Call it what it is.

Moe at Jezebel writes:

[T]his one time about nine years ago I got locked out of my house and went home with some vaguely smarmy hair-product using type from my ex-boyfriend’s frat. I had slept with maybe two or three guys prior to that — it was the summer between sophomore and junior year of college — so when he, after about a half hour of fooling around, put on a condom I was like, “Whooooah, what are you doing?” But I’d had two forties and I kept drifting in and out of consciousness — my tolerance, obviously, wasn’t what it is today — and I woke up to find him sticking it in. I’d said ‘no’ a bunch of times and when I came to I just froze, stopped, turned over and slept. In the morning I chewed him out (by informing him I wasn’t putting him on “my list” — oh no she didn’t!) and after that he kissed my ass so liberally I thought he might have learned from it.

In other words, she was raped he raped her.
Jezebel readers kindly pointed this out in comments. Moe responds,

Well, yes, technically it was, but I can empathize with the desire to find a word to differentiate it from the type of rape that, you know, actually SCARS you. I always used “date rape” before.

“Date rape” is still rape, only the rapist is someone you know. It’s still a crime.
Moe also says, “Sigh. It’s a personal story, and that’s how I dealt.”
Calling it what it is — RAPE — doesn’t mean you have to have a specific reaction to it. No one is requiring you to be traumatized. In fact, I’m really happy to hear that this experience didn’t seem to cause her much pain. But the definition of rape doesn’t change depending on how you feel afterward. Rape is a nonconsensual sexual act. “That time you fucked that guy you didn’t really want to fuck” is a better description of consensual sex that you later regret. (Which, of course, isn’t rape.)
This is why the Cosmo article and the whole Laura Sessions Stepp “gray rape” concept are such bad news. It creates a new category that suggests it’s not-quite-rape if you say “no” while drunk, or you say “no” to intercourse after you’ve said “yes” to making out. To not straight-up call it rape diminishes it and excuses it. It goes from a crime to simply impolite or bad behavior.
I think it’s possible to call a crime a crime without assuming a “victim” role. As Shakes writes, “to be a survivor of rape does not have to mean shame and brokenness and guilt, that it is brave, not weak, to say, plainly: “I was raped.”"

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49 Comments

  1. katie
    Posted August 27, 2007 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    That story is chilling, and it’s horrifying that getting chewed out was the guy’s harshest punishment! One thing that bothers me is the passive voice of the language associated with rape: “i was raped.” As if rape were something that just happens to you. I feel it adds to the shame and victim-blaming, and removes from a person who did a terrible, violent, thing.

  2. Ann
    Posted August 27, 2007 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Re: passive language. That’s a great point, katie. I didn’t even realize that’s how I had constructed the sentence, as if rape was just something that spontaneously happened rather than an act perpetrated by someone.

  3. KarenElhyam
    Posted August 27, 2007 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    And people wonder why we need feminism.
    Seems to me she didn’t want to claim it was rape because that would mean she should have to become some emotional, broken half-woman.
    Rape, even in a circumstance such as this where the woman who was raped doesn’t think that’s what happened, is still a way for someone to steal away your power in some way. She now feels powerless to admit that someone raped her because it would be akin to admitting SHE had done something wrong, and was somehow left impure or broken, or some other stereotypical weak female attribute. I’m glad she isn’t any of these things, but you can be a victim of rape, admit you were raped, and still be a happy, healthy woman later in your life.
    It’s gross, awful, and it is indeed terrible that the offender got off like that.

  4. Posted August 27, 2007 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    It’s true; you can’t really argue with people’s subjective reactions to an episode like that. However, trying to normalize said reaction in an attempt to decriminalize an imaginary subset of rape, further driving down the reporting of an already underreported crime, is really narcissistic and repugnant.
    At the same time, given the utterly insane judicial decisions pertaining to rape that have been catalogued on this and other websites, it’s definitely tough to fault somebody who looks at the cost-benefit analysis of reporting to said system and deciding against it. Hopefully, it won’t be for the fatuous reasons outlined in the linked article, though, and it won’t come at the expense of keeping the definitional integrity of the word.

  5. Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    Well, that was the stupidest thing ever.
    Hi, I WAS date raped, and I find the idea of implying that date rape is somehow “rape lite” and less traumatic is…um…disgusting and stuff. It’s like saying to a child “Oh, buck up, kiddo, at least you were molested by someone you know and trust!” WTF?
    Also, guess what? If your argument for calling not wanting to call it rape is because you don’t think you were traumatized? Big Hint: If you can’t even call it what it is, you’re more traumatized than you’re owning up to.
    You know why I know this? It took me years to admit to myself that what had happened to me was, indeed, RAPE, and when I finally did, it was a truly horrifying realization. Of course, once I called it rape, I could process it and move on, but not one goddamned minute before.

  6. ponies and rainbows
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    WTF? If you’re drunk past the point of consent (as it sounds like she was) and you also say no several times and it’s still not rape, then WHAT CAN BE CONSIDERED RAPE?!? Should we just assume from now on that women are unrapeable, that there’s really no such thing as rape unless the survivor is bloody and black and blue and unconscious? (Oh, wait, even then it’s not rape.) I also hate this fucking attitude that somehow rape “isn’t as bad” if you know the rapist — in fact, many studies show just the opposite, that it’s even harder to get over if you know the rapist. Of course, if you think about it logically it makes sense — there’s a betrayal of trust, people in your circle may know the person and side with them, and last but not least are people’s stupid-ass, ignorant attitudes toward date and acquaintance rape.
    Interestingly, I’ve just come across a paper called “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” which found that 48.8% of college women whose experiences fit the definition of rape don’t consider what happened to be rape.
    Finally, I would say that, sadly, her yelling at the fucking rapist is actually a lot more punishment than most rapists get. Although I’m disappointed in her views on rape, I think she’s awesome for yelling at him; it takes SO MUCH courage to do anything at all against your attacker, especially in person, and we should absolutely not fault her for not reporting what he did — especially knowing what we do about the justice system’s treatment of all forms of sexual assault.

  7. outtatheblue
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    I was a virgin who woke up after a night I couldn’t remember, bleeding in the bed of a boy I barely knew. I defy anyone to say that having sex with a passed-out drunk girl isn’t rape, and I’m incensed that Moe would suggest otherwise.
    That story struck me as particularly horrible. I hate people sometimes.

  8. Marcus
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    If I wear an obviously expensive watch to Wall-Mart at 4am, and somebody robs me, is that “gray robbery”?
    No, it’s fucking robbery, putting yourself at risk does not excuse the actions of the criminal – this is the “tight clothing” rape defense repackaged for a new generation.
    Somebody needs to run a campaign to increase Date Rape awareness, because people have actually forgotten the word and apparently they’ll invent new ones like “gray rape” to avoid admitting they were a victim, when they need to be tossing the asshole in jail.

  9. ponies and rainbows
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    Akeeyu, your experience sounds just like mine, and waiting to deal with it made it even worse. And what you say about processing the experience is so true. The sooner we educate women on what rape is and on dealing with it when it happens, the better for us and all of society. And maybe once we educate people on rape, it won’t have to happen so bloody often because it won’t be so fucking acceptable and minimized.

  10. Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    This story seems to be one of a general theme: a woman having no right to her own body that a man need respect.
    It’s cheap and easy for some to find every rationalization under the son. Oh, she slept with some other guy at some point, therefore she’s not actually a person, but his fuckhole-at-will in her sleep. She had had some alcohol, so he owned her, ’cause as a man he gets to own what drinks. Her repeated “no” and her obvious intoxication meant either nothing or were an encouragement in the mind of this rapist.
    “I was raped” is an inaccurate statement. “A rapist committed a rape against me” is the truth.
    We should demand that reporters stop using the “X were raped” in discussing rapes. “Rapists raped 10,000 women/people/children” this year.”
    As shocking as it is to say it, out of my mouth, male and averse to radical approaches to things, the more I read and the more I see, the more I agree with Twisty Faster. And it’s getting less shocking to me every time I write it or say it.

  11. Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    I agree that this illustrates why the concept of “gray rape” is harmful; a man I was in relationship with date-raped me, and it was definitely scarring. I also agree that avoiding putting the word rape to it can have harmful effects. However, I would also say that it is not our place to attempt to force another woman to use any particular word to describe her experience.

  12. Mina
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    “‘I was a virgin who woke up after a night I couldn’t remember, bleeding in the bed of a boy I barely knew. I defy anyone to say that having sex with a passed-out drunk girl isn’t rape, and I’m incensed that Moe would suggest otherwise.’
    “That story struck me as particularly horrible. I hate people sometimes.”
    Me too.
    It also reminded me of this asshole’s post in another forum:
    http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.written/msg/e2e1ede71d3a0189?hl=en&
    which seemed to me to be whining on the behalf of those people who can’t get consensual sex from anyone, dismiss having social skills (such as the ability to tell when someone’s consenting) as too neurotypical for them, and still feel entitled to sex…

  13. shema
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    New Year’s Eve ’99. Way too much to drink at my best friend’s boyfriend’s house party. I knew most of the people there so I felt it was safe to indulge. Had consensual sex with a guy that I had hooked up with twice before. Then at some point I passed out. When I came to I was naked, my best friend was passed out in the same room, and her boyfriend was stroking his penis with his hand cupped over my left hand while shoving his fingers in my vagina. If he penetrated me with his penis at some point I don’t remember and don’t want to. I mumbled a protest and he desisted when he realized I was gaining consciousness. I never confronted him about it afterward. My best friend still doesn’t know. (They broke up months later when she found out he had been cheating.)
    I felt guilty and embarrassed at the time, like I deserved it for getting so wasted. I don’t think that anymore. But I don’t feel traumatized when I think back on the incident either. I do know that most of my close friends have had similar experiences: being felt up, unzipped, undressed, fondled, or worse while they were intoxicated. They would share their stories with me after I whispered mine to them over the years. All of the stories were similar in that they came out in a sort of detached way, as if we were all (as Ann put it so well) just victims of impolite behavior, but surely not assault.
    To this day I still don’t know what label to attach to my experience. He (probably) didn’t stick his dick in me so I don’t know that rape is an accurate word. (And hey – he did stop when he thought I was waking up!) And I haven’t ever thought of the incident as an assault either. Maybe because it wasn’t violent?? I do know that it sure as hell was not consensual. And there is no gray area in my mind about the moral and ethical implications of sexual contact with a woman who is so drunk she has the reflexes of a corpse.

  14. shema
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    New Year’s Eve ’99. Way too much to drink at my best friend’s boyfriend’s house party. I knew most of the people there so I felt it was safe to indulge. Had consensual sex with a guy that I had hooked up with twice before. Then at some point I passed out. When I came to I was naked, my best friend was passed out in the same room, and her boyfriend was stroking his penis with his hand cupped over my left hand while shoving his fingers in my vagina. If he penetrated me with his penis at some point I don’t remember and don’t want to. I mumbled a protest and he desisted when he realized I was gaining consciousness. I never confronted him about it afterward. My best friend still doesn’t know. (They broke up months later when she found out he had been cheating.)
    I felt guilty and embarrassed at the time, like I deserved it for getting so wasted. I don’t think that anymore. But I don’t feel traumatized when I think back on the incident either. I do know that most of my close friends have had similar experiences: being felt up, unzipped, undressed, fondled, or worse while they were intoxicated. They would share their stories with me after I whispered mine to them over the years. All of the stories were similar in that they came out in a sort of detached way, as if we were all (as Ann put it so well) just victims of impolite behavior, but surely not assault.
    To this day I still don’t know what label to attach to my experience. He (probably) didn’t stick his dick in me so I don’t know that rape is an accurate word. (And hey – he did stop when he thought I was waking up!) And I haven’t ever thought of the incident as an assault either. Maybe because it wasn’t violent?? I do know that it sure as hell was not consensual. And there is no gray area in my mind about the moral and ethical implications of sexual contact with a woman who is so drunk she has the reflexes of a corpse.

  15. shema
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Sorry for the double post. Technical difficulties.

  16. Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    I found that Jezebel thread really depressing. Not just Moe, but a few other women said that they felt uncomfortable calling what happened to them “rape” because they didn’t want to have their victimhood define them or whatever. I think there’s kind of a framing issue here — it’s like, rape doesn’t have to be a woman-ruining thing to still have happened.

  17. UCLAbodyimage
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    I thought “gray rape” was when a person consented or had sex when they weren’t technically capable of it (e.g., they had been drinking). The “gray” part is how the guy (usually) is able to judge whether or not she (usually) is capable of consenting.
    The story above doesn’t seem like “gray rape” at all. She said no many times. That’s clearly rape with no question about it.

  18. UCLAbodyimage
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:44 am | Permalink

    PONIES: “Interestingly, I’ve just come across a paper called “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” which found that 48.8% of college women whose experiences fit the definition of rape don’t consider what happened to be rape.”
    Wow, that is scary – considering that how specific and graphic the questions were in that survey.

  19. SarahMC
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Shema, I’d say that guy sexually assaulted you.
    I took part in that discussion at Jezebel, and I was one of the few people insisting that when you’re raped, it’s RAPE, whether you want to admit it or not.
    If victims refuse to call their rapes “rapes,” the word loses its meaning. The word HAS a definition. Selectively calling certain rapes “rapes” while refusing to call other rapes “rapes” lets men off the hook when they do, in fact, rape!
    I don’t blame any of those women for not pressing charges, but by refusing to call a spade a spade they’re essentially saying their rapists are not really rapists. It gives those men a free pass to rape other women, because, hey! so-and-so didn’t think it was “rape,” so maybe it’s OK.
    I also find it offensive that the rationale a lot of those women use is, “I don’t want to be a victim.” Well, you WERE victimized. Admitting that does not make you weak. Refusing to call their rapes “rapes” suggests that women who are raped are broken. And they don’t want to be broken, so they’ll just pretend it wasn’t really rape. It’s insulting to all rape victims to insinuate that their rapes tainted them for life.

  20. EvilPotato
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    Refusing to call their rapes “rapes” suggests that women who are raped are broken. And they don’t want to be broken, so they’ll just pretend it wasn’t really rape. It’s insulting to all rape victims to insinuate that their rapes tainted them for life.
    So women who have experienced a form of sexual assault that some will insist on calling “rape” are actually insulting women who do identify as rape victims? Are you holding the un-self-identified (by your definition) rape victims accountable for any part of the pain/suffering/bad feelings of those who do identify as such? Now that, to me, is insulting.
    I don’t blame any of those women for not pressing charges, but by refusing to call a spade a spade they’re essentially saying their rapists are not really rapists. It gives those men a free pass to rape other women, because, hey! so-and-so didn’t think it was “rape,” so maybe it’s OK.
    As someone who is reluctant to call an experience of mine from last year “rape,” for a lot of personal reasons which I won’t go into here, I am truly disturbed by your insinuation that women who have been sexually assaulted in some way by men but who do not call it rape are in any way responsible for the future sexual assaults of the men who attacked them. How many times have we deconstructed arguments and comments exactly like this, on this very site? The only person responsible for rape is the rapist. Period.
    I also find it offensive that the rationale a lot of those women use is, “I don’t want to be a victim.” Well, you WERE victimized.
    I’m sorry you find other women defining their experiences in a way you intellectually disagree with to be offensive, but I don’t think you get to define anyone else’s experiences for them. You know, you’ve got a strong point, albeit an abstract one, about how we should all call experiences that fit a certain definition by one name — united front and all that, I understand — but you simply don’t get to tell other people who have gone through an experience that you didn’t, “You were victimized. You were raped.” I think that that is exactly the kind of labeling by other people that is being shrugged off by refusing to self-identify as a “victim of rape.” Why would I let you define my experience for me? That’s even more disempowering than whatever happened to me. You weren’t there, and whatever I want to call it in my own private life, in my head, in my conversations, is my goddamn business. Not yours.

  21. secondhandsally
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    I am finding this thread to be really upsetting.
    I think most of us can agree that it’s a step backwards to have the media codifying “date rape” as somehow less than stranger rape. Or to refuse to identify things that are by definition rape as rape.
    But this is a separate issue from how individual women process their experiences and I am finding a lot of judgment against those individual women here in this post. When a person rapes another person, the victim/survivor feels like their ability to make decisions for themselves has been taken away from them. I think that insisting that a person who has been raped use your terms to define her experience, just takes more decision-making power away from her.
    In addition, many of the people here have posted about how traumatic it was for them when they finally admitted to themselves that someone had raped them. I don’t understand what’s being proposed here in this post. That we force women to come to that potentially re-traumatizing experience on our terms and our timeline?
    I just can’t get behind that.

  22. secondhandsally
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    that’s suppose to be re-traumatizing *realization* not experience.

  23. EvilPotato
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    secondhandsally: Exactly. Thank you.
    Legal definitions are one thing. Personal definitions are another. Let the legal be the legal, and let the media be concerned with that, and let the personal be the personal. It is agency-denying to tell a woman that she has to define her experience in a certain way just to satisfy the abstract rules of the group-think that is attempting to coalesce in places like this thread. What benefit is there in that for the individual woman? Her experience is personal to her, but as far as the group is concerned, what happened to her is a mere abstract event in need of a clearer definition, so that everyone can understand it. Discussion is one thing, but I draw the line at demanding that kind of compliance from women just to satisfy your need for a black-and-white world.

  24. SarahMC
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    EvilPotato, you are putting words in my mouth.
    If you were sexually assaulted, you were sexually assaulted. That’s not rape and I never said you should define sexual assault as rape.
    However, if you do not hold rapists accountable for their actions (i.e. rape), how will we ever make progress? Saying that some rapes aren’t rapes lets rapists off the hook. It muddies the water even more.
    If your friend were intentionally killed by another person, would you call it murder?

  25. EvilPotato
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    SarahMC, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth. I believe you’re putting words in mine. I never said that there was a hard-and-fast distinction between sexual assault and rape. I also never said that I was sexually assaulted and not raped. By your definition, I was raped. (Unless you were talking generally, in which case, never mind.) Legally, there is a hard-and-fast distinction, but experientially, there’s not. There’s just not, no matter how clear and apparent it may be to you. And it can’t be demanded into existence.
    We’re probably not going to see eye-to-eye on this, but I’ll try to explain. The way I see it, there are two different definitions of “rape”:
    1) “rape” the legal/cultural term, and
    2) the personal experience of a form of sexual assault that could be called “rape,” since it fits that technical (legal/cultural) definition.
    According to you, however, both 1) and 2) should be called rape, and furthermore, are rape, regardless of how the woman who experienced the actual event would choose to define it for herself. Your hard-and-fast definition of the word “rape,” as if both definitions of the word were identical, is something that I couldn’t disagree with more strongly.
    Yes, I’m phrasing what you said in a way that is not exactly generous, and I’m sure you didn’t consciously mean to say what I’ve parsed your statements as, but I am going to stand by my interpretation of what you did, in fact, say:
    I also find it offensive that the rationale a lot of those women use is, “I don’t want to be a victim.” Well, you WERE victimized.
    I don’t know if you think that’s a kind thing to say, or what, but it struck me as decidedly unkind. I take offense to it in a very visceral way. I think the problem does go back to your failure to see a distinction between the dictionary definition and the personal experience it references. They are not the same, and insisting that the dictionary definition applies to women who experienced personally what it is you’re talking about abstractly, when they say that it doesn’t, is insulting.
    In short, I’m arguing for an absolute primacy of experience — not logic, not rhetoric, not the interests of “the movement” — when it comes to something that is experienced personally first, and defined by others only secondarily and inadequately. Your interest in “progress” should and must take a back seat to the way that women want to define their own experiences, because that is the level at which the primacy of the movement ends, and that of the individual woman begins.

  26. SarahMC
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    EvilPotato, you said:
    So women who have experienced a form of sexual assault that some will insist on calling “rape”…
    That is where I got the “sexual assault” thing from.
    How is it insulting to YOU (general “you”) to point out the fact that someone victimized you? Does denying that it happened make you less of a victim? And what’s WRONG with being a victim? Women who’ve suffered sexual assault &/or rape should feel free to stand up and say, “YES! I was victimized and it’s nothing to be ashamed of!” Refusing to acknowledge rape when it happens does suggest that you think being a rape victim is shameful.
    I don’t know what happened to you; I’m not commenting on that situation, whatever it was.
    But if a man penetrates you with his body or a foreign object against your will or while you were unable to consent, he’s raped you. If that’s not what happened, I’m not saying it’s rape.
    I’m sure rapists just love knowning their victims don’t consider them rapists. Lets them continue without guilt or accountability.

  27. secondhandsally
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I think we all agree that it’s fucked-up that there’s a stigmata of shame attached to being a victim/survivor of rape/sexual assault.
    But remarking that our society shouldn’t be that way is not what I have a problem with.
    Again, I am talking about individuals decisions about how to process their experience. And I have never known it to do any good to insist to someone that they shouldn’t be ashamed (setting aside for the moment, the fact that there are plenty of reasons other than “shame” that victims of rape/sexual assault chose not to identify as such).
    SarahMC when you write “I’m sure rapists just love knowing their victims don’t consider them rapist” I hear blame for the women who have been sexually assaulted (to use the term as encompassing rape), but do not identify as victims of sexual assault.
    I hope you do not feel attack by me singling you out, as I am really comment more on the overall tone of this thread.

  28. Mina
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    “But if a man penetrates you with his body or a foreign object against your will or while you were unable to consent, he’s raped you.”
    I agree (except I guess I count stabbing someone else in the gut as penetrating with a foreign object against that someone’s else will and count it as another kind of assault instead of rape).

  29. be-ti-na
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    ..
    It isn’t unkind to acknowledge that you were the victim of rape. Why should it be? It’s not your fault. The person raping you should be held responsible for the act.
    Yes, a woman should be able to define her own experiences, but the fact it, many of these women are calling it something other than rape simply because they somehow feel the acknowledgment of it will harm them. And they’re not to blame – our culture is. Still, we must insist that what happened to them was rape. It’s definitely related to why a lot of rape goes unreported – it’s embarrassing to admit it, people will invariably be suspicious of them. And as antidote, we have to insist that it’s not okay, it’s not “part of life”, it’s rape and should be fought against as such.
    I mean, about the whole thing, what the hell? Last time I checked, sex was supposed to be something both parties are actively part of. There’s no “gray” in there. So if the woman says no, just proceed? The guys Cosmopolitan readers are having sex with don’t seem to be regarding these women as human fucking beings, just as sex toys made of flesh.

  30. be-ti-na
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Sorry, you were the survivor of rape.
    Either way, defining this as rape is telling me something about the person who assaulted you, and not about you.

  31. Posted August 28, 2007 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Sunday, September 18th, 2005. I was at my then-boyfriend’s house, we had been dating for over a year and a half. We had sex a few times, we went in his hot tub, then when we got out we rested on the couch watching Mythbusters on the Discovery channel. During this time he decided he wanted to have sex again and asked if I wanted to. I said no, but he decided that the decision wasn’t mine to make and penetrated me anyway, looking down at me the whole time as if to say: “But this is what you really want, right?” When I told him to stop, he did, but it was still rape. I didn’t admit to that for months though. He had to do a lot more wrong things in order for me to break up with him–I just didn’t want to admit that someone I thought loved me could do what he did.
    I wrote and essay about it for Fictionpress recently. Here’s the link: http://www.fictionpress.com/s/2385386/1/

  32. SarahMC
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, Mina – I guess I could have been more specific in my definition. Penetrates your vagina or asshole.

  33. ekf
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    It took me years to admit that a man had raped me. He had been pushing drinks on me all night, but I never lost consciousness or self-control. When we started making out later, I stated very clearly what my limits were — petting, maybe oral sex, but no penetration. He tried to talk me into it. We spent a long, purgatorial amount of time with him on top of me, naked, asking why we couldn’t just do it, that it wasn’t a big deal. I became scared, having processed that he outweighed me by about 100 lbs., and I wanted to talk my way out of the situation. I thought I had convinced him, and I let out a sigh, and it was at that point that he penetrated me. I started flailing and grabbing at him to stop, and he did so immediately. Nothing more was said, and we went to sleep.
    The next day I was completely conflicted. Could this have seriously been a misunderstanding? Had it all been a manipulation? What could I do? He didn’t come, so a rape kit might not even prove that he’d penetrated me. Was it rape if he stopped? But I’d said no over and over and over again… I convinced myself that, no matter what it was, I wouldn’t get anywhere with the DA, and the college judicial system would have been worthless (both had very publicly botched a date rape case the prior year). I couldn’t really even bust him in the public sphere, because I had an open but more established relationship with someone else, and so I would simply have been accused of having regretted cheating on my boyfriend. So I knew the consequences of speaking out about what he did, whether or not I called it rape, and as a result I kept it largely to myself.
    As a result, it made sense as a coping mechanism to not call it rape. I tried not to think about it, although there were times that I’d wake up in the dark and be reminded of the vision of what it felt like to be underneath him, to fear what he might do, to see him as he entered me knowing I had said no. I went on with my life.
    Seven years later I attended law school and sat in a crim law class devoted to rape. I felt nauseous and panicked, frozen in realization and shame. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore — he had raped me. I had to use that word. It took me way longer to process my feelings, because I not only had to deal with the truth of having been raped, but I had to deal with myself for not pressing charges, for not doing more to assert myself, for not being strong enough to admit what had happened when it happened, for not having spoken out.
    While I can’t judge women who aren’t at a place where they can use the right words to describe the crimes perpetrated against them, I hurt for them, because I’ve been them. And there will come an inevitable crash when it suddenly hits that, despite all of the rationalizations and the excuses, you admit the simple truth that he raped you. Not “gray rape,” not “rape lite,” not “something like rape, but not that bad.” Rape. That crash is devastating, and it’s especially hard at that point to get the support you otherwise would have gotten, because people don’t generally expect outfreakage about crimes that happened years prior. Friends don’t know how to help, and they wonder why you’re not just over it by now. After all, it may have been hard at the time, but it was so long ago. So I urge women who think that they can think their way out of a rape to just get help now. If you think you may have been raped or assaulted, just get help. Maybe you’ll come to call what happened rape, maybe not, but at least you’ll get support and strength enough to make peace with yourself about what happened.

  34. EvilPotato
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    SarahMC:
    Women who’ve suffered sexual assault &/or rape should feel free to stand up and say, “YES! I was victimized and it’s nothing to be ashamed of!”
    What if they don’t feel proud enough to shout it from the rooftops? Are they WRONG to feel that way? You seem to be implying/outright stating that they are, and that’s where I think you’re wrong.
    How is it insulting to YOU (general “you”) to point out the fact that someone victimized you? Does denying that it happened make you less of a victim?
    The insult is not someone else “pointing out that someone has victimized you,” it’s someone else INSISTING that you have been victimized, WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO SAY THAT ABOUT YOURSELF.
    That’s like someone saying: “I don’t CARE that you don’t think you were raped/victimized. You WERE. So there. I know better than you what happened to you.”
    Refusing to acknowledge rape when it happens does suggest that you think being a rape victim is shameful.
    Excuse me, but I don’t know many people who wouldn’t have the immediate reaction that being raped is, at the very least, embarrassing. In an ideal world, would people not feel that way? Of course. But last I checked, this world was a fucked-up place with a lot of different groups with a lot of different rules for how people should feel about things, but that doesn’t translate too well into reality. People feel the way they feel. You try getting rid of centuries’ worth of stigma attached to rape victims, all in one short lifetime, while you’re still dealing with your own feelings about the attack itself. You try ignoring the fact that even though, intellectually, you know it doesn’t make sense — dammit, you still feel this way! You tell me how you would solve that problem, in the world and in yourself, to the point where you don’t offend anybody else with your shame, ever again.
    P.S. I don’t give a shit what the guy who raped me knows about how I feel about what he did, or what I think he is. He didn’t care then; why would he care now? Why would he care ten years from now? Or fifty? I’m sure he thinks he’s a peachy keen guy, and nothing I or anyone else could do or say will change his mind about that. I don’t think he is exceptional among rapists in that regard. Why should women who have been attacked have to prove to their attackers that they are rapist scumbags? Guilt and accountability are feelings that you just can’t force rapists to have.

  35. itsnotfluff
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    EvilPotato:
    “Your interest in ‘progress’ should and must take a back seat to the way that women want to define their own experiences, because that is the level at which the primacy of the movement ends, and that of the individual woman begins.”
    I think you have poignantly communicated the complexity of this issue. I support the right of each individual to define their experience however they choose. It is a given that individuals will interpret/define such events in different ways. The emotional/psychological reactions that are unique to each individual who has had this personal experience cannot be debated or negated.
    At the same time, I also think it’s important to call a crime a crime and the perpetrator a criminal. While you do not have to define it as a crime, it is understandable that society will defer for the benefit of all women. However, it is not their place to label you a “victim” or a “denier.” I don’t think you are denying a crime was commited though. My apologies if you stated otherwise.
    “Why should women who have been attacked have to prove to their attackers that they are rapist scumbags? Guilt and accountability are feelings that you just can’t force rapists to have.”
    Aside from the fact that our legal system makes it very difficult to execute the prosecute a waste-of-life rapist, it is because you are likely the only one who was witness to the event (but based on the police officer rapist that was reported last week, you never know). And he’ll probably do it again to someone else and may have before. I know it’s also a lot to ask of you to step forward and be the one to relive the pain so he doesn’t repeat the act, but each one who goes free is free to do it again.

  36. SarahMC
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    “Why should women who have been attacked have to prove to their attackers that they are rapist scumbags?”
    So the women have been attacked, but they haven’t been victimized? At this point you’re just walking on eggshells to avoid saying certain words.
    You also just used the phrase, “the guy who raped me” even though you claim you won’t call it rape.
    I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just trying to cut through the bullshit.
    Let me just say that I agree with what efk said in her comment.

  37. itsnotfluff
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    EvilPotato:
    “Your interest in ‘progress’ should and must take a back seat to the way that women want to define their own experiences, because that is the level at which the primacy of the movement ends, and that of the individual woman begins.”
    I think you have poignantly communicated the complexity of this issue. I support the right of each individual to define their experience however they choose. It is a given that individuals will interpret/define such events in different ways. The emotional/psychological reactions that are unique to each individual who has had this personal experience cannot be debated or negated.
    At the same time, I also think it’s important to call a crime a crime and the perpetrator a criminal. While you do not have to define it as a crime, it is understandable that society will defer for the benefit of all women. However, it is not their place to label you a “victim” or a “denier.” I don’t think you are denying a crime was commited though. My apologies if you stated otherwise.
    “Why should women who have been attacked have to prove to their attackers that they are rapist scumbags? Guilt and accountability are feelings that you just can’t force rapists to have.”
    Aside from the fact that our legal system makes it very difficult to prosecute a waste-of-life rapist, it is because you are likely the only one who was witness to the event (but based on the police officer rapist that was reported last week, you never know). And he’ll probably do it again to someone else and may have before. I know it’s also a lot to ask of you to step forward and be the one to relive the pain so he doesn’t repeat the act, but each one who goes free is free to do it again, to you or someone else.

  38. be-ti-na
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I find it slightly ironic that people here are yelling at each other.
    It’s not him knowing how you feel. We don’t give a shit about him. It’s turning rape, which is what it is, into a crime, into something that isn’t okay, can happen, etc. Saying “no” is not giving consent, period. And proceeding without consent is rape.
    “What if they don’t feel proud enough to shout it from the rooftops? Are they WRONG to feel that way? You seem to be implying/outright stating that they are, and that’s where I think you’re wrong.”
    Nobody’s stating that. They’re not WRONG to feel that way. They are simply guided by a society that will stigmatise them if they do, and that’s fully acknowledgeable. They aren’t the ones who perpetuate the stigma.
    But in feminist circles, where people are trying to destroy those stigmas, they will define the experience of non-consensual sex as rape. It’s not “taking away your power”. It’s acknowledging that what happened to you was wrong, and that it should be regarded as a crime, and the perpetrator punished as he should be.

  39. EvilPotato
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    be-ti-na: I understand about trying to destroy stigmas. How other people feel is not based on you saying, “It’s okay — this is a stigma-free zone.”
    Saying that “rape is what it is” is also falling into the same problem area that I’ve already been discussing with SarahMC. Once again, it’s defining something for someone else without their consent, regardless of how they feel about it. Statement 1: “acknowledging that what happened to you was wrong,” is not the same as Statement 2: “what happened to you WAS RAPE (whether you think so or not).”
    Your intentions are good, I know. I’m sure that you honestly mean to always say 1, and not 2. But when the attitude of the person you’re talking to is “I don’t think what happened to me was rape,” the unintentional consequence of saying “it was rape” is the metamessage contained in Statement 2.
    This is a simple distinction. I don’t understand why it is so hard to grasp that what we say can have unintended messages hidden within it that we don’t think we meant, and which other people can rightly take offense to. That’s why it’s important to choose our words so carefully when dealing with sensitive issues, like sexual assault.
    SarahMC: You are taking my words out of context. I said I was “reluctant,” not that I would not call it “rape.” Also, I think you know the connotative distinction between “attacked” and “victimized” (otherwise why would the problem phrase be, “I don’t want to think I was a victim?“) and I don’t know what the sudden difficulty is, or why you would accuse me of splitting hairs when you know full well what the difference is.
    itsnotfluff: Thank you for understanding so well what I was trying to say, and for the compliment.
    That’s it, guys. I’m done for now. Wow, this has been exhausting.
    Sorry if I offended anyone. It wasn’t my intention. I just feel very passionately about this.

  40. ankathry
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    ‘”Why should women who have been attacked have to prove to their attackers that they are rapist scumbags?”
    So the women have been attacked, but they haven’t been victimized? At this point you’re just walking on eggshells to avoid saying certain words.’
    I think you’re missing the point, here, SarahMC. EvilPotato made a distinction between the legal definition and the personal experience of rape; you think they should be the same, and she (and I agree with her) questions that.
    To me the problem with your position is as follows: the wording, “well, you WERE victimized” is an attempt to dictate how someone should feel about her experience, and further sounds as though you are shaming her for rejecting your definition. Whether you mean it that way or not, that’s how it comes off, and it’s disingenuous to refuse to acknowledge that. Regardless of your message, such an approach is disempowering, and no one is going to respond well to it. What’s the point of winning a semantic argument if you alienate the person you’re trying to convince?
    I agree that feminists should work to destigmatize the term “rape” so that survivors of assault don’t have to equate that label with victimhood and shame and weakness. However, I don’t think that’s going to be accomplished by intellectually bullying or stigmatizing women who reject the labels of rape or victim, and to me that’s the net effect of a lot of what I’m reading here. You can argue your point with excellent logic until you’re blue in the face, but telling survivors of sexual assault that their emotional narratives are WRONG is off-putting, and therefore counterproductive.

  41. Kimmy
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Here’s my take (for what it’s worth as a sexual assault survivor). In this post, I am using the universal “you” and am not referring to any one individual in this thread or otherwise.
    You cannot change what happened to you by using different words. If a man stuck his penis inside you without your consent, you were raped. You can call it whatever you want, view yourself however you want, and you absolutely have all the right in the world to feel any way that you do about it.
    None of that changes the fact that a man stuck his penis into you without your consent. Using the definition instead of the term doesn’t change what happened either.
    I understand the urge to deflect or hide from what happened. I understand that it’s a difficult situation to be in, loaded with emotions and thoughts from all different areas. I know that “rape” is a heavy term, and that viewing yourself as a person who was raped carries its own baggage. Believe me, I sympathise.
    None of that changes the fact that a man stuck his penis into you without your consent.
    Not to get all Ayn Rand here or anything, but A is A. Rape is rape. A man sticking his penis into you without your consent is a man sticking his penis into you without your consent. No viewpoint, no emotion, no fear, no denial, no courage, no fact of any kind can change that.
    Refusing to label rape when it occurs does contribute to the culture we’re all complaining about. Do I blame any woman for not wanting to label it as such? No, of course not. No one wants to be in that position. You have to handle it the best way you can. But that doesn’t change the fact that it does contribue. Doesn’t mean you always have a better choice for your own mental well-being, but me politely refraining from mentioning it doesn’t make it any less true. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck without any good alternatives, where no matter what we do we feel like we’re doing something wrong.
    Label it rape? Then you’re calling onto yourself all the connotations of being a rape victim/survivor, whatever that is to you and to those around you. Don’t label it rape? Then you’re in an equally bad position wherein you contribute to a culture you don’t like, and also absolve your rapist from a certain amount of blame, either from you or from those who know of the situation. After all, a rapist is viewed differently from a guy who “made a mistake,” or “went a little too far,” or “made a bad call,” or however it’s interpreted.
    Neither of these is a particularly lovely choice, and I’m not telling people which one they should make. But I think we can all agree that none of these choices, none of these thoughts, none of these feelings, and none of these fears can change the basic facts of what occurred.
    Call it what you want. Handle it as you need to. Feel whatever it is in you to feel. But you can’t be surprised or offended if you tell someone that a man stuck his penis into you without your consent and they correctly label it as rape.

  42. Kimmy
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    I shouldn’t say you can’t be surprised or offended. I should’ve said that it makes no sense to be surprised or offended. My apologies.

  43. Posted August 28, 2007 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I find the flippant and liberal usage of “shoulds” and “should nots” on these comments, and those at Jezebel, somewhat disgusting.
    Do not tell me there is “nothing WRONG with being a victim”. Do not tell me it is “offensive” that a woman does not “want to be a victim”. Do not imply that I am obligated to society to ‘get over it’ and find the strength to use the word “rape”.
    You aren’t me. You aren’t “those women”. You do not know how difficult it can be, in the aftermath, to rationalize and accept and acknowledge the experience of being raped.
    In my own words:
    “In the beginning, I convinced myself it wasn’t really rape. There wasn’t a knife, gun, a dark alley. In my mind, that meant it wasn’t “serious” enough, or obvious enough to be rape. So I rationalized. I thought perhaps it “didn’t count”.
    In the beginning, I convinced myself it was somehow my fault. I didn’t scream or kick or scratch his eyes out. When a woman is being taken advantage of, isn’t that what she’s supposed to do? So I blamed myself. I thought perhaps that saying “No, don’t–” wasn’t enough.
    It wasn’t until later that I acknowledged what happened. It wasn’t until later that I used the word “rape”. It wasn’t until later that I stopped rationalizing and blaming myself on his behalf.”
    Is it sad that I couldn’t step up and “shout it from the rooftops”? Is it sad that I, a confused, scared, seventeen year old kid, wasn’t able to clearly discern what had happened to me? Is it somehow my fault for not having the strength and insight to label it in the moment, rather than years later?
    Allowing myself to acknowledge that I had been raped was one of the most difficult parts of my own recovery. I did not want to be a victim. I DID feel weak for admitting that I was. I wasn’t full of righteous indignation until much later. I was sickened and humiliated and ashamed.
    Do not tell me I didn’t have the right to that confusion. Do not blame Moe or any other woman for being reluctant to use the word rape. And above all else, do not tout your opinion like it’s some rule-book for how rape survivors “should” respond to that crisis.
    You are not me.

  44. SarahMC
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Cest.la.vie, nobody said rape victims should “get over it.” My god. Nobody said rape victims don’t have a right to confusion, as you put it. But I think that’s exactly what the reluctance and/or refusal to call rape “rape” is: confusion. If one has truly healed and come to terms with what happened to her, why wouldn’t she call it rape?

  45. elm
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    For women who can’t or won’t acknowledge the act of rape against them, I blame the patriarchy.

  46. LC
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Ann, here’s something I’m not sure I agree with.
    “Rape is a nonconsensual sexual act. “That time you fucked that guy you didn’t really want to fuck” is a better description of consensual sex that you later regret. (Which, of course, isn’t rape.)”
    If you really didn’t want to fuck him, how is it consensual?
    This is often what I think of when I hear the term “gray rape” thrown around. (I don’t think the Cosmo article is online, so I haven’t read it.)
    It is similar to what ekf seems to have described. That relentless pressure, but not necessarily force.
    I know a woman who has described sex as something that “boys eventually find necessary”. She’d hang out making out and doing all kinds of non-intercourse things all day, but eventually they’ll grab her hand and move it to their crotch – signal for her to get on with the giving them an orgasm part.
    So what does one call that? She seems to express no enthusiasm or desire for such activity, even though she loves making out and heavy petting and really likes these boys.
    What do we call this? My gut is that this is still non-consensual, but then I ascribe to the “vigourous assent is the standard for consent” theory. She seems to think this is just the way things are.
    (This is not a trick question, I am honestly struggling with what one calls this.)

  47. ankathry
    Posted August 28, 2007 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    “Label it rape? Then you’re calling onto yourself all the connotations of being a rape victim/survivor, whatever that is to you and to those around you. Don’t label it rape? Then you’re in an equally bad position wherein you contribute to a culture you don’t like, and also absolve your rapist from a certain amount of blame, either from you or from those who know of the situation.”
    Kimmy, I think you make a good point here. A person should have more options when making sense of an assault than to either assume the mantle of victimhood or, in an effort to reject the former, relabel an act that fits the legal definition of rape/sexual assault.
    And I think part of what needs to change is expectations of survivors’ behavior during recovery. Right now, to be considered genuinely “dealing with it”, women are often expected to a) fall apart psychologically as part of recovery, and/or b) benefit from sharing their experiences with a larger audience to aid others’ recovery or to change the culture. Although these expectations acknowledge the reality of many survivors’ experiences, they should NOT be touted as universal aspects of recovery, and women who don’t meet the expectations shouldn’t be hassled by well-meaning bystanders who can’t conceive of anyone “truly” recovering in another way.
    Augh, there’s a really good essay about this I *think* anthologized in BitchFest, but of course I can’t remember who wrote it, & have lent out my copy & can’t check. Can anyone help out here?

  48. Posted August 28, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    My question is: How do you know when they have truly healed?
    Bottom line, admonishing a rape victim for not appropriately labeling her experience is not helpful. Yes, on this forum we can agree that “non-consensual sex is always rape”. But for many victims, that line is not so black and white.
    For many victims, we still have to deal with the people who second guess us, the people who take advantage of our confusion. There are still those who listen to our stories, squint their eyes and say: “That doesn’t sound like rape to me”, or patronizingly ask, “But were you REALLY raped? Really?” Outside this forum, the seed of doubt is still flourishing.
    Choosing to focus on the victim’s response, reaction or label only contributes to their sense of shame, guilt and confusion. First we’re to blame for “letting it happen”. Now we’re to blame for not having the strength to look those naysayers in the eye, and unflinchingly say, “I was raped”…?
    The problem here–the real problem–is the ever-enduring stigma. The problem is the fact that rape still occurs. The problem lies with a society that nonchalantly toys with terms like “gray rape”, denying accountability to predators and giving “rape apologists” the opportunity to blame the victim. Again. And again.
    I’m just tired of the fact that it always seems to come back to this point. It always seems to somehow be: “our fault”.

  49. sonofeat
    Posted June 24, 2008 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Oh gosh. I think I was raped in first year; I’ve never told anyone or even said it out loud. I because I feel really ashamed that I can’t figure out the whole ‘grey area’. But telling someone no and resisting does make sex non-consensual. I guess the whole ‘rape is a violent act perpetrated by strange men’ idea has a greater impact on me than I’d previously guessed.

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