By Gabriella Bosticco
Despite common misconceptions that sexual assault is usually committed by strangers, one Glasgow University study suggested that 90% of victims know their attacker. This is known as 'acquaintance rape'. While most of these were partners, ex-partners or family members, 44% were known by the victims in other ways, including as friends.
Studies have shown that despite resisting in similar ways, people raped by acquaintances are less likely to view it as rape or to tell anyone, and more likely to have been abused by the same perpetrator on multiple occasions. There can be so many reasons for this, many of which are fueled by an emotional connection to the attacker.
First of all, nobody wants to believe that they could be friends with a rapist, even when you've experienced it yourself. It can be easier to view them as the same friend you've always known than somebody capable of what they've done. Plus, as is usually the case in abusive relationships, you don't just stop caring about someone overnight. We focus so heavily on the way that accusations impact the perpetrator that victims can become more worried about 'ruining' their rapist's life than holding them accountable. This is especially the case when the person is a friend, someone who you are used to wanting the best for.
Often, assailants will try to cover themselves with gaslighting and victim blaming, and friends are no different. This pressure from someone else, especially someone you trust, can emphasise existing doubts and make reaching out for help even harder. Up to 90% of acquaintance rape victims don't report to the police, and a large part of this could be people unsure how to label their experience.
Perhaps most concerningly, the average age of victims of acquaintance rape is estimated to be 18.5. Perpetrators of acquaintance rape can take advantage of the inexperience and often insecurity of younger victims,
Not to mention the social barriers. When you have a lot of mutual friends, there can be fear that these friends will take the other person's side, possibly not even believing you. The trauma of the assault is hard enough to deal with without worrying about making other aspects of life harder.
One of the best things we can do to help survivors of acquaintance rape is to listen to them. If someone discloses to you that they were raped by someone you know, don't just dismiss them. By holding the people close to us accountable, we can encourage them to change their actions and create an environment in which assault and harassment are not acceptable. None of the complications listed above make the survivor's experience any less valid, and whether it takes six minutes or six years to disclose their experiences, survivors deserve to be listened to, no matter their relationship to the attacker.