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Guns Effective Defense Against Rape
On Oct. 3, 2000, a woman was raped near the East River Flats Park. The police
report triggered headlines as well as consternation among many students and
In reality, it wasn't news, and shouldn't have shocked anybody. Yes, it differed
in several particulars from the typical campus rape. (Both victim and
perpetrator were older than most students and he was a stranger to her; it
occurred outside rather than indoors; the felon was one of only 5 percent of
rapists to use a firearm; the woman reported it to police.) But the sad fact is
that rape is, quite literally, an everyday event on our campus. Although the
media -- including the Daily -- must not have recognized it, they were
writing "Dog Bites Man" stories, not "Man Bites Dog."
The Department of Justice has recently released an important new study: "The
Sexual Victimization of College Women." Its chief finding is about 2.8
percent of women in college experienced a completed or attempted forcible rape
in the previous approximately seven months, only about 5 percent of which are
reported to police.
Extrapolating from these figures, the authors suggest 4.9 percent of college
women suffer such an assault in any given calendar year, and perhaps 20 to 25
percent over the course of a typical undergraduate career. (Graduate students
appear to be at considerably lower risk.) This survey appears to be free of the
ambiguous questions that provoked heavy criticism of earlier studies reaching
The Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota has 45,361 students. We
would therefore expect about 2,200 completed or attempted forcible rapes per
year, or about 6 a day on average, assuming the current findings are
approximately correct. Contrast that with the average of 57 annual
"forcible sex offenses" (including events that would not be classified
as rape or attempted rape) the University has reported to the Department of
Education over the last three years -- the official number a prospective student
will see before deciding whether to attend.
In 1999, an independent crime research firm, CAP Index, Inc., reported
the University's neighborhood ranks eighth on their scale of one to 10 (with
higher numbers being worse), meaning the crime rate here is three to five times
the national rate.
So what can women on campus do to reduce their risk? The new Justice Department
study provides several pieces of useful information -- some new, some confirming
conclusions of previous research.
1) Intoxication is probably the greatest risk factor, apart from simply being
female. This is almost certainly due to a combination of the effects of high
blood levels of alcohol: One's physical strength and coordination are impaired,
one's inhibitions (e.g., to flirtatious or overtly sexual behavior) are lowered,
and one's mental alertness is compromised.
Raising this point always brings the charge that one is blaming the victim. Not
at all. In an ideal world, a young woman could drink herself into a stupor at
any place and time and still not be raped. But in that same ideal world, I could
walk through Central Park at midnight with a wad of $100 bills hanging out of my
pocket and still not be mugged. We do not live in that world; it is foolhardy
and naive to act as if we do.
It is an inescapable fact that choosing to imbibe to the point of being drunk is
choosing to be at an increased risk of being raped, as surely as getting in a
car with a drunk driver is choosing to be at an increased risk of being injured
in a crash. Certainly some people make such choices without deliberation as to
the risk that accompanies it, but the risk accompanies the choice nevertheless.
2) Two-thirds of the rapes occurred off-campus, though they might have been
locations immediately adjacent to campus, such as bars or apartments. The
majority occurred in housing, especially the victim's own home. Predictably,
more than half occurred after midnight, with most of the others happening
between 6 p.m. and midnight.
3) Ninety-three percent of the completed forcible rapes and 82 percent of the
attempted rapes were committed by classmates, friends and
boyfriends/ex-boyfriends; acquaintances and "other" (presumably
including strangers) made up the small remaining fraction. However, despite
the frequent use of the term "date rape," only 13 percent of completed
rapes and 35 percent of attempted ones occurred on what the victim categorized
as a "date."
But the Justice Department gives interesting data on an additional step
women can take to help prevent the escalation of an attempted rape to a
completed one: physical resistance.
"For both completed rape and sexual coercion, victims of completed acts
were less likely to take protective action than those who experienced attempted
victimization. This finding suggests that the intended victim's willingness or
ability to use protection might be one reason attempts to rape and coerce sex
failed. Note that the most common protective action was using physical force
against the assailant. Nearly 70 percent of victims of attempted rape used this
response -- again, a plausible reason many of these acts were not
completed." Unfortunately, the survey did not further elucidate the
sub-types of physical resistance used.
The available scientific literature on this question is divided, with some
studies concluding physical resistance -- with all types considered together --
increases a woman's chance of the rape being completed and/or that she will be
seriously injured. (This wording is unavoidable but is not meant to imply that
the rape itself is not a grave injury.) Others find the opposite, again with all
forms of physical resistance analyzed as one.
However, most recent studies with improved methodology are consistently showing
that the more forceful the resistance, the lower the risk of a completed rape,
with no increase in physical injury. Sarah Ullman's original research (Journal
of Interpersonal Violence, 1998) and critical review of past studies (Criminal
Justice and Behavior, 1997) are especially valuable in solidifying this
I wish to single out one particular subtype of physical resistance: Use of a
weapon, and especially a firearm, is statistically a woman's best means of
resistance, greatly enhancing her odds of escaping both rape and injury,
compared to any other strategy of physical or verbal resistance. This conclusion
is drawn from four types of information.
First, a 1989 study (Furby, Journal of Interpersonal Violence) found that
both male and female survey respondents judged a gun to be the most effective
means that a potential rape victim could use to fend off the assault. Rape
"experts" considered it a close second, after eye-gouging.
Second, raw data from the 1979-1985 installments of the Justice Department's
annual National Crime Victim Survey show that when a woman resists a
stranger rape with a gun, the probability of completion was 0.1 percent and of
victim injury 0.0 percent, compared to 31 percent and 40 percent, respectively,
for all stranger rapes (Kleck, Social Problems, 1990).
Third, a recent paper (Southwick, Journal of Criminal Justice, 2000)
analyzed victim resistance to violent crimes generally, with robbery, aggravated
assault and rape considered together. Women who resisted with a gun were 2.5
times more likely to escape without injury than those who did not resist and 4
times more likely to escape uninjured than those who resisted with any means
other than a gun. Similarly, their property losses in a robbery were reduced
more than six-fold and almost three-fold, respectively, compared to the other
categories of resistance strategy.
Fourth, we have two studies in the last 20 years that directly address the
outcomes of women who resist attempted rape with a weapon. (Lizotte, Journal
of Quantitative Criminology, 1986; Kleck, Social Problems, 1990.) The former
concludes, "Further, women who resist rape with a gun or knife dramatically
decrease their probability of completion." (Lizotte did not analyze victim
injuries apart from the rape itself.) The latter concludes that "resistance
with a gun or knife is the most effective form of resistance for preventing
completion of a rape"; this is accomplished "without creating any
significant additional risk of other injury."
The best conclusion from available scientific data, then, is when avoidance of
rape has failed and one must choose between being raped and resisting, a woman's
best option is to resist with a gun in her hands.
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