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Single Life

Date Rape: Maybe Prevention Is the Best Weapon

May 20, 1988|SUSAN CHRISTIAN | Susan Christian is a free-lance writer whose work has appeared previously in Orange County Life

She met Glen at the beach--"my beach," Elizabeth refers to the Corona del Mar cranny she once frequented with her clique of friends. It was also his beach, where he surfed and sailed every weekend.

He struck her as witty, intelligent, cute. Over a six-month span of lazy Saturday afternoon chats, she gradually got to know him. She thought.

"We started to become attracted to each other," recalls Elizabeth, a 33-year-old landscape architect with typical Southern California looks--blonde, blue-eyed, naturally pretty. "One of my friends would say, 'He stares funny, Elizabeth.' I didn't really notice it. There were little red flags that, in hindsight, I just let go by."

Finally, Glen asked her out to dinner. "He never made a pass at me. He was a perfect gentleman," Elizabeth says. "I was more impressed by the minute."

They hit it off so well that they decided to get together again the next evening, a Sunday. Glen barbecued steaks at his house, and then challenged Elizabeth to a game of backgammon. "He said, 'If I lose, I'll buy flowers,' " she remembers. He lost.

"That night, we made love. No, we did not 'make love'; we had sex," she says, editing her phraseology. "I was wonderfully seduced."

Elizabeth returned from work Monday evening to find the promised flowers on her doorstep--a pleasant surprise that kindled her nascent crush. "I was thrilled," she says. "This man was doing everything right."

She went to sleep around 11. A couple of hours later she jolted awake, though she doesn't remember exactly why. "All of a sudden, I saw a figure at the sliding glass door in my bedroom," she says. "He came in and put his hand on my mouth. He had a stocking over his head, but I knew who he was right away. I'd just been with this man. He has a very distinctive physique--lean, with rounded shoulders. He had on shorts and a sweat shirt that I'd seen before."

"I said, 'Glen, what are you doing? This is not funny. This is a bad joke. You're scaring me.' He pulled up the stocking enough to kiss me. I tried to get up; he pulled out a gun and put it to my temple, so I quit struggling."

After spending four hours at the police station and then the hospital, Elizabeth came home, alone and disoriented. It was too early to disturb her friends or mother with a telephone call, she determined.

At daybreak, she sat down on her stripped mattress--its sheets confiscated by the police--and gave herself a pedicure. "I didn't know what else to do," she says, laughing over the memory's black humor.

That was nearly three years ago. But Elizabeth's voice still quivers and her eyes still tear as she relates the surreal nightmare. The healing process has been a slow one, as is common with victims of acquaintance rape.

"There's no way to quantify pain, or to judge one kind of rape as worse than another," says Jonnie Wesley, coordinator of the Orange County Sexual Assault Network in Orange. "Every rape victim is going to feel powerless, ashamed, dirty, angry, fearful.

"But with date rape, there are additional problems. A person raped on the street by a stranger can pretty quickly realize: 'I really didn't do anything wrong, I really didn't ask for this.' A date-rape victim is convinced that she is somehow to blame.

"She's left with an extreme sense of confusion," Wesley says. "Someone she trusted betrayed her trust in the worst possible way. So who can she trust?"

Free-floating uncertainties relentlessly plague Elizabeth, who now lives on Balboa Island with her boyfriend of two years. "He is as faithful and true as anyone could want," she says. "But I always feel that the rug's about to be pulled out from underneath me.

"Out of the blue, I'll suddenly say to him, 'If you ever decide you don't love me anymore, I can handle that. But I can't handle someone giving me the pretense of something they're not. Just don't lie to me.' "

In the United States, more than 75,000 rapes are reported to the FBI each year, more than half of which are "acquaintance rapes"--meaning that the victim knew her assailant, often romantically. And law enforcers estimate that only one in 10 date rapes go on record, because victims harbor irrational feelings of guilt.

"We're trying to educate women that date rape is not just a lousy sexual encounter," Wesley says. "Women have the right to say, 'This is my limit, this is as far as I'm willing to go.' If the other person says, 'Too bad, you can't get me this aroused and then expect me to stop,' and he continues, that is rape, because he no longer has a consenting partner."

Legally, rape can occur between husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend as well as between casual acquaintances, Wesley pointed out.

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