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The Stranger Beside Me

Alcohol often is a 'weapon' in acquaintance rape, say police experts

By Kelly Luker

JACK McPHILLIPS MAKES THE ROUNDS OF PLACES like Planned Parenthood, Women's Crisis Support and Walnut Street Women's Shelter periodically to make sure they always have a fresh stack of his business cards displayed. A detective assigned to the Santa Cruz Police Department's Sexual Assault Unit, he makes it his business to get the word out that he and his department take acquaintance rape seriously.

"The biggest myth that women have," McPhillips says, "is that acquaintance rape can't happen to them." In fact, stranger rape is relatively rare. It is far more likely that the victim knows her attacker.

Of the 22 acquaintance rapes that he has investigated this year, 15 are being prosecuted. One of the most notorious is the case of 21-year-old Richard Amick, who is in custody for allegedly raping four women, one of whom is only 14 years old. What McPhillips finds chilling about Amick is the "sophisticated, predatory" manner in which he allegedly buddied up to young girls, then plied them with booze until they passed out so he could rape them when they were unconscious.

McPhillips considers alcohol a rapist's "weapon," since it plays a role in virtually every acquaintance rape he has worked on.

As the detective describes the events leading up to a half-dozen recent cases involving college students, a depressingly similar scenario emerges.

"A student came from out of town looking for a place to rent, so she stayed with some friends," McPhillips explains. " They all go out and get drunk, she comes back and one of the guys staying at the house rapes her."

He tells of another student who went downtown with her girlfriend and met some guys they knew from school. They got drunk and went to one of the boys' houses, and when the student passed out, she was raped. Then there's the girl in her late teens who went downtown with her friends and ran into an older guy she had met once before. He bought some booze, they drove to the beach and he raped her.

There's the young woman who got drunk at a party, passed out and woke up in the middle of being raped by a casual acquaintance. And another woman who ran into a guy at a bar that she knew from years past. She gets drunk, he offers a ride and
drives her to a secluded spot where he rapes her in the car.

"Are we seeing a pattern here?" asks McPhillips rhetorically. "But when alcohol is involved, the consensus is that the woman did something to lead the guy on. Which is ridiculous.

"No means no."

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From the Nov. 26-Dec. 3, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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