An Important Truth About Stranger v. Acquaintance Rape

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Overheard: ” Stranger assaults and stranger rapes are rare. So sharing spaces with someone you know isn’t really all that dangerous.”

Usually,a stranger is defined as someone that you have never seen nor conversed with before. That can get less easy to define when you look at the fact that people define “knowing” a person very differently. For some people, attending church in the same church building with someone is “knowing them”.

In fact, they may call this person their “Brother” or “Sister”, especially if they are both members of the church. They’ve never really personally interacted, even to hold hands in prayer. But when asked about that person, it would be common to hear someone say: “Sure I know him. That’s Brother Jackson”

Because details are parsed so thin when it comes to court and administrative cases, it’s very important for frontline folks like advocates, paralegals, and legal assistants to get your facts straight. Even more importantly, when it comes to individual safety of you, children/adults in your care….one has to be very clear about who you know, what you know about them, and how much you really “know” them.

Also, there is a FALSE sense of comfort that comes from this idea that one can let their guard down around:

people that they know.

People that they are accustomed to seeing.

People they their friends and family trust.

It IS true that most people who are assaulted, raped, or abducted know the person who attacked them.

But, take a look at who might be potentially categorized under “acquaintance” rapes, assaults, and abductions:

Classmates you don’t know or talk with ever but who for example may have attended classes in the same building as you,

People you work with but don’t know or talk with ever but who for example work in your building or are mandated to attend the same company meetings.

Your landlord who you know by name, you know they have a key to your apartment, but as long as you pay the rent on time…you don’t “know” them.

Your maintenance person who also may have a key to your home but you’ve never talked with them about anything but repairs.

A fellow student who knew you but you never talked with them but you may have attended classes together.

A fellow house resident you know but you really don’t “know” but don’t know on a personal level.

A friend of the family that you don’t know well at all. You may speak to be polite but you don’t really know them personally.

The brother/cousin/uncle of someone you hang out with

A guest who comes to family gatherings that you don’t know well at all. You may see them on holidays and eat at the same table but you don’t “know” them.

A parent of a child your children play with. You may know (and/or screened) one parent very well, but the other parent may be at work or less involved with your child.

A fellow congregant who attends your faith house. Again, beyond praying together or knowing church appropriate details, you don’t really know them all that well. You may not know much about their background or anything like that.

The local owner of the small store or business that you patronize often. You may exchange pleasantries but you don’t know much about them and they don’t know much about you.

Someone that you went out with for what amounted to one date (a few hours). Even if you talked non-stop, you only know a few hours worth of information that they wanted to share with you.

The doctor or counselor that you saw once or twice. They may have taken in quite a bit of information about you but you still don’t know a lot about them. And again, the details that they have are what you were willing to share.

The person who cares for your lawn. Aren’t you most likely in the house when their performing their service?

The person who operates the transportation service that you use frequently. Perhaps you see them on a daily basis, but ……

A neighbor (whether or not you’ve ever spoken with them)

Your dentist

Dating partners and spouses of family members


Whether or not you “know” these people can be subjective.

It’s a hard call sometimes. Different jurisdictions or locales may have very different answers for how this is determined.

People in rural or small towns commonly say “I’ve known this person/someone all my life” As an advocate, it was good practice to clarify exactly what that meant in order to avoid ill-timed surprises later.

Did they really mean that they know a relative of a person?

Or that they commonly saw this person around town frequently?

Have they ever had a conversation with this person?

Having been a member of multi-disciplinary task forces to address both domestic and sexual violence, I can tell you that the question of exactly how to categorize witness, victim, and perpetrator accounts into objective data that can be used comes up frequently.

As an average human being living amongst other human beings you just want to make sure that you and your loved ones are safe. So it is vital that you understand that it is difficult to truly know people that you don’t spend time engaging with, conversing with, and listening to closely. And even then, you can do all of this for decades and people’s actions, behaviors, and all the choices that we human beings make along our journey -can shock you senseless.

I never say that in trainings to install fear into people. We who believe that safety is possible for everybody say that to make people pay closer attention to the people around them. We say that in the hopes that people will avoid letting what ought to be make us pay closer attention just slide on by. We say that in the hopes that people understand that even for the most renowned experts, human behavior is extremely hard to predict.

Pay attention to the people that you let into your spaces and circles, friend or foe, “stranger” or “acquaintance.”