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Sunday, August 24, 2003
Lead Article

Are you safe on a date?

Are you safe on a date?

Though one would like to believe otherwise, the Ďinnocent dateí no longer exists. Teachers, doctors and counsellors are alarmed at the spurt in casual dates leading to severe molestation and even rape. They report a large number of young women in the city are suffering from consequences of what they thought was an harmless outing with Ďfriendsí. Prerana Trehan investigates what it means to go on a date and the dangers inherent in it.

NEVER mind what the ostriches among us say, dating isnít just something that happens on the other side of the globe. And never mind what Mills and Boon would have you believe, dating isnít all moonlight and roses. The danger of date rape, and here the term has been used to cover even those incidents of unwanted sexual advances from boyfriends or dates that do not actually end in rape, is far more real than one would suspect. Since such cases are generally not reported because of fear of loss of reputation, especially because the girl involved is usually in her late teens or twenties, a vast majority of people feels that it isnít happening. True the incident of date rape is far higher in the West than in India, but just the fact that it is on the rise here should be enough to make us sit up and take note. Denial only makes the youth, who are already handicapped by ignorance about sex, even more vulnerable.

 


Date rape is a type of acquaintance rape ó which incidentally accounts for a majority of rape cases ó where the rapist or molester is involved in a romantic relationship with the victim. Not only is being forced into a sexual act by someone she trusted very traumatic for the girl, but what makes matters worse is the fact that since in such cases the girl has not been raped or molested by a stranger but by a boyfriend with whom she went out willingly, she canít even expect anyone to believe that she didnít actually Ďask for ití.

Though date rape can happen at any age, in most cases the guy and the girl are in their teens or twenties, since the heady cocktail of never-before freedom, recklessness and curiosity makes the youth especially vulnerable to sexual misadventures. Add to this drugs, drinks and newly discovered hormones and you virtually have disaster waiting to happen.

What leads to date rape

Having a boyfriend or a girlfriend is the in-thing these days. "People think there is something wrong with you if you donít have a boyfriend," says 19-year-old Megha. Peer pressure leads many young adults into relationships with the opposite sex. "Everyone wants to be Ďwith-ití," says 19-year-old Sonal. A desire to appear hip as also the excitement associated with going out with someone of the opposite gender, perhaps for the first time, makes dating among couples in the age group of 15-25 years fairly common. For many, dates are also an opportunity to explore their sexuality. And it is precisely this combination of inexperience and suddenly widening horizons that makes the danger of date rape so real. "At that age hormonal changes take place in the body and there is a physiological need to have sex," says Dr Anil Malhotra, Additional Professor, PGI. Also many men feel that the number of sexual partners they have is an index of their manliness, he adds.

Once in a relationship, some amount of sexual intimacy in considered a given by both the guy and the girl. A more open society, less inhibitions, a chance of physical proximity with someone of the opposite gender and sexual curiosity, all play their part in the development of a physical relationship between the young couple. The trouble is that the limits of this relationship are hardly ever consciously fixed and this often leads to a situation where the girl considers a particular act an overstepping of limits, and terms it molestation, while the guy considers it a normal part of their relationship. But then again, the two are generally too young to realise the importance of such a discussion or even know how to approach it.

Also the girl at times feels that just by going out with a guy she Ďowesí him some amount of physical intimacy and feels powerless to say no even if she is uncomfortable with it. She might also be afraid of losing her boyfriend if she refuses to comply. The guy too feels that if he is paying for the dinner and roses, the least he can expect is an accommodation of his demands. "Guys emotionally blackmail their girlfriends with the whole if-you-love-me-you-will-do-it-for-me routine," says Megha. "You just have to know where to draw the line, after all, it is your reputation and your safety on the line," adds 18-year-old Shikha.

Television, romantic novels and movies all combine to give these young people an exaggeratedly romantic notion of dating. Again girls are more vulnerable to these misplaced romantic ideals. Quite a few venture into relationships not quite sure what to expect. And then when the truth of what they have got themselves into dawns on them, they panic. The oft-imagined first kiss doesnít end there but leads on to a more intimate relationship than they had bargained for. "A girl is generally so enamoured by the whole idea of dating that in the beginning she agrees with whatever the guy wants to do and wherever he wants to go. And then when she is finally alone with him, she freaks out. But by then the guy is in the flow of things, if you know what I mean," says Sonal.

Men are from Mars and women from Venus...

There is no getting away from the fact that men and women speak different languages. A guy and girl agree to go out on a long drive, this is what the two of them will probably feel about it:

Girl: Ooh!! This is going to be so romantic! I have brought such a romantic cassette along. We can both hum along with it. I wonder if he will hold my hand`85and what if he kisses me?

Guy: Amazing, I never thought it would be so easy to convince her. The guys were right, if you have a car, the girls will go anywhere with you. I wonder how far she will go? But if she has agreed to go out with me, I am sure she knows what is coming.

"It is not fair to blame the guys alone," says 21-year-old Navdeep. "The girls make passes and then draw back." Adds 27-year-old Vishal, "It is natural for such things to happen if a man and a woman are alone. Guys donít understand platonic friendship." While girls typically tend to overestimate their partnersí extent of emotional involvement, guys tend to overestimate how far their girlfriends are willing to go with them physically. "If you just smile at a guy, he thinks you want to go out with him, so you can imagine what he is going to think if you actually agree to go out," says Sonal. Feels Shikha, "If girls go out with a guy, they think that this is it and they are going to get married and live happily ever after. So they agree to do whatever the guy wants. The guys rarely have Ďforeverí intentions."

"Men have sex on their minds 90 per cent of the time," says Vishal. According to 21-year-old Karan, "Such incidents are very common. The basic reason why guys take girls out is to make physical advances. Most guys are not into committed relationships. For them a date is just an excuse to have sex." Contrast this with what Sonal has to say, "If a girl goes out with a guy it normally doesnít mean that she is willing to have a physical relationship, though it could mean so in some cases."

Sometimes this lack of understanding of what the other stands for can have its roots in deep-seated biases. If a girl wears western clothes, parties, or has boyfriends, the general impression in the male mind is that she is Ďavailableí. "The guys who do such things are normally the narrow-minded ones who think that if a girl is out late at night or if she drinks, she is game for anything. This is a totally wrong notion because these days such behaviour is normal for girls. Even their parents donít object, so who are guys to say anything?" asks Karan. "But then it isnít guys from cities but rich landlords from outside who feel like this," he adds.

...but some men are headed for Alcatraz

While a miscommunication of limits and intentions is responsible for things getting out of hand on dates, this doesnít actually pose the danger of rape because if the guy is not guilty of any crime bigger than misreading his girlfriendís intentions or if the girl panics and wants to call it quits after indulging in some necking or petting, and he respects her decision, they will generally stop short of sexual intercourse, even though such acts can be termed Ďmolestationí if these take place without the girlís consent. It is, however, foolhardy to ignore the fact that not every guy has harmless intentions. There is a healthy percentage, with an equally healthy rate of growth, of guys with criminal intent. And these guys donít come from the societyís underbelly but are your average boys-next-door. While some have big cars, small cell phones, latest haircuts and branded clothes, others could give the Plain Jacks a run for their money. Quite simply, there is no way of knowing who might be a wolf in sheepclothing.

Girls at times unwittingly trust the wrong kind of guys. And it is in these situations that date rape becomes a horrifying reality. Take what happened to 16-year-old Amrita, for example. She was gang-raped by her boyfriend and three of his friends when she went to meet him at a secluded place one day after having known him for months. Or what happened with 17-year-old Neelam. A boy from an average family Ďtrappedí Neelam, a rich girl, took her to a party, drugged her, raped her, stripped her naked, took indecent photographs and then proceeded to blackmail her with those photos. Or what happened with Maya, a 19-year-old from a small town. Her boyfriend promised to marry her only for the sake of taking her to bed. Once the deed was done he backed off from the relationship and the promise.

Sometimes there is a threat to the relationship, perhaps the girl is getting married to someone else or is becoming interested in someone else. In such a situation the guy may force her to have sex with him just to take revenge and then threaten to spoil her reputation if she leaves him, says Dr B.S. Chavan, Prof and Head of Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College, Chandigarh.

Incidents of girls being duped by men they meet on the Net are also on the rise. Since Internet affords anonymity, it is easy for the men to conceal their identities and intention. What happened with 17-year-old Radhika is fairly commonplace. She grew to like a man she met on the Net. After communicating for some time the two decided to meet. The meeting, however, was far from the fun and romantic experience she had expected. Not only was the man much older than he claimed to be, but he also tried to act fresh with her. Luckily for her, Radhika managed to get out of the situation unharmed.

If a girl knows a guy socially, there is a social pressure on him to behave himself, after all they could be family friends or classmates and the guy too would fear a threat to his reputation if it got out that he had tried to molest the girl. Men who approach girls through the Net donít face this pressure. They can sexually exploit the girl and disappear into the blue, never to be found.

Alcohol and tranquillisers are often used to induce unconsciousness in the victim before she is raped, says Dr Malhotra. These drugs are odourless and tasteless and can knock a person unconscious for up to 10-12 hours. Of course, the use of these drugs underlines the fact that the crime was pre-planned and not spur-of-the-moment.

Responsible behaviour is the answer

Solutions are futile if they are not realistic, and believing that young people are not going to date if you tell them not to is one such solution. Lay the blame at the Westís doorstep if you like, but the fact is that dating is here to stay. Telling them not to think about sex isnít likely to work either unless you can figure out a way to ban movies, books, magazines, Internet, music videos, Valentinesí Day and hormones. You also canít tell the girls to be suspicious of all men because the idea is to promote healthy, risk-free interaction among sexes and not to end up with a society where one half of the population has a distorted impression of the other half. Also blanket rules donít work because not everyone has a bad experience.

A far more common sense approach is for the young people to make responsible choices, for them to remain alert to dangers involved in dating and respect each otherís limits and decisions. The girls should know that things rarely stop with a kiss and they should not start something they might not have any control over. And guys should know that just because a girl is willing to go out with them it doesnít mean that she is willing to have sex.

Respect and communication work: "Guys tend to jump lines. The couple should have a frank discussion about how far they are willing to go physically," feels Navdeep. "The guy should stop whenever the girl says so because after all, this relationship is about trust," says Karan.

Pragmatism works too: "Girls should not get carried away by emotions. If a girl canít take care of herself, she shouldnít make boyfriends. Heavens will not fall if you are not into a relationship," says Shikha. "It is okay to go out with guys but just remember that not everyone out there is a gentleman," advises Sonal.

(Some names have been changed)

Dos and doníts for couples

  • Have a frank discussion about your relationship. Take joint decisions about every aspect, including the sexual. Make sure you both know where you are headed. If one or both of you consume alcohol, have this discussion when you are both sober.

  • Donít mix sex with drinks. Most people are less discriminatory about who they have sex with and also more willing to overstep their own limits when they are drunk.

  • At parties watch your drinks. Get them yourself and donít leave them unattended. Drink only from bottles or cans which have been opened in front of you.

  • Evolve a buddy system. Go out in a group and keep an eye out for each other.

  • Remember that sex is extremely personal. Donít feel pressurised to have sex just because your friends are doing it.

  • Platonic dating is okay too. It is more fun, less stressful, and easier to opt out of than sexual relationships.

  • Sex can be beautiful but only if it happens in a loving, long-term, committed relationship. If it is forced, coerced, lied about, or if you agree to it because you feel you should or because all your friends are doing it, it will leave you feeling guilty or shamed and probably ruin your chances of developing healthy relationships for life.

  • If you feel you are too young to think of long-term relationships, you are also too young to have sex. Period.

 

Dos and doníts for girls

  • Donít go to a party or a disc alone. Take a friend with you and if you plan to leave with a guy, let her know.

  • Tell your parents where you are going, with whom, and when you will be back or at least tell a friend.

  • Carry a mobile phone with you.

  • Donít go to anywhere secluded with a guy, meet in public places.

  • If at all you plan to go somewhere alone, make sure you trust the guy and have known him for a reasonably long time. Donít go anywhere alone on the first few dates.

  • If you have a boyfriend, donít keep him a secret, introduce him to you friends, parents, and siblings. This will increase the social pressure on him to stay in line.

  • Donít be afraid to say no if you are uncomfortable in a situation and say so in a loud and clear voice.

  • Just because you have had sex with your boyfriend or someone else before, it doesnít mean that the consent is binding. You have a right to change your mind if you donít want to do it again.

  • If rape appears imminent, shout for help, try to run, put up a fight, hit, scratch and wound him in any manner. This evidence of a fight will prove that the sex was not consensual and might even help you get away.

  • If rape happens, go to the police and a doctor immediately, without changing your clothes or taking a bath. Tell your parents and seek counseling. And remember it was not your fault, no one Ďasks forí rape.

 

Dos and doníts for guys

  • Just because a girl is going out with you, it isnít a green signal to have sex.

  • If you have sex on your mind, make sure she knows it before she goes out with you.

  • Regardless of what you have heard, if she says no, she means no.

  • Donít try to second guess her. If you have any doubts about how she feels about your physical advances, ask her.

  • Remember she is an equal participant in the relationship and has an equal right to decide how far you should go and when you should stop.

  • Even if she initially agrees to have sex but then wants you to stop, remember that legally it will be rape if you donít.

 

Legal viewpoint

If a man penetrates a woman without her consent, legally it is rape. Sex with a girl below 16 years is rape even if she gives her consent. If consent is obtained through coercion, blackmail, threat to reputation or false promises of marriage, it also amounts to rape. If a woman is unconscious or has been drugged and is in no position to give her consent then too it is rape.

As far as date rape is concerned, there is an additional aspect to the question of rape or molestation. What happens if a woman gives her consent to begin with, then gets scared and changes her mind? Says Lisa Gill, Advocate practising in Punjab and Haryana High Court, Chandigarh, "It would still be rape. A woman has the right to say no at any time during the sexual act. In cases of date rape, keeping in mind our culture mores, the girlís young age and the fact that she probably didnít know what she was getting herself into, I feel the courts would be sympathetic to her and would award a strict punishment to the rapist."

 

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