to tell people that they do not want to be touched and the responsibility to respect the personal space of others.
  • Body parts: Starting at an early age, talk to your child about different parts of their body. When kids feel comfortable describing their body parts out loud they may be more comfortable verbalizing an experience of sexual assault.
  • Secrets: People who commit sexual assault sometimes manipulate victims into keeping what occurred a secret. Boyfriends or girlfriends might threaten to harm the victim if they tell someone about the abuse. Let your teen know that keeping abuse a secret will only further endanger them, and that they can always talk to you if they have questions about something that happened to a friend or acquaintance.
  • The people in their life: Know the people your teen spends time with, including coaches, teachers, friends, and other parents. If you don’t feel comfortable with specific individuals, be up-front about these feelings when you communicate with your child. If you prohibit your child from attending certain functions, they should know the reasoning behind your actions.
  • Sexual assault: Talk to your teen directly about sexual assault. You can bring up relevant statistics about rape and sexual assault, and recent discuss stories in the media, such as the highly publicized Brock Turner case. You can remind them that rapists are not always strangers but people they may be close to or at least acquainted with. Discuss why the perpetrator’s actions were wrong and provide positive examples of alternative behaviors.
  • The buddy system: If your teen is going to go out, talk to them about the importance of having a friend nearby who can keep them accountable and safe. Buddies should always have a game plan for the night or event, and the contact info of a parent or responsible adult stored in their phone for quick access in case of an emergency.

The key is to be approachable. It is always best to keep an open, healthy line of communication with your teen. Reassure them that if they ever need help or feel unsafe in a situation they can call you.

Other Types of Sexual Violence

While drug- or alcohol-facilitated sexual assault is certainly a risk to teens, it’s not the only type of sexual or relationship violence they may encounter.

The term “sexual assault” encompasses the full range of forced sexual acts, including forced touching or kissing; psychological pressure to have coerced sex; and forced vaginal, oral, and/or anal penetration. Whether alcohol and drugs are involved or not, any type of forced sexual contact performed without consent is considered assault. It is a common misconception that sexual assault is only committed by men against women. On the contrary, both men and women can be sexually assaulted and both commit sexual assault.

Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault, but certain groups are more likely to experience sexual assault than others. Research indicates that women are overwhelmingly the victims of sexual assault.7 In addition, LGBT-identified people, people with developmental disabilities, and women of color are more likely to experience sexual assault.8–10 Most sexual assaults occur between two people who know each other, with at least 80% of people saying they knew the individual when the sexual assault took place.7 Sexual assault is extremely prevalent. Every 98 seconds, someone in the U.S. experiences sexual assault.11

Teen Dating Violence

Unhappy and unhealthy relationship

As a teenager, your child is learning to navigate intimate romantic relationships for the first time, which is why it’s important that you discuss not just sexual assault but also teen dating violence and the various forms it may take. Much like domestic violence between adults, teen dating violence includes physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.

Often, teens do not tell their friends or family if they are experiencing dating violence, and some might think that this behavior is just part of a normal relationship. Unfortunately, an unhealthy relationship can leave long-lasting effects on a teen’s mental health. Young people who experience teen dating violence are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and drug abuse later in life.12

Stalking and Cyberstalking

Stalking is a serious problem that entails the unwanted following and harassment of the victim. Today, most stalking cases—especially among teens and young adults—include some element of cyberstalking, as technology and social media make it easier for perpetrators to follow, contact, threaten, and harass victims. Stalking tactics include watching or following someone (either in-person or via GPS apps on their phone), leaving strange or threatening items, sneaking into someone’s home or car, and sending unwanted gifts, emails, and other messages via text, social media, or other platform.13

Stalking and cyberstalking can lead to psychological distress and, in serious cases, physical harm. On average, every 1 in 6 women experience some sort of stalking situation in their life.13 In addition, the majority (61.5%) of stalkers were current or former intimate partners.13

Harassment

Older teenagers who will be entering college or the professional workforce soon need to be especially aware of the danger of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment encompasses unwelcomed sexual advancements, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment in the workplace or even in school between teachers and students. Harassment is not always sexual, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s gender. Harassment is illegal when it is so severe or frequent that it creates a hostile working environment for the employee.14

Learn About Cyberbullying

Consent is the driving force behind sexual violence in every form. Without clear and unambiguous consent from both parties, any sexualized form of verbal, physical, or other contact is not just wrong but a crime. It’s important for teens of all genders and sexual orientations to understand how to give and receive consent.

Consent is the agreement between two people to engage in a sexual act. Consent is a freely given agreement given by a conscious person and can be done in a number of ways. A person who is sleeping, unconscious, or impaired by drugs or alcohol cannot provide consent.15Woman struggling with violence

Every state has its own legal definition of consent to be referenced in criminal cases, and many have enacted affirmative consent (or “yes means yes”) laws to clarify that silence or indifference do not constitute consent.

To see how consent is legally defined in your state, you can visit the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) national database of state laws here. This is a great starting place to discuss consent with your teen and make sure that he or she knows their rights and respects the rights of others.

How to Ensure a Successful Bystander Intervention

Even if your child never experiences sexual assault personally, there is a good chance that they may know or witness someone who will. As a parent, you can teach your teen that if they see someone who needs help, there are ways to safely intervene that will make a big impact in the life of the potential victim.

Clenched fist on table

Bystander intervention can play a significant role in preventing sexual violence. The term bystander intervention refers to when a person takes action to help protect someone who is being sexually assaulted or harmed in some other way. By equipping your teen with the appropriate tools, knowledge, and resources, you can give them the confidence to intervene instead of waiting for someone else to take action or making excuses about how it’s none of their business.

One of the keys to bystander intervention is knowing when there is a problem. Teach your child to always trust their instincts; if they think something doesn’t look or feel right, they shouldn’t just ignore that feeling.

Bystander intervention should never place the bystander in a dangerous situation. There are ways to directly and indirectly intervene in a situation without jeopardizing the safety of anyone involved.16 Talk to your teen about the 4 Ds of bystander intervention:17

  • Direct: Direct intervention involves confronting a situation directly in the moment when someone is being harmed or is at risk of being harmed. This may entail asking the potential victim if they are alright, if that person is bothering them, if they need help, or if they need you to call someone.
  • Distract: Distraction is an indirect method of intervention that can be especially useful in situations that may turn dangerous. The goal of distraction is to interrupt the perpetrator, not confront them. For example, you could create an excuse to talk to the victim in private, giving them a chance to get away.
  • Delegate: This method involves seeking help from another person who can safely intervene, such as a police officer, teacher, campus official, or other individual. Make sure your teen always has the appropriate emergency numbers stored in their phone, and let them know that they can always call you if they think there’s something wrong with a situation.
  • Delay: Even if your teen misses the opportunity to intervene in a situation while it’s happening, they can still make a difference with a delayed response. This could include calling the person the next day to ask if they’re OK, or gathering information and resources before talking to a friend about an abusive situation.

By being willing to say something, you and your teen can help shift norms and protect others in your community. If you see someone who is in trouble, act first. Don’t expect that other people will intervene. People who are empowered to assist in preventing sexual assault can help discourage victim blaming and make sexual violence a community problem rather than an individual one.

Learn About PTSD

Getting the Necessary Help After Trauma

If your child opens up to you about rape or sexual assault, it’s important to provide emotional support and help them navigate the legal process.

Getting professional assessment

Report the crime immediately. Although reporting a crime is not always easy and can be emotionally draining, it will help protect your teen from future harm. Before you report the crime, tell your teen that you are going to talk to someone for help.

Keep in mind that they may not want you to report the crime, especially if they were threatened by the perpetrator. Stand your ground and reassure them that you won’t let anyone harm them. If you are concerned that the perpetrator will find and harm your child, make sure to communicate this to the authorities.

You can report the crime by:

  • Calling 911.
  • Contacting the local police station. If your child is away at college, contact both the campus police and the local police. By alerting campus police, you’ll be able to get help from the school in enforcing restraining orders or other court-issued protections.
  • Visiting a hospital. If your teen thinks an assault occurred while they were drugged, intoxicated, or unconscious, they can have a sexual assault forensic exam conducted.
  • Call the National Child Abuse Hotline. Trained crisis counselors can walk you through the steps of reporting the crime and provide information about supporting your teen through this difficult period. The hotline is open 24/7.

In the immediate hours following the crime, have your teen avoid activities that could potentially damage evidence. They may naturally want to shower, use the restroom, change clothes, or clean up the scene of where the crime took place, but this can actually hinder an investigation. If you are going to the hospital for a medical exam, pack a spare change of clothes for your child to change into after the exam is over. In most cases, DNA evidence needs to be collected within 72 hours in order to be analyzed by a crime lab—but in a sexual assault forensic exam, other forms of evidence can be analyzed after this time frame.

While you wait to hear back from authorities (which may take longer than you expect), make sure to continue showing love and support for your child. Communicate compassionate, reinforcing messages such as, “I love you,” “What happened is not your fault,” and “I will do everything to keep you safe.”

This is a highly emotional time and you may be feeling a range of emotions yourself, including anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, and shock. It is important that you find a way to take care of yourself so that, in turn, you can best support your child. Consider reaching out to a counselor for individual therapy or call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

As many as 2 out of 3 sexual assault crimes go unreported.18 Every survivor has different reasons for reporting or not reporting the crime to the authorities. Some of the reasons victims may choose to stay silent include:18

  • Trying to protect themselves from future crimes.
  • Believing the police would not or could not help.
  • Believing that sexual crimes are personal matters.
  • Not wanting to get the perpetrator in trouble.
  • Fearing deportation.

Mother and daughter talking

If your teen has been the victim of sexual violence or date rape, provide them with comfort and support. Remember, the survivor is never to blame. Do not shame them or make them feel guilty for what happened. The period of time following sexual violence is a highly sensitive time in a person’s life and your support is very important to your child’s recovery. In fact, studies show that survivors with positive family environments and high levels of parental support experience less severe long-term psychological consequences than their peers who had no or minimal parental support.19

Resources

Thanks to a wide body of research and social activism, there are numerous resources available that can help you and your teen discuss sexual assault, its prevention, the emotional toll it takes on families, and what to do after it happens.

Young adult books in both fiction and nonfiction genres can be great tools to educate your child about sexual consent and the situations they may encounter as they move through high school, college, and beyond. Some popular titles include “What We Saw,” “Wrecked,” and “Asking for It.”

Other parents can also provide much-needed support in changing the conversation around sexual assault. By talking openly about the problem with other parents, you can help build a community in which everyone takes responsibility for helping watch out for teens, even when it’s someone else’s child.

The internet is full of information about sexual assault, date rape, and consent, but it can also be overwhelming. In general, websites for government and educational facilities (look for .gov or .edu at the end of the web address) often have the most reliable and nonbiased information. Check for sources from published research journals as a way of vetting a site’s authority. You can also visit one of these reliable organizations for more information:

Take Preventative Steps

Parent and child walking together

The alarming statistics of sexual violence in the United States illustrate how pervasive a problem it truly is. Date rape is a societal problem and chances are high that at some point your child may be exposed to the issue, whether as a victim, bystander, perpetrator, or concerned friend.

Prevention begins in how we raise our kids. Attitudes that support rape culture can begin early in childhood. As a parent, it is vital that you teach your kids how to respect all people in a healthy and safe way. It is important to be there for your children—to answer questions related to sexual assault, to teach them about how to respect other peoples’ bodies, how to set their own boundaries, and to help them get help when they need it.

Sources

  1. El-Barrany, U. M. (2016). Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault. MOJ Toxicol2(1), 00028.
  2. Office on Women’s Health. (2017). Date rape drugs. Washington, D.C.: Department of Health & Human Services.
  3. Jansen, K., Theron, L. (2006). Ecstasy (MDMA), Methamphetamine, and Date Rape (Drug-Facilitated Sexual Assault): A Consideration of the Issues. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs38(1), 1–12.
  4. University of Michigan Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. (n.d.). Sexual Assault Misconceptions.
  5. Sims, C., Noel, N., Maisto, S. (2007). Rape blame as a function of alcohol presence and resistance type. Addictive Behaviors32(12), 2766–2775.
  6. Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (n.d.). How Can I Protect My Child From Sexual Assault?
  7. Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P., et. al. (2001). Alcohol and Sexual Assault. Alcohol Research & Health, 25(1), 43–51.
  8. Walters, M., Chen, J., Breiding, M. (2013). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Findings on Victimization by Sexual Orientation. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  9. Starford, M., Jones, C., Davis, L. (2017). Talk About Sexual Violence—Final Report. Board Resource Center and The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.
  10. Black, M., Basile, K., Breiding, M., et. al. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  11. Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (n.d.). Scope of the Problem: Statistics.
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Teen Dating Violence.
  13. Smith, S., Chen, J., Basile, K., et. al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010–2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  14. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Sexual Harassment.
  15. Cornell Law. (n.d.). Consent.
  16. New York State Department of Health. (2013). Stop Sexual Violence: A Sexual Violence Bystander Intervention Toolkit.
  17. The University of Chicago Student Health and Counseling Services. (n.d.). Bystander Intervention.
  18. Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. (n.d.). The Criminal Justice System: Statistics.
  19. Godbout, N., Briere, J., Sabourin, S., et. al. (2014). Child sexual abuse and subsequent relational and personal functioning: The role of parental support. Child Abuse & Neglect38(2), 317–325.
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