Because so many people who should know better have been getting it so so wrong over the past few weeks, and because like many feminists I’ve just about reached my limit as to how much more victim blaming and ignorance I can tolerate before I completely explode, here’s a handy cut out and keep guide to some of the things that rape categorically isn’t.

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Rape is not any of the following:

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Surprise sex or sex by surprise

In December 2010 Julian Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, informed AOL that contrary to what people had heard, Assange was not wanted in Sweden for questioning about allegations of rape, but for something he termed ‘sex by surprise.’ This term was then picked up by the Assange fanboys and they’ve been running with it ever since.

As we now know – in fact as we’ve known since about an hour after Stephens’ bizarre announcement – the lawyer got it wrong. Assange was and still is wanted for questioning in Sweden about allegations of rape, unlawful coercion, and sexual molestation. ‘Sex by surprise’ doesn’t even exist as a crime in Sweden, or indeed anywhere in the world, it’s simply a really rubbish mistranslation of the word ‘överraskningssex’, which is a Swedish slang term for rape.

So, rape is not surprise sex. Surprise sex is when for instance you find yourself having totally consensual sex when you weren’t expecting to. On a Wednesday evening for example after a hard day at work, rather than on the Saturday night you’d penciled it in your diary for in the 30 minute slot between the start of the news and Match of the Day.

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Last Sunday Republican Senate hopeful Todd Akin used the term ‘legitimate rape’ to try and help explain why he’s against abortion under any circumstance. According to Akin there don’t need to be any exceptions in an anti-abortion law for women who might get pregnant  as a result of rape, because women who are raped legitimately can’t get pregnant: “If it is a legitimate rape” claimed Akin “the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.”

As has since been pointed out to Mr not-exactly-an-expert-on-women’s-biology Akin, there is no such thing as a ‘legitimate rape’, just as there is no such thing as a ‘proper rape,’ or ‘rape rape,’ or indeed, not-so-bad rape.

Rape is rape. And women can and do get pregnant from it.

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Part of the “sex game”

This next one comes courtesy of the (irony meter explosion warning!) Respect MP for Bradford West, George Galloway, alternatively known as ‘Gorgeous George,’ or ‘the gift that keeps on giving‘.

Earlier this week GG took to the media (just for a change) to pontificate about the rape and sexual molestation allegations against Assange. According to Galloway:

“Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them. It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said: ‘Do you mind if I do it again?.’ It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape.”

Actually George, according to most decent minded people, along with that little thing called the Sexual Offences Act 2003, it is.

So, just for clarification: acting out fantasies while dressed as a Smurf: that’s part of the sex game. Inserting your penis into a sleeping woman’s vagina without her consent. That’s rape.

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In John Pilger’s recent piece for the New Statesman – The pursuit of Julian Assange is an assault on freedom and a mockery of journalism –  he states:

“Charged with no crime, he is not a fugitive from justice. Swedish case documents, including the text messages of the women involved, demonstrate to any fair-minded person the absurdity of the sex allegations”.

The problem here of course is that Assange is not facing allegations of having had sex, because having sex is legal. Assange is facing allegations of rape and sexual molestation, which are not sex, but sex crimes.

This deliberate conflation of sex with crimes of rape and sexual violence, a conflation which serves to undermine women’s testimonies and minimise the extent and seriousness of violence against women and girls, came up during the Leveson Inquiry. It’s also covered in this 2008 report from Eaves – Just Representation? Press reporting and the reality of rape – which Pilger and his media colleagues would do well to read if they really want to avoid making “a mockery of journalism”.

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Always wrong, but not always equally culpable

Last year Roger Helmer, the Conservative MEP for the East Midlands, fantasised on his blog about two different rape scenarios. In the first a stranger jumps out of the bushes with a weapon and rapes an unsuspecting passer by, while in the second a young woman changes her mind after climbing naked into bed with her boyfriend who then, unable to restrain himself, “carries on.”

Helmer explained:

“In both cases an offence has been committed, and the perpetrators deserve to be convicted and punished.  But whereas in the first case, I’d again be quite happy to hang the guy, I think that most right-thinking people would expect a much lighter sentence in the second case.  Rape is always wrong, but not always equally culpable.”

And as if that wasn’t enough victim blaming for one blog post, Helmer jabbed his point home with:

“while in the first case, the blame is squarely on the perpetrator and does not attach to the victim, in the second case the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.

Which is wrong. The victim shares no responsibility for the crime perpetrated against her, because only rapists are responsible for rape. It was in the boyfriend’s power to not rape in this situation, but he chose to “carry on” regardless without her consent. And that’s rape, which is always wrong. End of. “But” nothing.

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A brief sexual encounter

Here’s Richard Littlejohn in a piece he wrote about rape for the Daily Mail last Spring:

“many women who have had a brief sexual encounter of which they are ashamed simply shrug it off and get on with their lives.”

The man is just…..Grrrr, where to even begin…

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A dispute about consent

And here’s Peter Hitchens, again in the Mail, in a piece entitled ‘Some rapes ARE worse than others…there, I’ve said it‘:

“in this case rape does not usually mean what most people think it means – the forcible abduction and violation of a woman by a stranger. It means a dispute about consent, often between people who are already in a sexual relationship.”

Actually no it doesn’t. It means rape. Rape is penetration, with a penis, without consent, that’s the actual legal definition of it. And it makes no difference whether it’s perpetrated by a stranger in an alley or someone with whom the victim is already in a sexual relationship. It’s the consent bit that’s the key. And most people understand that. That’s why rape in marriage was outlawed, albeit not until 1991, because even if people are already married, let alone already in a sexual relationship, they still have the right to say no, to refuse consent.

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Not serious

In an interview last year on Radio 5 Live, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke expressed surprise at some of the low tariffs being handed out to convicted rapists. During the course of the bumbling foot-in-mouth interview with Victoria Derbyshire, Clarke uttered this now infamous line:

Serious rape, I don’t think many judges give five years for a forcible rape, the tariff is longer than that. And a serious rape where, you know, violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff’s much longer than that.

That’s a serious rape, as opposed to what? A not serious or frivolous rape where, you know, no one got hurt and a willing woman….

Moving quickly on

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A non consensual relationship

According to Tony Benn in a speech he gave in defence of Assange at Conway Hall last February “the charge of rape simply doesn’t stand up to examination.” This, said Benn, is because “the charge is that this was a non-consensual relationship“, which is apparently “very different from rape, which most people understand to be the seizure by force of a woman for the gratification of a man’s needs

No. The charge, or allegation at this point, is rape. Which most people now understand to be penetration by a penis without the victim’s consent. As per the law. On rape.

And raping someone is not the same as being in a relationship with them, whether that’s consensual or non consensual.

Perhaps Benn misspoke and actually meant non consensual relations, which I suppose could be interpreted as a very old fashioned way of saying rape. But then he can’t have meant that because he then says it’s not rape….

Are you as confused as me yet?

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Sex  (again)

The Guardian really should know better, but here’s their headline from a couple of days ago: 

Julian Assange sex claims not a crime in Latin America – Ecuador President

To repeat, the allegations against Assange are not “sex claims”, they are allegations of sex crimes, or allegations of crimes of sexual violence. He’s not alleged to have had sex with these women, he’s accused of raping and sexually molesting them. Those things are not the same.

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A smokescreen

This is how Women Against Rape, in an article – We are Women Against Rape but we do not want Julian Assange extradited – that was published on the Guardian website on Thursday, referred to the allegations against Assange.

“When Julian Assange was first arrested, we were struck by the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued for rape allegations. It seems even clearer now, that the allegations against him are a smokescreen”

That’s right, a so-called feminist organisation, that allegedly stands up for women survivors of rape, threw women under the bus in favour of a man whose politics they’re quite keen on.

For a great take down of WAR’s weaselly worded sell-out see My Elegant Gathering of White Snows’ piece – Women Against Rape Seem To Have Forgotten We Are Supposed To Be Fighting The Patriarchy

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On June 25th this year a letter was handed in to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London urging the Ecuadorian President to grant Assange asylum. Among the many high-profile signatories to the letter were Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, Naomi Wolf, Danny Glover, Noam Chomsky and Jemima Khan.

After quite some preamble in which no mention is made of the allegations of rape and sexual molestation, just a brief  throway “he is not wanted on criminal charges, but merely for questioning“, the signatories say:

 “We also call on you to grant Mr. Assange political asylum because the “crime” that he has committed is that of practicing journalism.”

Rape. Journalism. Easy to confuse the two I know….

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A set up

On being asked about the serious criminal charges Assange faces in Sweden, film director Ken Loach told Shortlist Magazine:

“There isn’t an issue — it’s clear that he’s being set up”

That’s it. No further comment. No need for any further comment apparently because allegations of rape and sexual molestation aren’t an issue. They’re a set up.

Actually no they’re not. They’re allegations of a serious crime. That’s a crime that must be taken seriously, not brushed under the carpet or swatted away as if it and the women involved don’t matter.

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A grey area

And finally to John Humphreys and this mendacious piece on the YouGov site on Thursday – Rape: a clear-cut crime?

In the piece Humphreys gives his view on “the week’s big issue”, which this week turns out to be: Can consent ever be seen as a ‘grey area’?

No. Obviously it can’t.

Oh, but what’s that John?

“To many older people the whole controversy may seem particularly strange and difficult. For the world they see their grandchildren inhabiting is very different from the one they knew when they were young. Now casual consensual sex is much more the norm. The young drink more and they take drugs; they put themselves in circumstances where the expectation that they will end up in bed with each other is much greater; they seem less in control of themselves. Is it any wonder, the grandparents ask, that the issue of consent has become much more difficult to determine? And if that is the case, how are young women to be protected from being raped?”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Yep, he made those “grandparents” up didn’t he. And he just couldn’t resist finishing with a nice bit of victim blaming. Those young women eh, what are they like, what with their drinking and drug taking and ending up in bed and getting themselves rapeding.

Well just for the record John. The concrete patio that I can see outside my window as I’m typing this: that’s a grey area.

Rape. Consent. That’s not.

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So that’s my roundup of what isn’t rape, as informed by lots of high-profile uninformed people. Feel free to add more examples of what rape isn’t in the comments.

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The Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline is open from 12-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm every day of the year: you can call them on 0808 802 9999