Most men who assault an acquaintance do not believe that they have committed a rape, and women may not recognize the crime as such, according to a study of 6,100 college undergraduates conducted in 1985.

The study, the largest nationwide survey of date rape, was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and conducted by Ms. Magazine. Among its findings: although one in four women surveyed reported an experience that met the legal definition of rape, only 27 percent of them thought of themselves as rape victims.

In addition, one in 12 men said they had committed acts that met the legal definition of rape, but 84 percent said they did not consider their actions as such.

Date rape victims are less likely than those who were assaulted by a stranger to report the crime. Forty-two percent of the rape victims in the Ms. study said they told no one about their assault, and only 5 percent reported it to the police.

"The men see the struggling as consistent with their notions of seduction," said Mary Koss, a psychologist who headed the Ms. research project chronicled in the book, "I Never Called It Rape."

"One of the motives {for date rape} given by sexually aggressive men is that {the woman} deserved it," she said.

In another survey of 400 undergraduates conducted in 1979 by Nona J. Barnett of the University of Miami School of Law and Hubert S. Feild of Auburn University, 59 percent of the men and 38 percent of the women said they believed that "women provoke rape by their appearance or behavior."

"All of us like to believe that bad things only happen to stupid or bad people. We tend to blame the victim," said Bernice Sandler, director of the project on the Status and Education of Women for the Washington-based Association of American Colleges, who has studied the phenomenon of date rape on college campuses. "By blaming her, we protect ourselves . . . this couldn't happen to us."

The risk of rape is four times higher for women between the ages of 16 and 24, the prime dating age, according to Koss. Older women may be the victims of another form of acquaintance assault: marital rape.

Koss has completed another study of 2,291 working women who had been raped. Their median age was 35. Of those surveyed, only 17 percent were raped by strangers. Thirty-nine percent were raped by husbands, boyfriends or relatives, while 44 percent said they were assaulted by other acquaintances.

Often, Sandler said, men believe "the woman asked for it. Even if she says no, she smiled, she flirted, {her} behavior forced them to have sex," she said. "They make the woman responsible for {male} sexual behavior."

Many men have the attitude, "If I had sex with her once, I can have sex with her again," she added. If the woman had a previous sexual relationship with the man, her story and credibility will probably be questioned. Many victims do not want to incriminate a family member or friend and are often unable to accept that they trusted a person who violated them both physically and emotionally.

Those who report the assault may receive less sympathetic treatment from the criminal justice system than those who are raped by strangers, according to a 1988 National Institute of Justice report on marital and date rape.

"Perhaps an even more devastating form of discrimination is that many people, sometimes including the victims themselves, do not define attacks as rape unless the assailant is a stranger," the report concluded.