I recently began volunteering for a rape crisis team in the Provo/Orem area. My training experience, which I recently completed, helped me to realize (even more than I had before) that many in the BYU community unintentionally create a false sense of security concerning rape prevention.

The vast majority of rapes — in Utah County and elsewhere — are committed by acquaintances, whether it is boyfriends, first dates, old classmates, etc. The stranger-jumping-from-the-bushes rape scenario is very rare (though it does happen).

It is admirable that many BYU wards have implemented a rape prevention program; however, this program (”Safe Walk”) serves to prevent only the rare stranger-bush-jumping variety. In this program, male students take turns walking female students (from their ward) home from campus at night.

This program might offer a sense of security to certain women, as well as provide opportunities for people to get to know each other better, but it probably does little to nothing by way of rape protection. In fact, I would venture that the woman is more likely to be raped or abused by the man walking her home! Now, don’t get me wrong — the chances of this are probably very, very slim. But that’s exactly my point.

Now, I don’t see it as a problem that these wards have Safe Walk programs. But I wonder how much they serve to create a false sense of security (for ward leaders and male and female students) of rape prevention. As a result, the real issues of rape prevention might be avoided. Of course, many women (and men) do not need any training in this regard, but some do. If the time spent on all those Safe Walks is justified, then certainly some specific training regarding real rape prevention (from acquaintances) would be warranted.

In many communities, your local rape crisis center is probably happy to talk to church groups (for free) about rape prevention. In the Provo/Orem areas, you can contact the Outreach Office for The Center for Women and Children and Crisis at 801-227-5038.

Below is a list of a few things I’ll say about rape prevention in terms of acquaintance relationships. Before I get to this list, let me clarify that although there are things people can do to prevent rape, there is much that is out of a person’s control. It is very common for rape victims to feel bad or guilty (that God must not love them), and the last thing in the world they need to hear is a lecture of “if only you wouldn’t have …”. Rather, they need to be assured that rape can happen to anyone, and they shouldn’t feel bad or unloved or guilty because of it. Even if the person was drinking or promiscuous — NO ONE DESERVES TO BE RAPED. That being said, here is a list of suggestions (for women):

  • Always go on group dates for a first date and/or meet at a public place. Especially if you don’t really know the person or have met them online (be very cautious about online dating services and networking sites). Just because a person is a BYU student or a returned missionary doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe.
  • If a woman feels uncomfortable about a man (even a return missionary in her ward) who is asking her out — she should politely decline. Ignore the common folklore (in LDS culture) that you should give everyone at least one try. Not true. If you’re uncomfortable — politely, but firmly, say no.
  • If a man fails to give you much information regarding a date, politely press him for details. “Where are we going? What time will we be back? Are others coming?” If you feel uncomfortable with the details that are given (or lack thereof), politely let him know (you can do this in a way that doesn’t communicate disinterest or militant feminism). If he is not understanding of your concerns — RED ALERT! He probably is not worth going out with, and there’s a higher probability that he will abuse you. More on this in the next point…
  • Rapists prey on individuals who they can have power over — who cave under their pressure. If they see that you’re uncomfortable and then they say, “Oh, it won’t be a big deal — come on, what are you worried about?” and then you say, “Well, I guess, OK,” then they’ve won a minor victory. Throughout the date, they might try to do this little by little. If they put their arm around you and they can tell you don’t like it, but you don’t do anything about it — another victory. You need to let the person know, very firmly, that you are uncomfortable with something from the beginning. Be polite, but firm. In some cases, being “nice” is out of the question. Rapists prey on “nice” girls who can’t really say no.
  • Be very clear that “no” means “no.” “No” doesn’t mean “maybe” or “yes” like it does in the movies. Many rapists have the absurd belief that most women really “want it” or “want them,” and so even if they say “no” it really means “yes.”
  • Just because you’re OK with someone going so far with you doesn’t mean that you’ve given them license to go all the way. You can always tell them to stop. Even if you’ve consented to intercourse, but since changed your mind, you have the right to say “stop!” If you clearly express for the person to stop, and they don’t, it is rape, even if you were OK with going part of the way. (The same is true even in a marriage, usually as an ongoing pattern of abuse.) Ignore the false folklore that men can’t stop once they get started.
  • How you carry and express yourself (as discussed above) is MUCH more important than how you dress (though I would certainly advocate modesty for other reasons).
  • Don’t be afraid to call your rape crisis hotline with questions, or for support if you or a loved one has been raped or sexually abused. The hotline number for Orem/Provo areas is 801-356-2511. Crisis hotlines can help you to know what your options are, in terms of health care, prosecution, and protection. They can also talk to you about counseling options and other resources. One thing to be aware of — hospital tests need to be done within 72 hours of the incident to gather DNA evidence.

Anyway, I bring these tips up simply because I know there are many LDS women who struggle with these things. All the more reason for our wards — if we really want to prevent rape — to take them seriously.

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