Abusive Relationships

Being in a sexual relationship or having a sexual encounter can often be in the context of an abusive relationship or one in which the woman is misused through her partner’s activities. Abuse and misuse may be physical, mental or emotional. But the end results can leave a woman feeling empty, despondent, and unable to explore or maintain future healthy relationships. These harmful relationships or experiences can also affect the people around the woman, including her family and friends.

Sexual assault is defined as any sort of sexual activity between 2 or more people in which one of the people is involved against her/his will. Women can be the victims of unwanted touching, grabbing, oral sex, anal sex, sexual penetration with an object, and/ or sexual intercourse. #1 Sexual assault may be experienced from rape, so-called date or acquaintance rape, and even some forms of domestic violence.

Sexual assault can affect your health in many ways. It can lead to long-term health and emotional problems. It is important to seek help if you have been assaulted. First, get to a safe place. Then get medical care. You may also want to deal with your feelings by getting good counseling. The most important thing for you to remember is that the assault was not your fault. #2

Contrary to popular belief, sexual assault does not typically occur between strangers. The National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that 76% of sexual assaulted women were attacked by a current or former husband, cohabitating partner, friend or date.

Here are some things you need to know:

  • 20-25% of women in college reported experiencing an attempted or a completed rape in college. #3
  • 60.4% of female victims were first raped before the age of 18. #4
  • In the first rape experience of female victims, perpetrators were reported to be intimate partners (30-40%), family members (23.7%) and acquaintances (20%). #4
  • Seniors in high school or first-year college students are most likely to experience acquaintance or date rape.
  • Most date/acquaintance rapes occur in an apartment or private home, in dormitories or in parked cars. #5
  • Rape is not about passion and has nothing to do with love. Rape is an act of aggression and violence. #6 Rape is a crime, whether the person committing it is a stranger, a date or an acquaintance, or a family member.

Some rapes or sexual assaults are the result of so-called “date-rape drugs” which take away a person’s ability to fight back. These drugs are powerful and dangerous. They can be slipped into your drink when you aren’t looking. The drugs often have no color, smell or taste, so that you can’t tell if you are being drugged. The drugs can make your become weak and confused- or even pass out- so that you are unable to refuse sex or defend yourself. If you are drugged you might not remember what happened while you were drugged.

The 3 most common “date rape drugs” are:

  • ROHYPROL (roh-HIP-nol)
    • Some street names are: Forget Pill, roofies/ruffies, Lunch Money, Mind Erasers, rope, trip and fall, circles
  • GHB
    • Some street names are: Easy Lay,G-Juice,Gook/Goop, Liquid Ecstasy/ X, Energy Drink, Vita-G
  • KETAMINE (KEET-uh-meen)
    • Some street names are: Black Hole, Bump, Jet, Kit Kat, Psychedelic Heroin, Special K

These drugs are also known as “club drugs” because they tend to be used at dances, clubs, concerts, and “raves”.

While the term “date rape drug” is widely used, most experts prefer the term “drug- facilitated sexual assault”. The term “date rape” also can be misleading because the person who commits the crime might not be dating the victim. Rather, it could be an acquaintance or stranger. #6

Any drug that can affect judgment and behavior can put a person at risk for unwanted or risky sexual activity. Alcohol is one such drug. In fact, alcohol is the drug most commonly used for sexual assault. Also, the club drug “ecstasy” (MDMA) has been used to commit sexual assault. Ecstasy slipped into your drink can make you feel “lovey- dovey” towards others. It also can lower a women’s ability to give reasonable consent. Once a woman is under the drug’s influence, she is less able to sense danger and to resist sexual assault.

Be aware of and avoid situations that might put you at risk for unwanted sex. Here are some measures to consider:

  • Avoid being alone (i.e. at parties, after dark, and in unfamiliar places).
  • Limit alcohol use. Be aware and alert of people who may try to get you drunk or high.
  • Never leave your drink unattended.
  • Avoid drinking anything that has not been opened in front of you. Don’t drink out of punchbowls.
  • Avoid drinking anything blue (some date rape drugs turn liquids blue).
  • Never leave a party with or accept a ride from someone you don’t know well. To avoid this, it may be helpful for you to make a deal with your
    parent(s), similar to the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) agreement, for a ride home (with no questions asked if you feel like you are in a difficult situation.) This contract is designed to encourage communication between young people and their parents about destructive decisions related to alcohol, drugs, peer pressure, and behavior.
  • Trust your feelings. If you feel scared or something feels wrong, it probably is.
  • Be assertive. Speak up. Get mad. Make a scene.
  • Talk to your friends and dates about sexual assault. Help them to stay safe.
  • Avoid sexual activity that makes you uncomfortable with the way you are being touched. You should move away and say “Stop doing that!”
  • Realize its okay to be in a guy’s house or car without this meaning you agreed to have sex.
  • Know that it’s okay to have dinner or go to a move without “owing” him anything in return.
  • Protect yourself by staying out of situations where you would not be in control. #7

Domestic or dating violence is a type of abuse. It involves injuring someone, usually a spouse or partner. Domestic violence is a serious problem. Victims may suffer physical injuries; suffer emotionally from depression, anxiety or social isolation. The Bureau of Justice reports intimate partner violence in the United States can take the forms of rape/ sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states unhealthy relationships can start early and last a lifetime. Dating violence often starts with teasing and name calling. These behaviors are often thought to be a “normal” part of a relationship. But these behaviors can lead to more serious violence like physical assault and rape. In 2009, the CDC reported that almost 10% of high school students reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend in the past 12 months. The consequences of unhealthy, abusive or violent relationships can causes short term and long term negative effect, or consequences. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to do poorly in school, and report binge drinking, suicide attempts, and physical fighting. Victims may also carry the patterns of violence into future relationships. While some TV shows or popular songs may try to justify violent relationships, violence is never acceptable.

Violence is related to certain risk factors. Risks of having unhealthy relationships increase for those who:

  • Believe its okay to use threats or violence to get their way or to express frustration or anger.
  • Use alcohol or drugs.
  • Can’t manage anger or frustration.

So why do women stay or return to these violent relationships? Here are some suggested reasons:

  • Fear of disclosure that might lead to something far worse - mental or physical anguish, deprivation, or even death.
  • Fear of the unknown or of going it alone.
  • Economic dependence
  • Shame/guilt
  • Denial and minimization- She may feel she needs to protect her abuser by refusing to press charges or by changing her story of what really happened
  • Lack of information about alternatives

Remember that people who try to force you to do things you don’t want to do or may be harmful to you are people you need to determine if they should be a part of your Sexual Integrity plan.



#1 U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs www.ptsd.va.gov
#2 Medline Plus www.nlm.nih.gov
#3 Fisher BS, Cullen FT, Turner MG (2000) The sexual victimization of college women. Publication NCJ 182369
#4 Basile KC, Chen J, Lynberg MC, Saltsman LE. Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence victimizations. Violence and Victims ( 2007)
#5 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2009)
#6 TeensHealth.org
#7 U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. Office of Women’s Health. (2008)