Disclaimer: We acknowledge that there are many different words that individuals use to describe themselves after experiencing sexual assault. In this article we use the term ‘survivor’ for the sake of consistency. We acknowledge that there are many different ways of processing sexual violence, and believe each individual person should choose the language that they are most comfortable with.

A multitude of mannequins wrapped in yellow and red tape. One mannequin has "Your body belongs to you" written on its back.

What is Rape?

Rape is defined as “nonconsensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration obtained by force, by threat of bodily harm, or when the victim is unable of giving consent.” There are about 293,000 reported rape cases per year in the United States and 68% of all rapes go unreported. Almost 98% of rapists are not convicted of a crime.1  

Rape is an extremely serious and invasive sex crime.  It is a traumatic and life-threatening experience–one that cannot be easily forgotten.  It may leave a survivor full of fear, doubt, and anger. Rape causes detrimental emotional and psychological effects such as fear, self-doubt, self-blame, and anger. Survivors can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and a plethora of other issues. Not only does it affect the survivor, but it can also affect their family, friends, and other loved ones if the survivor chooses to tell them.  The memory of being raped and the fear experienced during and after the event often never completely vanish, making the rape something they will have to deal with daily.  However, many survivors are able to overcome the experience with outside help and with the passing of time. Anyone can be a victim of rape regardless of gender, age, social class, and economic class. Rape also occurs when the survivor has a mental disability that renders them unable to consent or is below the legal age of consent. Prosecution rates of rape vary throughout jurisdictions.  

Acquaintance Rape

Acquaintance rape is defined as a rape committed by a person known by the victim. Acquaintance rape encompasses any form of rape where the perpetrator is known to the victim, including date rape, gang rape, marital rape, and rape occurring between friends, coworkers, classmates, etc.  Approximately 80% of all rape cases are acquaintance rapes.1 Date rape is often used interchangeably with acquaintance rape. Date rape occurs between two individuals who had a potential romantic relationship. Drugs and alcohol are commonly used in a date rape to incapacitate the victim. One third of all reported rapes are influenced by alcohol and or drugs. The most common date rape drug is Rohypnol but others include Ketamine and Gamma-hydroxobutyrate (GHB). Acquaintance rape and date rape are prevalent on college campuses across the world. About one in four college women report experiencing rape or attempted rape on a college campus.1 Survivors of acquaintance rape face additional difficulties when reporting the assault because of feelings of shame, self-blame, fear of not being believed, fear of not wanting to get their rapist in trouble especially if they are close to them, and not wanting to start a dispute within their social circle.

Gang Rape

Multiple perpetrator sexual assault, often called gang rape, occurs when two or more perpetrators work together to sexually assault the same victim.1 This type of rape tends to take place where there are pre-existing male bonds, such as on athletic teams, in fraternities, and within military units. It is estimated that between 10 and 20% of all rapes are gang rapes. This form of rape is typically more violent and leaves the victim with physical and psychological injuries. Approximately 20% of gang rape victims die due to their non-sexual injuries.1 Gang rape is often premeditated and sometimes involves the use of drugs, such as Rohypnol, to subdue the victim. This form of rape is often used as an initiation ritual for members of a club, fraternity, or other organization. Other cases of gang rape begin as consensual sexual activity between two partners, but transition to sexual assault when one partner decides to introduce one or more new members against the other partner’s will. Gang rape survivors experience the same difficulties as survivors of other types of rape, plus additional issues. If they decide to persecute their perpetrators, survivors are sometimes harassed by other members of the organization that assaulted them. They also face added difficulties in court with trying to get a guilty verdict due to the number and closeness of the perpetrators. Survivors of gang rape are also at an increased risk of sexually transmitted infection (STI) contractions due to the number of perpetrators.1 

Marital Rape

Marital rape occurs when the victim is sexually assaulted by their spouse. Marital rape is the most underreported kind of rape, yet is much more prevalent in society than expected.3 Women are most often the victims of marital rape in heterosexual relationships, although men can be victims as well. Marital rape can also occur in homosexual relationships. Survivors of marital rape also tend to be survivors of domestic abuse from their partners, such as verbal, physical, and psychological abuse. This form of rape was once not widely recognized as rape but is now becoming increasingly criminalized. Before the 1970s, there was no legal basis in the United States for a survivor to claim marital rape.  Although marital rape is now illegal in the U.S. as a whole, some states contain exemptions that classify it as semi-legal.3 Other countries around the globe either legally allow it or illegally tolerate it. Some countries either do not have legislation protecting survivors of rape and other countries choose not to persecute rapists. The tolerance of marital rape in some societies is due to traditional patriarchal religious beliefs and the belief that a wife should be subordinate to her husband.3 The feminist movements in the western world began advocating for the criminalization of marital rape, which led to new legislation protecting the survivors.3 

Prison Rape

Prison rape is any form of sexual assault committed against an inmate, either by another inmate or a prison personnel.1 Approximately 14% of inmates experience sexual assault while incarcerated.1 Prison rape has only recently begun to be researched. New laws are being passed to protect survivors of prison rape. It is believed that prison rape occurs for several reasons, which include asserting dominance, “proving manhood,” satisfying sexual needs, and exerting power and control over other inmates.1 In most cases, the assailant considers himself to be heterosexual and he may even have a partner outside of prison.  Unfortunately, most perpetrators are not usually prosecuted for these offenses.

Wartime Rape

Wartime rape refers to sexual assault occurring during war, armed conflict, or military occupation committed by combats.1 This form of rape has larger sociological motives. For thousands of years, wartime rape has been a common psychological military war tactic an attacking army will invade a village or city and rape the women there in order to establish dominance and humiliate their enemy. Women are typically the victims of wartime rape in order to instill fear in the occupied country. Wartime rape also includes instances where girls and women living in the country are forced into prostitution and sexual slavery by the dominating power. Before the 1990s there were not many international laws to protect survivors of wartime rape and convict the perpetrators.  However, today in many countries it is a punishable offense to carry out acts of rape on enemies as a means of gaining a military advantage and it is now classified as a crime against humanity.1

Motivations for Rape

Power Rape

Power rape is motivated by the desire to control and dominate the survivor.  Most often the intent in these kind of rapes are not to injure the survivor, but rather to gain control by using just enough force to get the survivor to comply with the rapist’s wishes.  The perpetrator usually does not use enough force to actually hurt a survivor more than the pain of being raped.

Revenge and Anger Rape

Anger rape is generally very spontaneous, as emotions take over the rapists and make them do things they normally would not do if they had a chance to calm down and rationally think about what they were doing.  Sexual gratification is typically never sought out by the rapist; instead the rapists are consumed by resentment towards others, usually women, that makes them feel as though something should be done to punish them and achieve some type of revenge. Anger rape is more violent than power rape, and more often than not, it occurs between two total strangers. This type of rape typically includes non-sexual injuries to the survivor that could seriously harm them and even lead to death.

Sadism Rape

Sadistic rapes are usually premeditated and are historically the most brutal rapes, because they often use tactics such as torture and bondage.  The rapist receives pleasure from hurting and degrading the survivor. This is the least common type of rape, but has the most gruesome consequences. The victim often dies from their injuries or is seriously injured.

Sexual Gratification Rape

An additional motive for rape as a means of sexual gratification.  Most acquaintance rapes and date rapes fall into this category, where only enough force is used to make the survivor to comply.  Violence usually only occurs if the survivor resists in some way.  This is the most common type of rape.

Alcohol and Rape

A glass of wine and another glass cup filled with liquid.

Alcohol and drugs are usually significant factors in date rape situations.  These substances cloud the judgment of both the rapist and the survivor and compromise their ability to give consent. In these situations, the drugs and or alcohol may be administered either knowingly or unknowingly to the survivor. In some cases, the perpetrator takes advantage of the survivor’s willingness to participate in illicit activities and encourages them to consume too much. These cases leave the survivor feeling as if they are responsible for what happened to them. Although alcohol is the most common date rape drug, other drug such as Rohypnol, GHB, Ketamine, and prescription drugs are often used to incapacitate the survivor and hinder their ability to give consent.1 The drugs and alcohol make it easier for the perpetrator to gain control of their target, leaving them unable to resist or leaving them unable to remember the assault. The perpetrator might not hear no because the victim may be unable to speak and express that they are not giving consent. If a person is under any type of drug or alcohol influence and is subsequently not capable of giving consent, sexual encounters are defined as rape or sexual assault. You can read more about consent here. If you or a friend believes they may have been a victim of drug facilitated rape, it is important to go to the nearest hospital immediately. If this is not possible, obtain a urine sample as soon as possible, preferably within 12-72 hours, and take it to your nearest hospital to report the assault.

Myths About Rape

Rape is never the survivor’s fault. However, some myths exist that encourage victim blaming. The following are a few common myths regarding rape:2

  1. A person’s clothing and behaviors are “asking for it,” and indicate that they are open to having sex or wants to have sex.
  2. Women play hard to get and really mean yes when they say no.
  3. If two people who have had sex before, then hey are always willing to have sex again. If consent was given once in the past, then it is always given for future sexual relations.
  4. Men of a certain ethnicity or background are more likely to commit rape.
  5. Survivors who willingly consumed too much alcohol or drugs are to blame for not being careful enough.

A person’s clothing and behaviors are never to blame. Committing sexual assault is a violent choice that the perpetrator makes and there are never any reasons to excuse the behavior. A person can say no at any point during a sexual encounter and has the right to change their mind as well. When an individual says no, their decision should be respected immediately and they should not be forced into any non-consensual behavior. Even if two people have had sex in the past, they still both have the legal right to revoke consent at any point in the relationship. Consent must be received during each sexual encounter in order for the encounter to not be considered rape or assault. There is no typical profile of a rapist. Rapists can come from any background and be of various racial ethnicities and economic classes. A person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol is unable to give full consent, therefore rape is never their fault. The person initiating sex is responsible for the rape and is the aggressor 100% of the time.

A sticker on a steel post that says "However I dress, wherever I go, yes means yes and NO MEANS NO."

The only way to prevent a rape from occurring is by obtaining full, legal consent. Communication with your partner is essential to receiving consent. It is the sole responsibility of the person who is initiating the sexual act to receive consent from their partner. However, both partners should always ask for consent. It is their responsibility to make sure their partner is comfortable, not being pressured, of the legal age, and not giving consent under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Simply because your partner does not say “no” does not mean they are giving consent. The person initiating sex must receive a conscious and affirmative “yes,” in order to receive consent. Both partners also legally reserve the right to revoke their consent at any point in the relationship or sexual encounter. Any prior sexual history between partners is irrelevant, consent must be obtained each time they engage in sexual activity.

Concluding Remarks

Rape is defined as non-consensual oral, vaginal, or anal penetration obtained by force, threat of force, or when the person is unable to give legal consent. Rape can happen to anyone regardless of gender, age, or background. About 80% of all rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Consent is essential in preventing rape from occurring. 

Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673)


  1. “Get Info | RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.” Get Info | RAINN | Rape, Abuse   and Incest National Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2016.
  2. “Myths about Rape.” Rape Crisis England & Wales. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2016.
  3. Allen, Samantha. The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, n.d. Web. 14 May 2016.

Last Updated: 24 May 2016.