A Few Facts About Rape

Here's my soapbox, ladies and gents.A recent rape case in Steubenville, Ohio has made national news and reminded me once again that not only are some people dangerously stupid, but that there is a dangerous level of ignorance about what rape actually is.

In this case, a drunk high school student was taken advantage of in some pretty horrible ways while being unable to give any sort of consent. Despite the case being very clearly rape, many people have stated that the girl is at fault for being too drunk or even that it can’t be considered rape because it was nonviolent. Major media outlets including CNN even defended the rapists, treating the whole event like it was a tragedy that these guys will have to register as sex offenders.

Add to this all of the idiocy that went around in the last election where politicians claimed that a woman’s body could stop her from getting pregnant in the case of a forcible rape or that a baby resulting from rape should be considered a gift from God, and I’m left with the feeling that a huge portion of this country just doesn’t know what rape is. So now I’m stuck trying to be educational. This rant may only reach a few hundred people, but it will hopefully educate people a little bit about this horrible crime.

Rape is not necessarily a violent crime. When most people think about rape, they imagine something like this:

The rape of Lucretia

The rape of Lucretia

While that type of rape does exist, it’s not the only way to commit this crime. Spiking somebody’s drink and then taking advantage of them, for example, is rape. Any nonconsensual sex is rape. Furthermore, consent can only be given by adults who are in full control of their faculties. Somebody who is drunk or whose judgment is otherwise impaired cannot legally give consent. A minor cannot legally give consent, although there are specific laws dealing with sex between two minors.

You also can’t get consent if you’re misleading somebody about your identity. Remember that scene in Revenge of the Nerds where one of the nerds has sex while wearing a mask and the girl thinks it’s her boyfriend? Yeah, that guy just committed rape by fraud.

Men can get raped, too. Almost one-tenth of all rape victims in the United States are men, and almost 1,000 rapes every year are committed by women. Bear in mind that these statistics are not adjusted for the fact that very few men report a case of rape, and almost none do if they have been raped by a woman. Arousal is only one way of making a penis erect – not only can men be drugged or too drunk to give consent, but they can be assaulted, coerced, or otherwise forced into sex against their will. And even if the rapist can’t get the penis to penetrate, that doesn’t necessarily matter because…

Rape is not necessarily penis-to-vagina. Forced sexual acts of any kind are rape. That includes oral sex, the rubbing of genitalia on skin, and other non-penetrative sex acts that can be just as traumatic as forced penetration.

A rapist doesn’t have to be a stranger. In fact, there is a pretty high incidence of rapists being friends or family members of the victim. Husbands can even rape their wives (and vice-versa). Again, if a sexual act is not consensual, it can be considered rape.

Women who get raped can get pregnant. Believe it or not, Todd Akin didn’t just invent this thing off the top of his head – it’s actually a long-running myth that has existed at least since the 1980s. I think the problem here is that somebody read some medical fact about how stress can cause a drop in fertility and wrongly extrapolated. It is true that stress can decrease fertility for some women. However, that is not a hard and fast rule that can be applied to all women, and that situation applies more to long-term stress. About 1 in 20 women between 12 and 45 years of age who get raped wind up getting pregnant. That amounts to about 32,000 rape-related pregnancies per year.

The myth that rape victims somehow become infertile for a short period of time was prevalent enough to lead Todd Akin to make a profoundly stupid statement in 2012 that killed his political career. But this isn’t a myth invented by just one man, nor is it something that remains the domain of the uneducated. A few months after Akin lost his congressional seat, Representative Phil Gingrey, who used to be an ob-gyn, defended Akin’s assertion:

…I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, ‘Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.’ So he was partially right, wasn’t he?

Phil Gingrey, you fucking suck at your job.

When it all boils down to it, there is one major, major truth about rape in America:

We as a country are profoundly ignorant on this subject.

I am talking about dangerous levels of stupidity here. This level of stupidity goes all the way up to the FBI. Up until 2012, the FBI used the following definition of rape:

The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.

This definition had been in use unchanged since 1927. So all those fancy statistics I quoted above? They are all excluding any case that the FBI investigated that did not involve the forcible sexual assault of a woman. Any case where a woman was drugged was not forcible. Any case where a man was the victim did not even count as rape. For 85 years, the foremost criminal investigative unit in the United States did not know the proper definition of rape. No wonder we’ve got so much ignorance on this subject.

Incidentally, the FBI broadened their definition last year to the following:

The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

Notice how that still leaves off certain types of rape? We’re getting a bit better on knowing what rape is, but only in the same sense that a second grader is one step closer to knowing advanced calculus. To be fair to the US, though, we’re not alone in our ignorance. There are a lot of countries around the world that have similarly poor definitions. And there are a lot of people on this planet who think that a woman who drinks too much has it coming, or that a man can’t be raped by a woman, or that rape pregnancies don’t happen.

Sweet merciful crap, world. Get educated. If we are ever going to stop this horrible crime from happening, we need to at least know what it is.


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