Learning About Date Rape

by Jenny Fiss



DATE RAPE: A QUESTION OF TRUST. 23 mins., 1995. Pixie Bigelow Productions. Sale: $295. Distr.: AGC United Learning, 1560 Sherman Ave., Suite 100, Evanston, IL 60201; phone: 800-323-9084; fax: 847-328-6706.

AN ORDINARY RAPE. 54 mins., 1993. Dir.: Isabelle Coulet. Rental: $75. First Run/Icarus Films, 153 Waverly Pl., New York, NY 10014; phone: 800-876-1710; fax: 212-255-7923; website: www.frif.com

THE RAPE DRUG: A NEW MENACE. 26 mins., 1998. Rental: $75. Sale: $129. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, P.O. Box 2053, Princeton, NJ 08543-2053; phone: 800-257-5126; fax: 609-275-3767; website: www.films.com

LA CONFIANZA PERDIDA. 45 mins., 1999. Sale: $89. Intermedia, Inc., 1700 Westlake Ave. North, Suite 724, Seattle, WA 98109; phone: 800-553-8336; fax: 800-553-1655; website: www.intermedia-inc.com/main.htm



The videos discussed in this review offer varying approaches to the topic of violence in the dating situation, some more effective than others. Date Rape: A Question of Trust presents a candid discussion about date rape among a selection of teens. There are an all-female discussion group, an all-male group, and a combination of both. Interspersed with these various dialogues are first-person accounts given by survivors of their date/acquaintance rape experience. Each victim recounts her rape experience, the reaction of family and friends, and the responses of law enforcement, the legal system, mental health professionals, and medical staff. The teen groups' discussions focus on dating relationships and communication between members of the opposite sex. The forthright responses of some teens caused me only one moment of slight unease. A few expressed the view that although a woman never deserves to be raped, she must take some responsibility for poor decision-making such as "getting wasted." Other group members debated the issue of women needing to be more assertive and effective communicators because guys are al-ways looking for a "yes" to sex. While the group countered this view somewhat by emphasizing that a man needs to verbally check in with a partner if she seems hesitant, the underlying message still seems to be that women must act as the gatekeepers to sex. I would have liked to see equal time and attention devoted to how to avoid becoming a perpetrator, and differentiating date rape from sex.

These group discussions are balanced by the stories of the victims/survivors. These women reflect diverse ethnicities and backgrounds, yet are joined by a common thread called date rape. The survivors do term date rape as a desire to overpower and humiliate an individual, not a desire to have sex. However, neither same-sex relationships nor male survivors are represented in the survivor group, nor are they discussed by the teens. Overall, the video appears to be a sincere expression of the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the very audience to which it is aimed - teens. No response appears scripted. What makes it appealing is its depiction of teens grappling honestly with complicated issues for which there are no easy answers. It invites dialogue and process rather than pressuring for the "right" answer. Because this video features teens talking to teens, it is an effective tool for sparking further discussion with students as well as the adults who work with them.



The voice-over of a victim/survivor describes her experience with "An Ordinary Rape" while the camera shows one-by-one the faces of various participants in the video. These participants include: high school students, a criminologist, journalist, attorney, police officer, Sex Crimes supervisor, medical doctor, counselor and psychologist.

What follows is a series of "expert" testimonies from the participants regarding their views on various as-pects of sexual assault and its impact on their professional roles. This foot-age is interspersed with the voice of the yet unknown survivor continuing her story. The first discussion focuses on the societal and cultural influences that reinforce a rape culture. Other topics include: the response of law enforcement to sexual violence, the definition of rape and the resulting trauma, men as perpetrators and men's roles in prevention, the response of the legal system to sexual violence and the underreporting of rape, sexual assault laws and rape in marriage, cul-tural roles/stereotypes of men and women, perpetrators and treatment/punishment issues, and the media's sensationalistic portrayal of sexual assault.

The video closes with the survivor, whose voice has been heard throughout, finally appearing directly on camera. Out of the darkness, she proudly speaks about her survival.

The broad discussion about sexual assault presented in this video provides a valuable introduction to this complex issue while it elicits empathy by clearly demonstrating the serious harm that sexual assault causes. Although the video does not discuss more concrete suggestions for changing a rape culture, its strength is the many different points of view presented. There is a great deal of material for continued discussion. I would recommend this video for any audience, especially for those groups looking for a comprehensive introduction to the issue of sexual violence.



The Rape Drug: A New Menace provides a valuable introduction to drugs like Rohypnol and GHB, which are being used to commit sexual assaults both in the United States and Europe. Combined with the first-person accounts of three victims are reenactments by actors, demonstrating certain parts of the victims' stories, such as how the drug is slipped into a victim's drink and how the victim is led away from a public place (i.e., bar, restaurant, or party). The reenactments serve as a subtle yet powerful demonstration of the fragmenting effect these drugs have upon a victim's memory.

Unfortunately, a victim of this type of crime often has no memory or only a partial memory of the assault. Rohypnol, a powerful sedative, is odorless and tasteless. It takes effect on unsuspecting victims within minutes, causing unconsciousness and retrograde amnesia. When combined with alcohol, these effects are compounded and can lead to coma. The video offers suggestions on how to avoid becoming a victim of this type of crime. Survivors stress watching your drink being made, maintaining custody of your drink, and having a strict buddy system set up in advance of going out for the evening.

Interspersed with the victims' accounts and reenactments are interviews with professionals such as a district attorney, a police officer, and a doctor. The focus of these interviews is not only the effects of these drugs, but the investigation and prosecution of cases in which these drugs are used by perpetrators of sexual assault. Date rape is difficult to prosecute and is underreported. Use of so-called "date rape" drugs like Rohypnol have made this even more difficult. The professionals interviewed in the video as well as one of the victims were involved in one of the first date rape drug cases prosecuted in the United States. They provide suggestions for conducting an investigation, such as getting a search warrant immediately in order to search an alleged perpetrator's residence, interviewing everyone in the alleged perpetrator's acquaintance because often they work in partnerships or groups to set up a victim, and taking urine samples from the victim at the hospital since traces of Rohypnol may stay in the urine for up to thirty-six hours.

The video's participants also touch on the issue of manufacturing the drug and debate various ways to make drugs like Rohypnol safer for legitimate consumption rather than having the U.S. Congress vote to make them illegal substances. At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from the sale of Rohypnol, available in sixty-four countries (not including the United States).

The Rape Drug is an informative introduction to the growing problem of using drugs to sexually assault victims. It brings to light an insidious problem as well as the courage and ingenuity required in the pursuit of justice.



Sexual violence can have a devastating impact upon one's ability to trust. Confianza means both "loss of self-confidence" and "loss of trust in others." This Spanish-language video (with English captioning) about date/acquaintance rape thoroughly explores both forms of loss. La Confianza Perdida combines first-person testimony from survivors of sexual assault with reenactment scenes portrayed by actors. Professionals such as a lawyer, physician, social worker, and advocate are also interviewed.

A variety of sexual assault issues are discussed. These include: definitions of sexual violence, sexual assault and the Latino culture, concerns and barriers encountered by immigrant women, marital rape, sexual assault prevention, medical and social services available to survivors, and things to consider when filing a police report. Suggestions for prevention place less emphasis on community efforts and how to avoid becoming a perpetrator. Instead, they stress women protecting and empowering themselves. This video will promote discussion and serve as a highly informative introduction to the issue of sexual assault. Aimed directly at a Latino audience, this valuable resource hits its mark.



Dating violence is not an easy topic for young women or men to confront, but these videos offer valuable information about how things can go wrong and how important it is to be aware of the situation in order to avoid becoming a victim/survivor.



[Jenny Fiss is the Educational Resources Coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA).]


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Mounted June 22, 2000.