Girly Thoughts

May 19, 2008

Why rape is wrong

Filed under: sexual assault — judgesnineteen @ 8:20 pm

This post is inspired by notawhisper’s post pointing out that medical rape is wrong even if the doctor committing it isn’t getting off on it or thinking “now I’m going to rape her.”  Great comment in there about what mens rea really means as opposed to how some interpret it.  Regarding medical rape, does anyone know the status of the giving knocked-out women pelvic exams without their consent thing?  I’d be all for a campaign to ask hospitals if they do that and publicize the results to put pressure on them to make official rules (or hey, an actual law) against it.

* * *

Sometimes, when people are raped, they are also physically hurt.  That’s wrong.  But it’s not why rape is wrong.  Even if there are no physical injuries, even if there’s no physical pain, rape is still wrong.

Sometimes, when someone rapes, he or she wants to hurt and traumatize the victim.  That’s wrong.  But it’s not why rape is wrong.  Even when the rapist doesn’t mean any harm, rape is still wrong.

Most times, when someone is raped, they are emotionally traumatized.  They have a hard time trusting people, they’re scared, they’re ashamed, sex becomes even more complex, they have flashbacks.  It’s wrong to do this to a person.  But even that isn’t why rape is wrong.  Even if the survivor gets up the next day and never thinks about it again, rape is still wrong.

Sometimes, when someone is raped, they “lose” their “virginity.”  That’s not why rape is wrong.  Even if the person has had sex a million times, rape is still wrong.

Rape is wrong because it violates the right of a person to control what others do to his or her body.  People compare rape to theft a lot, but I don’t like that comparison.  Rape is more like breaking and entering, except into your body (or onto your body – I personally think the line between rape and sexual assault is not that important, but that’s another topic) instead of into your house.  Since your body is even more personal, this is even more of a violation.  Even if your house has been broken into before, even if the person breaking in didn’t actually mess anything up or steal anything, even if the person turns out to be kind of nice and you have a little chat, they still broke the law, they still violated your rights, they still don’t have the right to break and enter.  (No, not even if your house has really sexy shutters and you can see all the expensive stuff through the windows.  No, not even if your house is alone at night in a bad neighborhood.  No, not even if the alarm is off so your house doesn’t yell at the person to go away when they break in.  Funny how no one ever says “well they didn’t set their alarm, so obviously they were asking for it.”)

Feminists and anti-feminists start arguing past each other when we talk about the importance of intent and issues of consent.  Here’s how I see it.  Let’s use names for simplicity, I’ll pick gender neutral ones.  Imagine Alex and Taylor.  Alex starts doing something sexual with Taylor without checking for consent first, because Alex doesn’t know that affirmative consent matters.  Is it rape?  Yes.  Alex starts a sex act with Taylor after getting consent, and then Taylor says stop and Alex doesn’t stop.  Is it rape?  Yes.  Taylor gives Alex consent one day but not the next day, and Alex has sex with Taylor again anyway.  Rape?  Yes.  Alex starts a sex act and Taylor doesn’t say anything but tries to stop Alex, and Alex doesn’t stop.  Rape?  Yes.  If you apply these situations to houses, it’s pretty clear that Alex is always in the wrong.  Poor little Alex may not realize this, but that doesn’t change the wrongness.  That just means we have to make sure everybody knows what consent means.  Alex doesn’t have to mean any harm to violate Taylor’s right to bodily autonomy.  He/she just has to violate the right, that’s all.  Alex’s guilt-the-emotion is Alex’s issue, but Alex’s guilt-the-state is society’s issue, because it affects Taylor and potentially others.

Meanwhile, a similar principle applies to Taylor.  Here’s where people misunderstand each other a lot.  Let’s say Alex asks for consent, Taylor gives consent, but secretly doesn’t want to.  They have sex.  Is it rape? No.  If Alex can tell Taylor doesn’t want to, Alex would be an asshole to keep going, and this is an area where I think there can be legitimate debate.  On one hand, we could say maybe Taylor wanted to do it even though he/she didn’t appear to be enjoying it, we can’t read Taylor’s mind and as long as Taylor gave affirmative consent without any force and never attempted, verbally or non-verbally, to withdraw consent, then it’s ok.  On the other hand, we could say that consent should be enthusiastic because people too often feel that they have to have sex because of sexist or otherwise bad cultural expectations, so settling for less than enthusiasm is taking advantage.  There’s a similar argument regarding sex work: is consenting out of want of money enough, or does consent have to come from a genuine desire to have sex for the sake of sex?  It’s complicated, and real feminists debate these things in good faith.  So that’s another post.  But if you’d like to be a decent human being, I suggest you ask your partner how they feel if they seem unenthusiastic.  Sometimes sex isn’t quite working but you want to keep going so it’ll get better; other times you just feel like you’re supposed to, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re supposed to.  Sometimes people have different standards for what they consider affirmative consent, and it’s incredibly important that you be sure you have received what your partner considers real consent before you continue.  That’s why we’re for affirmative consent rather than a lack of no, because silence can mean totally different things to different people.

So, see, I’m not requiring people to read any minds, neither of rapists nor of rape victims.  Rape is a sexual act without consent.  Consent is something real.  It’s more complicated than some think – it’s not just the absence “AHHHHH NOOOOOO!”  But it’s not so complex that it’s beyond comprehension by a reasonable person: It’s the absence of coercion + the presence of verbal and/or nonverbal yes + the absence of verbal and nonverbal no/stop.  (Yes, you have to figure out what counts as “coercion”, “yes” and “no”, which is why I said a reasonable person.) Sex acts committed under conditions that do not fit this definition are sexual assault or rape.  They are rape because they are committed without consent.  They are wrong because they are committed without consent.  Rape is wrong because it is committed without consent.  This isn’t rocket science.

Alexes, people who rape without meaning to do anything wrong, exist.  They get their twisted ideas of sex and consent from their cultures, and they’ve just never stopped to think about how they respect one’s right to one’s house more than certain people’s rights to their bodies.  I personally would be less likely to press charges against an Alex, and I imagine I’m not the only one, not because I’d think it wasn’t rape, but because I’d have a hard time trying to get an Alex thrown in prison for years while I knew that he didn’t want to hurt me.  But we can’t let them rape any more people (no, not even if their victims are related to politicians we don’t like).  Then again, throwing them in prison isn’t at all guaranteed to stop rape, either.  We should have a way to deal with rapists that will keep them from doing it again and will address the root causes of rape, which, for these Alexes, is the parts of our cultures that make people think that some instances of rape aren’t really rape or aren’t really wrong.  Neither prison nor doing nothing are likely to accomplish those goals.  We need another option, one based on results rather than on the appearance of results, one that targets guilt-the-state rather than having a field day with guilt-the-emotion.  But any solution has to be firmly grounded in an understanding of what the problem really is, why rape is wrong in the first place.

Apologies to people with the name Alex ; ).  It was really just the first gender-neutral name that came to mind.

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9 Comments »

  1. Let’s say Alex asks for consent, Taylor gives consent, but secretly doesn’t want to. They have sex. Is it rape? No.

    See, there’s the rub.

    Certain feminists and their blogs (I won’t name names here) believe that that IS rape. They believe (and strongly so) that women should have the inalienable right to remove consent after the fact.

    But if you’d like to be a decent human being, I suggest you ask your partner how they feel if they seem unenthusiastic.

    I don’t much care for sex, and it was plainly obvious, but nobody asked how I felt. 😛

    Then again, in my state, there’s no such thing as “woman rapes man”. It’s impossible to charge a woman with rape, because no such charge exists.

    and/or nonverbal yes

    I would think a great many feminists would disagree with that. They’d say it falls under “she was asking for it”, etcetera, and be against the idea of nonverbal consent. I mean, what even qualifies as “nonverbal consent”?

    Comment by D — May 25, 2008 @ 9:40 am | Reply

  2. “See, here’s the rub.”
    If you’re trying to say it’s a problem with my argument, it’s not; I disagree with lots of people, sometimes even feminists. I’d actually prefer you name names, though. And just to check – when you say “after the fact”, you mean as in, she consents to sex, then wakes up the next morning and says “I retroactively remove consent for that sex last night,” rather than, in the middle of sex she says “I don’t consent for any further sex”? (Obviously people don’t talk that way, but you know.)

    I’m sorry that your state law is incomplete. Laws on rape need a lot of improvement. I’m also sorry that someone apparently had sex with you without caring about how you felt about it. But it doesn’t disprove anything. It just means that person was not what I would consider a decent human being.

    “what even qualifies as ‘nonverbal consent’?”
    Well, helping to initiate a sex act, for one. Also things like nodding. The trick is that things like nodding come as responses to verbal or nonverbal questions specific to the sex act. A person can’t say, well she nodded at me during dinner, so clearly she wanted sex. It’s more like, I got ready to unbutton her shirt and looked at her with my eyebrows raised, and she smiled and nodded, so I unbuttoned her shirt. Here’s my post on consent. And again, it doesn’t matter if a great many feminists disagree with this, as I am not a spokesperson for a great many feminists, just for one feminist.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — May 25, 2008 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  3. *facepalm*

    I forgot I made this post. I’m sorry. You were probably looking to have your questions responded to, and here I am, all awesome and totally forgot.

    Hope you don’t mind responses a few days late. 😀

    If you’re trying to say it’s a problem with my argument, it’s not; I disagree with lots of people, sometimes even feminists.

    No, I’m not.

    I’d actually prefer you name names, though.

    “Twisty Faster”, for one.

    And just to check – when you say “after the fact”, you mean as in, she consents to sex, then wakes up the next morning and says “I retroactively remove consent for that sex last night,” rather than, in the middle of sex she says “I don’t consent for any further sex”? (Obviously people don’t talk that way, but you know.)

    By after the fact, I mean, yes, retroactively revoke consent after the act has occurred, and been done to completion.

    I’m sorry that your state law is incomplete. Laws on rape need a lot of improvement. I’m also sorry that someone apparently had sex with you without caring about how you felt about it. But it doesn’t disprove anything. It just means that person was not what I would consider a decent human being.

    Quite a few states don’t have equivalent charges for women. Some have a few statutory rape laws, but only if the male is a minor, and the woman is not. If two minors have sex, even if the woman is the older of the two, the male gets the statutory charge. It’s remarkably unbalanced.

    More than one someone, actually. It’s alright. I’m just not all that “into” sex. Only with one person, and, well, that’s a very uncomfortable overall story, and not really relevant at the moment, so we won’t go there.

    On the nonverbal consent, that’s fair. It’s just I’ve seen so many feminists say that without a clear, loud, verbal “Yes, I consent to this sex act”, that it’s not consent, and it’s rape.

    They say “nonverbal” is just opening the door to “she was asking for it”, etcetera.

    Comment by D — May 31, 2008 @ 7:36 am | Reply

  4. Okie doke. No arguments. Thanks for the information on unbalanced rape laws, although I wish you’d just come here and say that as a fellow anti-rape person instead with this tone that implies that you’re disagreeing with me or something (in your first comment). To me those are clearly feminist issues; I mean, men getting charged for their own statutory rape kind of screams stereotypes about gender to me, how men are always the ones who want sex and would never turn it down, and how men are more threatening than women, which are things feminists tend to be against, and I am. But even with those beliefs, it’s hard to believe that people could pass laws that way. Leaving out female on male rape is easier to believe, for the same reason plus the way people think rape has to be penile-vaginal because that’s the only Real Sex there is, after all. Another thing I hate as a feminist. And that’s one of the main reasons I think it’s important to accept nonverbal consent, with caution, of course (look for enthusiasm, ask questions in case of uncertainty). It’s not so crazy to say that you have to have a verbal “yes” before penetration, but it is kind of crazy to say you have to have a verbal yes before every single move. People just don’t do that, even in relationships where everyone feels respected. And yet I think that any of those moves, not just intercourse, would be wrong if done without consent.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — May 31, 2008 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

  5. Ah, well. I didn’t mean to make it sound as though there was disagreement. Just providing a point that there are people that view consent as something that should be able to be revoked the next day, and so forth.

    To me those are clearly feminist issues; I mean, men getting charged for their own statutory rape kind of screams stereotypes about gender to me, how men are always the ones who want sex and would never turn it down, and how men are more threatening than women, which are things feminists tend to be against, and I am.

    That’s good to hear. Sadly, I’ve read various things that show that there are a women in support of the unbalanced laws. The reasons are equally varied, of course.

    But even with those beliefs, it’s hard to believe that people could pass laws that way. Leaving out female on male rape is easier to believe, for the same reason plus the way people think rape has to be penile-vaginal because that’s the only Real Sex there is, after all.

    Well, it’s also because there are feminists that discount female on male rape as “impossible”, or devalue the experience so much and find it laughable. I’ve seen statements regarding it used, that would never be excused when speaking of a male on female rape. Basically stating that “You can’t rape the willing”, and since the male was erect, he must have wanted it. That’s about as ridiculous as saying “She was wet, she must have wanted it”. You can’t control your body’s reaction to something.

    That, and you really couldn’t possibly come up with a way to get a man to admit he was raped by a woman. Even aside from the purely sexist tones that would come from it, everything about him would be called into question, things that most men don’t want called into question. Their sexuality, virility, the fact that they wouldn’t want sex from a woman, etcetera. Same thing with men that get abused by their girlfriends or wives. Couple that with mandatory arrest laws that more often than not, target the males in the household, and it becomes really, really easy to simply not have a charge for female on male rape.

    Hell, unless things have changed, also in my state, women cannot sexually harass men. I was, many years ago, offered a pay raise in exchange for sex from my female superior. (Yes, the incredibly cliche sexual harassment that they show in terribly orientation videos).

    She knew exactly what the score was with the laws, and told me plainly that I could refuse, but if I reported it, she’d simply say I was the one who harassed her, and I’d find myself unemployed and possibly in deep shit.

    And that’s one of the main reasons I think it’s important to accept nonverbal consent, with caution, of course (look for enthusiasm, ask questions in case of uncertainty). It’s not so crazy to say that you have to have a verbal “yes” before penetration, but it is kind of crazy to say you have to have a verbal yes before every single move. People just don’t do that, even in relationships where everyone feels respected. And yet I think that any of those moves, not just intercourse, would be wrong if done without consent.

    I can honestly say I’ve never been asked.

    I just find it easier to bypass the entire minefield, and just not have sex. It’s not like not eating. I’m not missing out on THAT much. 😀

    Comment by D — June 1, 2008 @ 6:36 am | Reply

  6. I agree about the problem of men not wanting to admit that women raped or harassed or beat them, and I just want to point out again, I think it’s due to gender roles that say that men should always want sex with women and that they should be too strong and too in control to have a woman do something like that to them.

    Obviously I think the “he had an erection” excuse is horrible, and I believe I linked to a website dispelling such myths in my post on prison rape.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — June 1, 2008 @ 5:40 pm | Reply

  7. judgesnineteen:

    Thank you for criticizing the “wet noodle” defense that so many women see as their “gotcha” argument for promoting the falsehood that women cannot be predatory rapists.

    These excuses for female rapists make my blood boil.

    Unfortunately, I have firsthand experience that proves a woman can rape a man…

    Comment by James Landrith — June 8, 2008 @ 6:06 am | Reply

  8. It is terrible and I am so sorry that it happened to you. I just have to add though that it’s not only women who use this argument. After all, most judges and legislators in the US are male, and legislators made laws that exclude female on male rape and judges uphold them.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — June 11, 2008 @ 2:23 pm | Reply

  9. Of course legislation was largely passed by male legislators and enforced by judges in courts of law. I understand that and follow your point.

    While a valid point, it is a separate issue from the secondary wounding at the hands of women I was describing in my earlier comments.

    Comment by James Landrith — January 1, 2011 @ 5:40 am | Reply


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