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WOMEN HAVEN'T COME FAR ENOUGH YET IN REMOVING THE STIGMA OF RAPE

My assignment at the Deseret News is the night police beat. In the course of covering crimes of all types, I have noticed some attitudes about victims. In short, I've noticed that circumstances can make a person less of a victim.

Imagine a woman who makes herself up and heads out for a night on the town with her friends. She ends up at a club and dances the night away with a guy she thinks she might like to get to know. Maybe he offers her a ride home and she accepts. She's raped.When she reports the crime, a violation of her rights by another person, she hears things like: "But we have witnesses that saw you dancing with him, leaving with him - even flirting with him." or "Why else would you leave with a man you met at a nightclub if you didn't want to have sex with him?" "What else did you expect? It was 2 a.m."

I have talked to three of my friends who have been raped and asked them why they never reported it. The unanimous answer is they blame themselves - maybe not completely, but enough to keep the rapist out of court and jail.

I've wondered why a victim of a crime - any crime - would blame him- or herself for the pain inflicted upon them.

After watching high-profile rape and sexual harrassment trials on television, I think I understand a little better why victims of sexual crimes - the majority of whom are female - find it impossible not to feel guilty about being raped or assaulted.

It comes down to some basic ASSUMPTIONS people - both male and female - make about the male/female relations game.

You, single person, do things to attract other single people in hopes of finding companionship. However, women beware, because what you do to meet, attract and pursue a relationship with men can be held against you in a court of law. Anything you do or say or wear can be used against you should you fall victim to criminal behavior.

Men don't seem to suffer the same stigma. Men out on the town aren't viewed as criminals looking for victims. Yet, women out on the town doing the same things, dancing in the same clubs, are seen as asking for it. Yes, it's 1992, and we're supposed to be a little more enlightened. But we're not, at least not all of us.

Take for example the victims of Jeffrey Dahmer. He met most of those men in bars and nightclubs. Some he even paid for sex. Most of us overlook the sexual crimes committed because the murders were so grotesque. But the fact remains that no one - at least to my knowledge - is saying those men deserved to be raped or killed.

I'll admit most women who are killed after being raped aren't said to be asking for it. But instances occur, often, where a woman is raped and beaten and she ends up defending her intentions - instead of the defendant/suspect defending his actions.

I understand the need for physical evidence in a criminal case and the need to set a stage when talking about a crime scene. I guess what disturbs and angers me most is an attitude that seems pretty common that says a woman's actions make her less of a victim.

Not everyone sees a dangerous situation coming, and hindsight is always clearer. Why can't the evidence speak for itself? Women - and men - have the right to say no to sex at ANY time.

Dancing with a man doesn't mean you want to sleep with him. What you wear, what you drink and where you go don't IMPLY you want sex. Unless a person CONSENTS - that person is not interested in sex.

And while we're talking about consent, let's be specific. Consent means to agree or give permission, to be in agreement. That means someone has to come right out and TALK about sex and ASK a companion if he/she is interested. If the individual say yes, that's consent. But if he/she says no and the one asking wanted to hear yes, that's still no. Women don't mean yes when they say no. They mean NO, and in this case they mean NO SEX.

We're still working on equal rights, and I keep hearing a familiar phrase, "You've come along way, baby." Unfortunately, not far enough to remove the stigmas surrounding rape and sexual assaults.- The Deseret News welcomes comments from readers on this topic or others pertinent to the Single-minded column. Please address letters to Single-minded, c/o Marianne Funk, Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110; or contact her or the writer of the column at 237-2100.