OPED: ACT to prevent acquaintance rape

Chris Hertig
Spring Garden

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month so it seems appropriate to share the ACT method of acquaintance-rape prevention. This was developed years ago at a faculty retreat and the resultant ACT (Assess, Control, and Tell) method of acquaintance rape prevention was developed. I taught it, presented it at conferences and published it several times; nonetheless folks could benefit from it in the more general public.

Chris Hertig

It enables one to date defensively, preventing a horrific experience from happening.

Being raped is a devastating experience for the victims; most of whom are young. They are in their formative years, trying to figure out themselves and the world around them. There’s confusion galore about a lot of things, let alone the shock and trauma of being raped, of being violated and of having an entirely new and foreign relationship with family, friends, classmates and co-workers. Finally, they must deal with a reporting/legal system that is generally unwelcoming, despite the best efforts of the professionals overseeing it.

A – Assess the date. Conducting an online check of the potential date and questioning those who know him are good starts. Think of yourself as an employer: much of the employee screening process can be applied to the dating process.  A background investigation of some type is conducted. This is important because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Speaking with the prospective date is the job interview. Envision the date itself as a probationary period where the “employer” (you) continues to evaluate and will sever the relationship at the first indication of problems.

Note that rapists (and other street- criminals) are often poor communicators. They misread cues. This may be discerned early on during the initial assessment or may come to light during the date itself.

One major concern is determining the date’s attitudes toward women. Rapists and abusers obviously don’t respect women, but may be adept at concealing their true nature. The tiniest display of disrespect for women should be taken seriously, very seriously: there may not be a second chance to avoid abuse.

There are inherent difficulties in seeing bad people for who they are. As humans, we tend to deny that which makes us uncomfortable. It’s a natural defense mechanism and the first challenge we must overcome. Along with denial is our view of bad people: that they are not like us. They live a distance away, are of a different culture, a different class, a different ethnicity.

Both of these factors combined make it difficult to identify malevolent individuals. The problem gets compounded further if the person has status and respectability. The “snakes in suits” are damn near invisible, creating extensive harm before being recognized for what they are.

With dating this can be complicated even further: Who among us wants to think negatively of someone we are attracted to?

Trust your instincts. Instincts trump attraction. Share your concerns with those you can trust. Articulate the least bit of uneasiness. Question and don’t be satisfied with anything less than a cogent, logical explanation.

C – Control. Manage the date and the date process. Assess how the date respects you and your wishes. Bear in mind that domestic abusers (some of whom rape their victims) are often control freaks. They aren’t prince charming and they certainly aren’t the sort of people with whom to have any kind of relationship.

Pick the place of the date. Pick the movie. Establish the time that you need to leave by, etc. Think tactically, think ahead and always think “what if?” Remember, a rapist is thinking tactically also.

Alcohol consumption must be carefully managed, especially by women who do not have the muscle and blood mass of men. Subsequently they should drink much less. A few drinks on an empty stomach destroys one’s judgement.  Alcohol not only makes one more susceptible to assault; it diminishes one’s credibility as a victim.  Finally, rapists often use date rape drugs or deceptively strong drinks to incapacitate their prey.

T-Tell. Tell the date your limits. Communicate effectively, using all the necessary tools. Tell them verbally. Tell them para-verbally through tone, rhythm and the volume of your voice. Non-verbally communicate to them with body language and touch. Make every communication count.

Never risk what you can’t afford to lose.

 Chris Hertig, Spring Garden, has taught personal protection for nearly 4 decades. He has published extensively, is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and Certified Protection Officer Instructor (CPOI). He is on the York Dispatch Editorial Advisory Board and writes about history, higher education and disability discrimination.