CS> Woman who've been raped often voice a feeling (Donna has said it
CS> here in the Echo): "I'm NOT going through this again." In other
CS> words, it would be better to be dead than to go along in any way
CS> shape or form.
Studies (Bart and O'Brien 1985;Burghess 1988), have shown that several women who avoided rape, used the emotion of, "I'm NOT going through this again" to generate anger and inner strength to avoid a second rape. Also many of the avoiders had the attitude of, "I'm not going to let this happen in the first place". Women who were preoccupied with being killed or maimed were also found to be less likely to avoid rape.
CS> (I can certainly indentify with the feeling, but is it really
CS> better to be dead? I may have to file this under feelings I can
CS> never grok.)
I don't think it's a question of better to be dead than raped, but one of better to die trying to maintain your personal freedom and sovereignty over your body than just giving in. Some people (myself included) may think it is better to go down fighting even if it will get them killed, when they would not die otherwise. As an example, would you live in a state of slavery, where you were forced to obey your master, but otherwise will be alive, or might you prefer to die trying to gain freedom?
D> However, just to throw my own pennies into the pot: it has often
D> bugged me that "NEVER fight back" was the advice of the day for
D> rape victims
P. Bart and P. O'Brien in _Stopping Rape_ 1985:

"We know that advice about how to behave when attacked, advice telling women to act in traditionally feminine ways, is wrong.

[Researchers] have stated that women have a trained inability to avoid rape because of the female socialization to be victims. Women are taught to equate physical fighting with unfeminine behavior and to believe that they do not need to learn to take care of themselves because a man will. But from whom will men protect them? From other men, of course. This is the biggest protection racket in the world, according to the philosopher Susan Rae Peterson."

D> Of course, some rape victims are the types of people
D> who wouldn't fight back anyway.
Bart and O'Brien found that women who avoided rape were more likely to have been involved in childhood contact sports. More pertinent they found that 50% of the women who avoided rape were involved in sports as adults, while 25% of the raped women were involved in adult sports. The reasons why this is true are unknown, however, they say, "Women should know that regular participation in sports may provide them with skills that decrease their chance of being raped".

Another factor is childhood expectations. Forty percent of the women who were raped ,"envisioned a future of domesticity, one in which they would be married and have children", while only 14% of the rape avoiders mentioned this "American Dream". They were more likely to speak of jobs, careers, and education.

Other factors are beyond a woman's control. For instance women 5'7" or taller were more likely to be rape avoiders. In fact two women 5'7" or more fought off armed attacker who attacked them in their sleep! Being the eldest daughter also seems to be a predictor of a rape avoider. Rape avoiders also tended to have mothers who had a college education, particularly post grad. education. While rape victims' fathers had high school or less. The avoider's or victim's education had no statistical bearing. Finally there were six lesbians, only one of whom was raped, but that is such a small number that no certain statistical correlation can be made.

D> Unfortunately for who-knows-how-many-women (at least) WHO MIGHT
D> NOT HAVE BEEN RAPED if they hadn't listened to the "experts" about
D> "NEVER fight back", the advice was groundless, the "experts" were
D> wrong.
Now experts as well as statistics show that rape is avoidable. Marchbank et al. in _Risk of Injury from Resisting Rape_ in the American Journal of Epidemiology vol 132(3) 1990 540-9 have compiled interesting statistics from the National Crime Survey. They found that women who use physical or verbal methods to resist rape were 1/3 as likely to be raped as women who did not. However, if the rape did occur and the victim used force, she was 2.7 times more likely to be injured, but only 1.2 times more likely to *require* medical attention.

Bart and O'Brien Break the rape avoidance strategies into categories: Flee or attempt to flee, scream/yell, physical force, cognitive verbal (reasoning, conning,etc.), affective verbal (pleading,etc.), environmental intervention, and no strategy. They found that women who used physical force with any other strategy increased their chance to avoid rape (no women used force alone). None of the women who used three or four of the strategies were raped. Some women used an immediate physical response as well as screaming. "These women were not only angry but ENRAGED at their attacker for daring to intrude on their space. They believed that he did not have a right to assault them. Unfortunately, not all women in this society have enough self-esteem to feel ENTITLED to their space and to feel that unwanted touching is 'just not permissible'".

Other women attempted to talk the attacker out of it, or used the talking to avoid physical injury. They then proceeded at opportune times to use physical force, to complete their escape.

Still other women used force and when that failed used verbal skills escape. One woman convinced her assailant that she was a karate expert. Other women stalled by talking. One woman, "unable to escape by the use of force, convinced the man who was trying to rape her that she wanted to get to know him better before they had sex and talked him into going to a restaurant for a milkshake". Needless to say she was able to escape once at the restaurant.

Seventeen of twenty women whose first strategy was to flee avoided rape. This was the most effective single strategy, however, it was also the least used first strategy. In some cases this can be because of the situation i.e. trapped or cornered. However, other women considering flight thought of it as an admission of defeat and attempted other strategies first.

Bart and O'Brien's book is excellent, and I highly recommend it to anyone at all interested in avoiding rape, but it is not the only source on rape avoidance. Victim Response Strategies in Sexual Assault by D. Carter et al. in _Rape and Sexual Assault II_ edited by Ann Wolbert Burgess, has it's own rape avoidance plan broken down into steps.

The goal is to escape from the aggressor. If there is no immediate possibility to flee proceed to step 1. Step 1 is firm verbal confrontation. Yell, "leave me alone! Get away!". This loud yelling may deter some rapists, it also helps to attract attention.

If step 1 is unsuccessful in deterring the assault step 2 is physical confrontation. Immediately take the offense with moderate physical aggression punch, kick, struggle,etc. They point out that the victim must assess the situation, her physical ability, presence of weapons, etc. They point out that violence begets violence, so if the physical struggle does not work proceed to step 3.

Step 3 is nonconfrontative verbal response. They say you should try to make the attacker see you as a real person. Or challenge his fantasy that you want to have sex with him, or that you are the person he wants to harm, "I'm a total stranger. Why do you want to hurt me?". You can also try stall for time or try to get him to take you to a public place. This works as a woman in the Bart and O'Brien study was able to get her assailant to take her for a milkshake, she then escaped.

If step 3 does not convince the assailant to stop, or if it does not give you an opportunity to escape, it may lesson the amount of physical harm you suffer. They also have step 4 as a last resort. Extreme aggression. All the dirty fighting tricks you know. Unfortunately they don't mention any dirty tricks to go along with the usual punching and kicking. However I'll mention two dirty tricks I know. One good trick is biting. Biting the assailant's ears, nose, or fingers is highly effective. Bite as hard as you can, if you are resorting to biting that is no time for squeamishness. Spitting is also another good trick. Spit into the assailant's eyes. If he does not immediately let go or loosen his grip, continue to spit into his eye, as this will be very distracting.

Both studies show that women can increase their chance of avoiding rape by using verbal and physical skills. Both studies show that women who just go along per conventional wisdom will be raped. They also show that pleading does not work very well. Of course every situation is different, and there can be no advice that is guaranteed to work in all cases. Every person who is sexually assaulted will have to weigh their options when determining how to respond. The best defense is being aware of dangerous situations and avoiding them. Also learning self-defense will give you the skills and the confidence to avoid or repel attackers.


1. Stopping Rape, P Bart and P. O'Brien 1985.

2. Risk of Injury from Resisting Rape, Marchbank et al. American Journal of Epidemiology vol 132(3) 1990 540-9.

3. Victim Response Strategies in Sexual Assault, D Carter et al. Rape and Sexual Assault II ed. Ann Burgess 1988.

Go Back to Shy David's Sexual Assault Page.