Rape is not……
Posted on August 24, 2012
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.”
“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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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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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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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
I agree in terms of the rape charges and Assange should stand trial.
I think it is a bit naive however, to believe that the threat of extradition to the US, who want to put him on trial for completely separate offences has no bearing whatsoever on this whole series of events.
The only scenario I’d actually be satisfied with looks tediously unlikely to happen. i.e. Assange stands fair trial for rape in Sweden but doesn’t get sent to the US for them to trump up bizarre national security charges and do god-knows-what with him.
The endless male excuses/justifications for mens’ continued pseudo right of sexual access to female bodies knows no limitation. Because the central issue is men’s sacrosanct (sic) right of sexual access to female bodies and how dare women even think they have the right of ownership of their bodies.
Rape is male sexual violence against women – not ‘sex’ or men’s reasonable belief (sic) female did not say no loud enough or regretted allowing (sic) male to penetrate her. Rape occurs when a male/males decide it is their right to have sexual access to female irrespective of her wishes because only males have accorded themselves sexual autonomy and ownership of their bodies. We women have no right of sexual autonomy or ownership of our bodies because we are supposedly in a ‘constant state of sexual consent to males penetrating our bodies unless and until we can prove 110% we did not consent!’
‘Consent’ is meaningless because it reinforces male supremacist view that men decide when and if they will have sexual access to female and she can only say yes or no and if she says no, hopes against hope male will respect her wishes. However, male need not ‘respect her sexual autonomy’ because he knows Male Supremacist legal system will uphold his male sex right to her body unless she can prove 110% ‘she did not consent!’
So all this furore over Assange is a smokescreen because the men supporting Assange know the real issue is men’s pseudo sex right to female bodies (because we females aren’t human but merely males’ masturbatory dustbins!).
Women Against Rape are hypocrites because whenever they support male rights of sexual access to female bodies they are in effect reinforcing men’s pseudo right of sexual access to females of any age/ethnicity etc.
John Humphries is repeating age old rape myths because women are always responsible for men’s sexual violence committed against them and men are never, ever responsible or accountable for their sexual behaviour. Men have always defined ‘rape’ within the narrowest framework because it is vital male pseudo sex right to females must never be curtailed or criminalised.
By the way it is very easy for men to recognise what is and is not ‘rape.’ Rape happens whenever a male(s) decides his pseudo right of sexual access to female body supercedes female’s right of ownership over her body.
Excellent Rape Apologism round-up Cath. So glad you posted the link to Assange’s lawyer claiming “sex-by-surprise” – so far it has not been ‘mysteriously disappeared’ like some other things have been.
It is unbelievable that Assange’s lawyer actually used this pathetic ‘defence’ – “sex-by-surprise” – because it is a very old “joke” from the 1970s/1980s. I was not amused then, I am not amused now.
I cannot believe the (two) women of WAR would side with the malestream on this. So very disappointing. Or maybe the initials now stand for Women Apologising for Rapists rather than Women Against Rape? They seriously need to refocus.
The default position for all feminists is to believe every woman when she says she has been raped. That way, you are right most of the time (the estimate is that only 2% of rape accusations are false, even though only 7% end up in conviction of reported rapes). So in believing every woman, there is a 98% chance of being right, and the legal system and rape apologists are wrong 91% of the time. But of course, most rapes are not even reported for this very reason – that the legal system and rape apologists won’t believe the victims. The rape apologist climate is as bad as it was back in the 1970s, at least then the conviction rates were around 30%. We have actually gone backwards in justice for women.
I was appalled how the so-called progressives are prepared to trash decades of women’s rights advances, including sexual offences legislation, in order to support their prevailing ant-Americanism. This is an excellent article by the way. I never thought I would ever hear those pertaining to be feminists denigrating rape simply because they support a guy’s politics.I can understand GG downplaying rape because not only does he have an strong dose of anti-Americanism but he has to play to an Islamicist gallery that refuses to accept rape in marriage and requires four (male) witnesses in order for a rape allegation to be proven. Sadly for me, this whole Assange affair together with the sacrifice of gay rights in order to integrate better with Islamicists, shows the hollowness of the left’s commitment to a truly progressive agenda. It really has come to something when the right appear to be more solid on the rights of women than the left.
Thanks for the överraskningssex’, (sex by surprise) reference Cath. And surely what it means is that Stephens in effect has condemned his own client. For if Stephens and Assange are admitting to “sex by surprise” for which as you say there is no such offence in Swedish law, then they can hardly retract and claim there was no sex act. And as the act was not consented to, otherwise Stephens would have said so in the first place, how else do they define what happened?
Three things…one is that penetration does not have to be with a penis to be considered rape – other body parts or objects inserted against one’s will are also considered rape,
two is that men are raped, too, and that tend to be forgotten,
and three is the people who want to say that rape by someone known to the victim is not rape, or is not as bad, clearly have no clue as to how that type of betrayal affects someone – when it is a stranger, it may be scarier in some ways (may be….may not, too), but the victim doesn’t know her attacker, so she hasn’t grown to possibly trust him (or her)….having that trust betrayed is tremendously hurtful on top of all the other affects of being raped (& no, I am not saying either type is more or less terrible – just that it’s different & that people often overlook the level of pain and confusion that comes from knowing one’s attacker)
Hi tlp14. I’m not sure where your posting from but under English law rape is defined as penetration with a penis. Penetration with an object or another part of the body would be charged as assault by penetration. It carries the same maximum sentence as rape though, so it’s not seen as a lesser crime or anything, but there is a distinction made in law between the two.
Other than that I completely agree with your post.
The thing which upsets me the most is the way in which the subsequent behaviour of the alleged victims is being used, by rape apologists, to suggest that no rape took place. Much is being made, in certain quarters, about the way the women concerned acted after the offences were said to have occurred.
Apparently Woman A \’attended a party\’ and tweeted saying she was having a good time the next day. According to the Mail, a group photo of her smiling 48 hours after the alleged offence exonerates Assange from any wrong doing. Assange fans keep falling over themselves to remind us that they didn\’t initially use the term rape to describe their experiences when reporting it to the police.
Of course, there\’s no \’normal\’ way to deal with rape, but when experts and rape crisis centres compile common reactions, \’denial\’ and \’self blame\’ are almost always at the top of the list, especially when linked to acquaintance rape. Certainly when I was assaulted (in similar circumstances) it took me a long time to be able to put a name to what had happened due to my inability to accept that someone I had trusted had betrayed me in such a manner. It just seemed easier to trivialise it and, if cornered, blame myself. So I can see absolutely how these two women, both of whom were apparently ardent supporters of Wikileaks, could have had a hard time accepting that someone who they admired for his good works could have treated them in such a way.
The repeated comments regarding the reactions of the women are infuriating and upsetting, because they suggest, yet again, that we as a society are completely incapable of dealing with rape – in this case, the aftermath. People expect hysterics or near catatonia – numbness and denial are not showy, not Hollywood enough.
Like so much to do with this case, the women\’s reactions do not fit with the commonly accepted view of stranger rape. Instead they fit far better with the majority of rapes that actually happen. It\’s almost ironic- this is one of the main reasons given for not believing them and it is probably the aspect of the case which I found the most believable. The reactions of the alleged victims actual served to increase my suspicion that the accusations may have merit. It\’s all very familiar. However, the two women did not behave like society expects \’good\’ rape victims to behave. Therefore, according to some, they must be lying. How utterly depressing for us all.
But there is a lot of ambiguity in the area of consent. Suppose a man lies about being married to get the consent of a woman. Suppose a woman tells the same lie. Are those lies enough to vitiate consent and render the otherwise consensual act a crime? Or is it just bad sexual etiquette? There are legitimate questions to be asked and I am not one to bow to feminist dogma on it. It is simply to cut and dry.
Good for you, William L. Turner! You show those dogmatic feminist who’s boss!
I agree with this article on most points. Rape is rape. It is a crime that has devestating effects on women (and men) and should be punished as a horrific crime. The attitude towards rape from the public arena had been appalling, backwards and brutish.
To say, however, that there are not different degrees of rape, is akin to people saying that manslaughter is the same degree of murder as first degree murder. To say that rape is ONLY about power is like saying that murder is ONLY about the pleasure of watching someone die. We do not give the same penalty to all those who take a life, arguably a far greater injury to the right of personal autonomy. Should we give all accused rapists the same amount of time in prison?
There is a lot of ambiguity in the area of consent, merely by the nature of the crime. In addition, a conviction of a crime must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This is a pillar of our justice system. This is what makes rape a difficult crime to prosecute and one the justice system has been working (albeit slowly) to resolve. This also leads to many criminals going free. Would it be better to have criminals walk free, or even the innocent locked up for being accused? This is a question that has dominated criminal law since the beginning or social justice! I will not pretend to know how to answer it.
I do not have the answers and recognize the grave difficulty of the subject. However, I don’t believe that the oversimplification of the crime will do the world any favors.
(P.S. I am a female criminal prosecutor.)