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Med Sci Law. 1991 Apr;31(2):102-9.

Rape--a comparison of stranger and acquaintance assaults.

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Department of Mental Health, Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland.


One of the variables that influences victim trauma in rape attacks is the relationship between assailant and victim (Ellis, 1981). Rapes by strangers have been shown to involve more violence and trauma (Katz and Mazur, 1979). Rapes by acquaintances may involve a betrayal of trust. The study compares 21 rape attacks where the assailant was known to the victim with 30 attacks where the assailant was a stranger. Three main elements of each assault are described: the contextual nature of the rape encounter, the assault characteristics (force, injuries, nature of sexual activity) and the post-rape behaviour. Significant differences were found between the two groups in each of these respects. Contact between rapist and victim took place in a social setting immediately prior to the assault in significantly more of the acquaintance rapes. Significantly more of the stranger rapes involved the display of a weapon. Coercive reciprocation of sexual activity occurred in proportionately more of stranger rapes. The role of verbal aggression was more prominent in acquaintance rapes. Significantly more of the acquaintance rapists (95% as opposed to 17%) interacted with the victim after the overtly sexual part of the attack. Two types of behaviour were displayed in almost equal proportions. Conciliatory/non-threatening behaviour consistent with a distorted affirmation of a person-orientated relationship with the victim was displayed by 43% of these assailants; 48% displayed threatening behaviour. We believe that stranger and acquaintance rapes can be clearly differentiated in terms of the behavioural dimensions of the assault. An understanding of such differences has implications for professionals involved in the assessment and treatment of sexual offenders and their victims.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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