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Coping with Acquaintance Rape

Rape by an acquaintance is often even more traumatizing than rape by a stranger. First of all, it represents a violation of trust. Secondly, victims may not get the social support they need and deserve.

While people are likely to believe victims of stranger rape, you may have found that people refuse to believe that you were assaulted by someone you know. Friends even may tell you that you are to blame. Your friends may not seem to be there for you, or worse, they may have taken sides with your assailant.

The reason this happens is complicated. To your friends, acquaintance rape may be more threatening than rape by a stranger. It suggests to them that they too are vulnerable, and that this could happen to them. By insisting that you – and not your assailant – are to blame, they protect themselves from sharing your vulnerability.

Because acquaintance rape shatters trust and can lead to alienation from support systems, victims often turn to substance abuse and attempts at suicide, or become chronically depressed, angry or anxious. Victims also may develop eating disorders and other self-abusive behaviors.

But these do not need to be the answer. What has happened is not your fault, although the world may tell you otherwise. There are constructive steps that you can take to help put your life back in order. You can:

See a personal therapist. A professional can help you to regain the trust, support, and faith in your own judgment that the incident has damaged.

Confront your assailant. This often helps regain the control that you may feel you’ve lost. This may mean writing him an angry letter that you do or don’t mail, or it may mean taking him to court. Unfortunately, however, the court system’s judgment may not be very satisfying. Don’t try this unless you’re in therapy or have good support from your friends or family, as it is usually very stressful and difficult to do.

Try the civil court rather than the criminal court system if you do decide to take the case to court. It is more likely to decide in your favor. You also may be able to sue a third party, such as the university or fraternity that failed to provide adequate security, for pain and suffering and for the cost of psychotherapy.

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Remember that you are not alone. Rape is frighteningly common on college campuses. It happens to as many as one in four women, most of whom know their assailants. Your local rape crisis center can put you in touch with a peer group. Talking to others in similar situations can be a tremendous source of support.

Coping with Acquaintance Rape

Amy Bellows, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Bellows, A. (2020). Coping with Acquaintance Rape. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.