Thursday, October 05, 2006

Why define rape?

Amp wrote a post on restorative justice, and the rape/consent spectrum. A lot of the comments responded to the idea of rape and consent being a spectrum (really well outlined by biting beever). In particularly arguing to what extent it was appropriate to call acts in the grey area 'rape'.

Now as I've said before I draw a strict line about consent. If a man is using any form of coercion* to make a woman sleep with him, then she cannot give meaningful consent, therefore if there's any coercion then the sex is rape.

But why do I try and define rape? I'm not a lawyer, politician, judge, or policy analyst - my ability to change the legal definition of rape is non-existance. There is no chance that my definition of rape will be accepted across society, without us having a radically different society. At the moment you'll probably get away with raping a woman you're a police officer, if she's 14 and drunk, if she invited you to spend the night in her bed and sometimes even if you video yourself. If we lived in a world where everyone would accept that those women had the right to refuse sex, and those cases were rape, then I think we'd actually be a long way to fighting rape culture and be living in a completely different society. Then we could talk about the ideal rape law and legal practice. But at the moment feminists don't have any control over the law, or legal definition of rape.

I use my definition of rape to analyse the world I live in. Most importantly, I use it to respond to what my female friends say have be done to them, and other women they know.

If a woman came to me and told me this:

She's 15 and she's out on a date, her boyfriend's parents are out of town and so he takes her to his place. She's excited at the opportunity to spend time with him so she tells her parents that she's staying at a girlfriend’s house. They arrive at the boyfriends house and the evening starts well, however, as the night progresses he becomes more and more pushy for sex. She feels trapped, she loves her boyfriend and she likes the way he touches her or kisses her but she's uncomfortable with him pushing her harder. She tells him as much and he grows sullen for a time, withdrawing all affection from her. Soon, however, he apologizes and they kiss again, she likes his kiss, she likes the way he smells, she likes the way he feels, she doesn't like the way his hand is trying to unzip her pants.

She says "No" again; he withdraws ALL affection, maybe even scooting to the end of the couch. He seems sullen and frustrated. He may even argue with her, "What's the big deal?" he asks, "Why are you being a tease?" he says accusatorily. She begins to doubt herself and feels guilt about her actions. She apologizes to him, he kisses her again and soon he's at her zipper once more. She flinches and sighs heavily, "I don't know if I'm ready" she says plaintively, "What?" he asks her; "Don't you love me?”

The girl bites her bottom lip, in a flash of anger and frustration she stands up to leave. He grabs her arm, "Oh baby, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you mad" he says. She looks at him again and quickly it goes through her mind that she doesn't really know where she'd go anyway. She lied to her parents; they think she's over at a friend’s house. She has no car, how is she going to get anywhere? She can't tell her parents and she doesn't want to try to call her girlfriend who may or may not have a car. She knows that she'll just make her boyfriend angry at her even if she DID do that. What if he kicks her out? She lied to be there and if she goes back home she'll get in trouble for lying. In a flash she decides to sit back down.

An hour later, after more approach and retreat and more pushing his hand away, she gives in.

She goes home the next day, troubled, depressed, and unable to concentrate. She has been raped and her emotions and reactions are the same as any other rape victim, but she has no recourse. She just had "bad judgment" and that's all. She must deny her feelings, push them underfoot and ignore them; society will not allow her to grieve because society sees nothing wrong with the boy’s rape of this young girl.

The boy moves on to pressure all of his girlfriends and this girl moves on to deal with her own rape, alone and without aid of any support. Her next boyfriend does the same thing, and soon she comes to understand that this is the way that relationships work.
I would say that I thought it was rape.

I know women who have had experiences very similar to that - I join them in calling those experiences rape. I define rape in the way I do to support the women they do, and reiterate the idea they have the right to say no to sex.

I also define rape in the way I do as a protection against men who have sex with women who don't want to have sex with them. I believe that one of the few forms of protection women have against rape is gossip - passing on information that we know about men who hurt women.

Women need to know who the men are who don't notice, or don't care, that the women they're sleeping with don't want to have sex with them. Calling those acts rape is both protection and resistance.

Why do you define rape in the way that you do?

* The important point about my definition of coercion is that it involves power - you can't coerce someone to do anything unless you have some form of power over them.

Also posted at Alas

Note about comments: I will not allow misogynist comments on this topic.


  1. I hope this doesn't come under your definition as Msyoginist"

    "* The important point about my definition of coercion is that it involves power - you can't coerce someone to do anything unless you have some form of power over them."

    I really think that this is very broad and "undefineable" as power could pretty much be anything. I mean if you are stronger than someone, richer than someone, smarter than someone, whatever than someone - it could be argued that you ahve power over them, in which case a lot of acts under the above definition become rape/without consent.

    A more fitting word in their would be "force".

  2. the sex game is such a pain.
    It is nowhere near worth the effort. why would any guy bother to play it at all?

  3. Coercion means force and threat of force. If you are forced or you agree to sex because you fear force (against you, ones you love, your property) - then it is rape.

    However if you agree to sex, but didn't want to agree, but it is because you don't want someone to leave you or do something, short of force - it isn't rape. It's just joyless sex.

  4. Anonymous6:39 am

    The post reminded me of Meatloafs immortal song "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" where two teens "were barely 17 and barely dressed"

    She says "before we go any further will you never leave me, will you love for ever, will you make me so happy, will you make me your wife?"

    What each scenario highlights is evolution (or God) has created physical sexual maturity about ten years earlier then the mental ability to enjoy its pleasures.

    While undoubtedly each scenario constitutes sex by blackmail, it has come about through mental immaturity.

    How then to get to mental and sexual maturity when the balance is out of kilter. (and as Maia's linked examples have shown some people never grow up from using some sort of power to force themselves on other people)

    Where sexual maturity between concenting adults can be a wildly debauched weekend away or a quickly before picking the kids up from school.

    Where are the role models that portay this as normal behaviour?

    Or are we seeing new learned behaviour as being potraited by movies, video games, music, etc?

    One sees this type blackmail (coersion) in all our dealings with one another. Be at the school, at home or in the workplace this immaturity to use force to get what one wants.

  5. Anonymous5:18 am

    I was raped at age 15. My definition of what happened to me was not accepted. i was beaten up over it. I was raped on two separate incidences, so the other problem I have is that "there is something wrong with me" because it happened twice.

    The first time the guy was forceful. More than in your description. He just shoved and pushed. I gave in a little but I remember pulling away and going numb. He had pushed me onto a bed. He ignored me saying no pretty much all night.

    He tried to force me to have oral sex with him in front of his friends. He shoved my head in his lap and because I wouldn't he turned around and kicked me.

    I felt terribly guilty. Afterwards I was in automatic denial mode, and pretended nothing happened, even said I liked him, but then felt guilty. I thought about going to the police after that.

    I had been coerced by a 30 year old man before that. He would corner me and say he had watched me for the longest time, and said that I wouldn't get away from him, and he would always find me. He would say my no meant nothing to him anyways, and if I resisted too much I would be raped.

    I am forever hurt by what happened. My family was a rape culture in itself because they would call me a whore, and allow an older male sibling to beat me.

    Then my experiences would be downplayed, or I would be told my flirtatiousness, or whatever I didn't do to protect myself meant I was "asking for it." Then I would be told I was a liar.

    So in a sense my experiences became "grey area" because they were made not to exist. I was called a whore; it was like people would see me struggling with depression and identity after that, and just make it an excuse to call me whore and lash out.