TAMPA -- At the main campus of the University of South Florida, a school with 24,000 students, one of the best-known educators rarely goes into a classroom. Sgt. Bob Staehle makes the rounds of dormitories and campus organizations. He is a university police officer specializing in crime prevention.

The crime is date rape, the sexual assault in which the victim knows her assailant as a friend or acquaintance and the forcible sex occurs during or at the end of a social engagement. In only the past few years, the issue has emerged as one of the major unsolved problems on American campuses.

This semester, Staehle has been averaging one talk a week. He says that ''when I go out and speak with a group -- let's say there are 100 women -- the first thing I tell them is that odds on, if we're on line with the national statistics, by the time all of them graduate 10 or 12 of them will have been raped. It's about one out of eight.''

Unlike the other two kinds of attack -- planned stranger rape and unplanned opportunity rape -- date rape invariably involves a socializing setting. The sexual violence is real but less overt. The hostility can be masked in the rituals of seduction, but for the victim, rape is rape.

Staehle believes that large numbers of American males are sexually miseducated. He faults ''movies, television, advertising. Nothing enrages me more than when I'm coming back from downtown -- coming up 275 -- and I'm in bumper-to-bumper traffic with 100,000 other people, and the biggest billboard is this woman reclining in black satin, with big words, 'Feel the Velvet.' That's total desensitization. It's reducing that woman to an object, and that's what the rapist does.''

In 1984, the National Center for Prevention and Control of Rape reported that date rape victims are mostly women between 15 and 24. In a recent five-part series on campus rape at the University of Iowa, the Daily Iowan interviewed the coordinator of the Rape and Victim Advocacy Program. Karla Miller, like Staehle, sees no merit to a prevailing argument that the victim was sending positive signals throughout the date and therefore the sex that resulted wasn't rape: ''Fair or not, she has a right to say 'no.' It's never the victim's fault, and there are no exceptions to that. None. I don't care if someone is alone in a Laundromat, drunk, at 2 a.m., in a miniskirt. You may be asking for approval, you may be asking for attention, but you're not asking someone to have sex with you against your will.''

The work of Staehle is invaluable. But he, and other rape-prevention officials on American campuses, ought to be encouraged beyond dorm talks. It's mostly women who show up, and they aren't the problem. An enlightened university would require that all students -- from residents to commuters -- attend educational lectures on preventing sexual violence. Many college presidents boast that this year's crop of students has the highest SATs ever, while sexual ignorance is rampant.

Being sexually experienced, as a percentage of any college population will be, is not the same as being sexually knowledgeable. Likewise, a student who has chosen not to be sexually active may have a deep understanding of her or his own emotional feelings. When they say no to someone's sexual advances they aren't rejecting the other person. They're saying no only to sex.

The burden shouldn't be on the victim or the potential victim to educate the rapist. At the University of South Florida, most of Sgt. Staehle's audiences are women. He counsels them in the basics -- that 80 percent of acquaintance rapes occur on Saturday nights and after alcohol has been used -- but it's men who need to hear him. They're half of the population but nearly all of the problem.