A high percentage of women who might have been rape victims have successfully avoided the experience. Police say the rate is about three evasions to every one rape.
''It's amazing how many cases could be avoided if the victim just used a little old-fashioned common sense,'' says William Heiman, chief of the rape unit in the district attorney's office in Philadelphia and a member of the advisory committee to the National Center for the Prevention and Control of Rape. ''By deciding not to walk the dark streets of a bad neighborhood, . . . or accepting the offer of a ride home from a crowded disco, a woman can avoid a lot of the more obvious risks.''
Marjorie Burton of Sexual Offense Services of Ramsey County, Minn., says women should also learn to trust their instincts more rather than to rely on their impulse to offer help when asked.
''If someone stops a woman for directions or offers her a ride, she shouldn't be governed by not wanting to seem impolite or to hurt someone's feelings,'' says Mrs. Burton. ''Some women think if they refuse or take strong action, someone might think they're a little crazy. They need to know it's OK to create a scene. If they feel a little uncomfortable about a situation, it's better to do something about it even if you feel a little silly later on.''
If asked for help in such situations, she says, women can say something as simple and decisive as ''I don't have time.'' If someone wants to use her home telephone in an emergency, she can offer to make the call to police herself or point toward a public telephone. If a woman is alone when her car breaks down, she can ask anyone who stops to call the highway patrol rather than accept a ride.
If a woman feels that a rape attempt is imminent, she should not hesitate to follow an active strategy of making noise (which might attract the attention of anyone else nearby), of taking advantage of any opportunity to escape, and, in some cases, of fighting back. University of Illinois sociologist Pauline Bart says her research with victims and four similar academic studies have all found that active resistance often results in avoiding rape.