Acquaintance rape: How to stay safe

Any parent of a teenager knows that even the most responsible of teens can be impulsive at times.

My friend Jean says, based on adolescent brain research, teens have brains akin to Mercedes engines with bicycle brakes — a dangerous combination, especially in sexuality related scenarios.

With their still-developing brains, many adolescents and young adults have not decided in advance what they want from an encounter when they are faced with a sexual situation. They have not necessarily thought through or practiced scenarios communicating their limits or how to get out of a situation that becomes uncomfortable.

While most parents are diligent about teaching their children about “stranger danger,” the fact remains that victims are most likely to be assaulted by someone they know — a date, a friend, a relative, a co-worker, an ex. Acquaintance rape, or using physical force, emotional bargaining, blackmail or mind games to force sexual intercourse, accounts for up to 80 percent of all reported rapes. Perpetrators can also use the above techniques to force fondling or other unwanted sexual contact.

Here are some tips for both genders, especially those in college:

• Spend time thinking and discussing what role you want sex to play in your life at this time and what you are willing to do and not do.

• Communicate expectations clearly, while sober, and allow your date or partner to do the same — if you think you know what your partner “really wants” even though he or she is saying the opposite, you are looking for trouble.

• Both men and women feel pressure to be sexually active. Both have the right to initiate contact and set limits and have them respected. Think for yourself. You are the one that has to live with your decisions.

• Remember that alcohol and drugs impair judgment and increase impulsive behavior while decreasing inhibitions. Be smart at parties about never leaving a drink unattended (even a soda) or accepting one from someone you would not trust with your life. Alcohol increases the effects of many date rape drugs, and the combination can be fatal. If you think you’ve been drugged, do not leave alone — go with a trusted friend or call 911.

• Remember the definition of sexual consent is “agreeing to participate in a particular sexual behavior.” Any age difference of more than two years between minors is cause for concern about power differential and the ability to truly “consent.”

• If you are assaulted, find a trusted person to tell immediately.

Especially for women:

• Be clear and assertive in your communication, especially when saying “no.”

• Trust your instincts, especially if you have any feelings of discomfort.

• While it is not your fault if you are attacked, know that allowing sexual behavior to continue without clear communication can lead to confusion in both you and your partner, making the situation more difficult to control.

Especially for men:

• Trust that “no” means “no,” and remember that forcing sexual behavior is never OK.

• Be responsible for your own actions. Desire does not mandate action.

• Don’t make assumptions. Clearly communicate with your partner about what each of you wants before taking action.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a personal life and parent coach in Federal Way. She facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth, and parenting classes in the area. Contact:

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