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Bedroom Under the sheets (or not) The misunderstandings of rape
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The misunderstandings of rape
The misunderstandings of rape

I’m constantly confounded by people’s relation to rape and its confusion with sex. This is a multilayered topic which may need to be continued in different subtopics. When is it rape, when is it sex, and when is it wrong? I think people’s relation to sex as bad, especially extra-marital sex, makes them confuse these acts as equivalent to rape.

Let’s take a quote from a recent NY Times article about rape charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn:

“But the legal charges against him — which include attempted rape, forced oral sex and an effort to sequester another person against her will — are of an entirely different magnitude, even in France and elsewhere in continental Europe, where voters have generally shown more lenience than Americans toward the sexual behavior of prominent politicians, most notably the sexual escapades of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy.”

If Europe accepts sexual escapades should that make rape any more acceptable there? What is even the connection? Would people say the same about murder? When Kobe Bryant raped a woman (or should I say allegedly raped) people seemed to be mostly upset at him being married and having sex outside of marriage rather than at the rape itself. Forgiving him was thus to forgive someone who had an affair.

I wanted to open this topic for a long time as it always annoys me, and I don’t think it’s only a few people who are not so clear on what rape is, it seems to be most people. This was clearly visible in the case of Julian Assange (wikileaks founder) where the subtleties of what is rape became clear. Does having consensual sex without a condom (giving the woman a poor excuse for why, or misleading her about it) constitute rape? Etc.  

I quoted from one NY Times article but I could have quoted many articles from many different places. This same confusion of sex and rape appears and reappears, and this confusion seems to not only be in a courtroom between two people,  but for society to understand how does it really separates rape and sex.

The very fact that so many women are afraid to file charges and testify comes from people thinking of them as having sex and then seeing the act of sex as bad and thus the women as bad. It’s a very strange, or should I say deranged, logic.

Where does this misunderstanding come from?

What is a good way to educate people about this difference and have them know how never to cross it?

and any other questions and comments which comes to your mind.
Hugh,

Wow, what a giant topic.  I can only speak from observation, and not legally at all.  In my college days, it seemed that there was still a sense that, if a woman dressed or behaved "a cerain way" she "wanted" it, and so was fair game and no matter what happened, it was assumed she brought it on herself.  This reflected and placed a responsibility on the part of women, for the behavior of men that women now resent. 

The flip side is that women now dress as provocatively as they chose and/or tease desire from men, then call it rape when it goes further than they are comfortable with the next morning.  Women may feel more powerful or attractive for having attracted a powerful man, a notch on the bedpost, so to speak that some may later try to parlay into the power to control, extract from, or if all else fails, ruin. Miss Lewinsky, and Ms Tripp come to mind, while though consensual, was still used to harm.

As many married men will know, many women have learned to exercise their power by giving, and with-holding sex.  Taking sex from them then, is theft.  Just as the getting of it by distorting the truth, is a con.  I don't know that anyone can understand the nature of attraction, and wanting to be attractive, of desire and wanting to be desirable, of acceptance and wanting to be accepted, and not also recognize that any of these emotions make us able to, and vulnerable to manipulation and one-sided encounters.

I think all of the examples you gave were one-sided encounters, based on the needs of one, and perhaps the vulnerability of another-with or without force.  While it may or may not have been rape-if rape is defined by the use of overwhelming force used by one, to subdue another person for the pleasure of one-consensual sex under false pretenses of trust, acceptance, or entrapment might in the morning not feel as good as the idea of it was the night before, might be as harmful to some emotionally, as to others physically. 

Many believe that it is the consequent emotional damage that is caused by the use of overwhelming force, the power that leaves others without a voice and without control that is rape.  By this broad definition, the powerless often feel raped by the powerful, even if sex is not the means. 

So when is it sex?  Safely I think it is sex when it is between people who have developed, and plan to continue a relationship.  Whether it turns out to be for better or worse, the effort at a relationship built on respect for mutual understanding is what makes it sex.  In this view, I think there is a place for legalized, I'll call them "escorts," because both parties have a clear understanding of what is expected.  Fee for service, so to speak, makes it a business arrangement, rather than an emotional entanglement. 

The view of extra-marital sex in this country would be different, as it was in times past when marriage was much more difficult to end,  if it didn't so easily lead to divorce, and family dissolution.   The woman as single parent, breadwinner has proven ineffective for the woman and children, while the man keeps his bread winning capacity and gains freedom from responsibility.  I again hold that extra-marital sex might be and alternative for both men and women who find they want more sex than they get at home, but don't want to break up  the family.  Of course, children might result from this, as it did with "the Terminator." and what to do about that is a problem too.

So, in the end, I've talked myself into believing that the consequences of sex outside of a committed relationship are often damaging enough in their power to do harm, as rape is, and therefore might be considered a different kind of rape, but a rape of the family and the children who suffer the consequences of it. 
There's a great essay by June Jordan "The problems of Language in a Democratic State" where she challenges society's discourse surrounding rape. 

"I was raped is that most sadly passive use of language"

“For rape to occur, somebody real has to rape somebody else, equally real. Rape presupposes a rapist and his victim. The victim must learn to make the language tell her own truth: He raped me.”

When someone says, "I was raped" agency is hidden. It makes her the subject of the crime rather than him the subject of the crime and hence the criminal.  If no rapist is addressed in the language of rape, it means there is only the victim and the rapist / power-abuser is invisible. 

I enjoyed your post Hugh because I think it accepts the challenge issued by Jordan to question the ways in which we talk about rape. How does the language of rape prevent its defeat?

In response to Hanna Clapson
One of the reasons I find it exceptionally difficult to talk about rape (and all that rape involves) is that there's occasionally someone who sneaks in with the suggestion, however subtle, that the mere act of speaking about rape is a way of making it less traumatic than it is. This takes many forms: "You can't understand if you haven't gone through it" or "It's always unacceptable to privilege your interpretation over the victim's" and so on. When that argument takes hold, it becomes a great deal harder to say anything meaningful about something like this.

That's not to say it's obviously wrong to emphasize the importance of the trauma. Of course it's traumatic, and we shouldn't be pointing at a rape victim and telling her we understand what she went through better than she does. But unlike many other "crucial issues", rape carries with it an implicit prohibition: you can't talk about this unless you have something serious to say, and you can't be serious about it if you become too abstract about it. The problem is that being able to think in abstraction about rape is important — while we agree that you can't just focus on the experience of rape, it's still not enough to think about rape as a "societal phenomenon": there needs to be a further step in thought, I think, a step into real abstraction. Not: "Why does rape happen in universities?" (a naive question, I think, which requires a broader context if it wants an answer) but "What is rape?" and other ostensibly silly but ultimately necessary questions. At a general level, in everyday conversation about the topic, I have not once heard someone ask what rape IS. The word is used and bandied around, and all sorts of associations leak out of it, but nobody seems to agree on the limits of rape, the nature of rape, the role rape plays in the sexual dynamic, and so on. Instead, it often boils down to arguments of the "I know it when I see it" type, or, instead, the "rape is a result of X and Y and will not stop until Z" type. The problem with the former is that it is useless and trivializing; the problem with the latter is that it sees rape as a symptom of a rather superficial problem instead of an eternal deadlock, a fundamental problem that requires more than just solutions — it needs and begs for constant, always unsatisfying but sometimes enlightening contemplation at all its levels, including the level of pure indifferent cold intellectual activity.

When you are incapable of seeing past the immediate horror of something, you let it win. Most of us will agree that rape is immediately horrible; but few of us can distance ourselves enough from the tragic element to be able to "think 'rape' through" and understand its place in our lives. 
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Latest Post: January 26, 2012 at 2:06 PM
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