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Rape By Any Other Name…

February 21, 2011

Sexual assault and reproductive rights activist were outraged when lawmakers in Washington DC proposed changing the definition of rape.

Historically, federal laws restricted government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey has proposed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.  House Speaker John Boehner calls it a top priority in the new Congress.  It contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to drastically redefine rape and incest in these cases.

Republicans propose the exemption be limited to “forcible rape.” This new, diminished definition of rape would cut off federal assistance for abortions in an untold number of rape cases.  Statutory rape, for example, doesn’t always include force. So, if a 13 year old girl is impregnated by a 24 year old adult, she would no longer qualify to have Medicaid pay for an abortion.

Other types of rapes that would no longer be covered by the exemption include rapes where a woman is drugged or given excessive amounts of alcohol, rapes of women with limited mental capacity, and many date rapes.  If a woman doesn’t fight back, if she’s not left with emotional and physical scars, it’s not rape.  If she doesn’t fight back, it’s not rape.

Many say this legislative effort is nothing more than the uneducated efforts of a few, ultra conservative right-wing men.

That may be true. But what is also true is ignorance about rape, particularly amongst men, is more pervasive than any of us would like to admit.  Much of it centers on what men believe is and isn’t rape, regardless of law.

Oklahoma State basketball player Darrell Williams faces three charges of rape by instrumentation and another charge of sexual battery, stemming from an incident alleged to have happened in December 2010.

According to the charging documents, Williams- while at a house party- forcibly shoved his hands down at least 2 women’s pants, penetrating them with his fingers.

I read about the Williams’ case online. The details in the article were troubling, of course. But the comments left below were staggering.  Comments by readers who blame the victims.  Comments by readers who accuse victims of lying. Comments by readers who felt what Williams’ did, wasn’t rape.  These commenters all had one thing in common: they were written by men who felt safe enough to reveal their honest perspectives, protected and emboldened by on-line anonymity.

One commenter said, “Men have been programmed to believe women, even though women are far better liars than men, and they admit it proudly. Some men still believe that chick who claimed Kobe raped her, and I know Al Sharpton still believes the Duke Lacrosse boys still raped that ho.”

Another wrote “…How can you avoid it when its being basically thrown at you. The heart is very deceptive and with women, there is a deeper abyss when it comes to the reasons why they do certain things out of character or rationale.”

Yet another said “Look at the burden we place on men. Is she drunk. Is she too drunk to give proper consent? What is the blood alcohol level for a woman of her size and weight based on the volume and timing of the drinks? What if she pulls my penis out and performs oral, is that mouth rape?”

Rape isn’t about the time of day, the clothes of the victim, the neighborhood, how many other people are around, or whether or not the victim and the perpetrator know each other.    It’s not even necessarily about violence.   Too many will look at the charges against Williams and think that a man sticking his finger into a woman’s vagina without her expressed consent “isn’t that bad,” right? After all, it’s not like he held her down and beat her bloody, I mean, he didn’t penetrate her with his penis, right?


I bet if these guys –and those conservative reps in DC- stop talking about rape victims as random, nameless women and start talking about their mothers or their sisters or their daughters they might have reason for critical pause on the issue.

What would they call it if a man forced his fingers into their mother’s vagina without her expressed consent? Rape.

What would they call it if a man has sex with their sister when she’s passed out at a party at 2:00 in the morning? Rape.

What would they call it if their daughter performs oral sex on a man but doesn’t want it to go further than that- so he holds her down and forces her to have sex, and she’s too afraid to fight back? Rape.

It must be said, not all men point the finger at the victim.  In fact, organizations like Men Can Stop Rape work to educate and mobilize male youth to prevent men’s violence against women, including rape.

They understand what so many men, including those lawmakers in DC fail to grasp: rape doesn’t end by changing the definition of the word.

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