Acquaintance Versus Stranger Rape and Sexual Assault

Richard B. Felson, Pennsylvania State University
Steven F. Messner, University at Albany
Eric Baumer, University of Missouri - St. Louis

Rapes and sexual assaults involving people who are acquainted with each other (AR) are characterized differently than offenses committed by strangers (SR). The typical AR supposedly occurs during dating activity and is fueled by alcohol. AR offenses are assumed to involve less physical injury beyond the assault itself and to be less likely to be reported to the police than SR offenses. It is also sometimes assumed that AR offenders have more varied demographic backgrounds. An examination of data from the National Crime Victimization Survey reveals a somewhat different picture. As predicted, AR offenders are less likely than SR offenders to use weapons and threaten the victim, while SR offenders are more likely to be young and African-American. However, AR offenders are less likely to be intoxicated than are SR offenders, and they are more likely to physically injure the victim. In addition, AR victims are just as likely to report the crime to the police. We argue that incidents involving acquaintances are more likely to produce injuries because they are more likely to involve grievances and a desire to harm the victim (rather than produce compliance). We also suggest that there are incentives for reporting these crimes to the police that offset inhibitory factors.

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Updated 05/20/2006