I’m sorry but…I’m not sorry

Rape is never justified. It is never “okay.” It is never, ever deserved. I don’t care if I walk around naked in the middle of Times Square–I’m never “asking for it” unless I look someone straight in the eye and say “let’s have sex.”


I feel as if a lot of people talk about this. This blog has probably been written a million times. In fact, I’ve written something like this before. Here’s the thing, though: It will keep being written until there is no need for it, until no human being can misunderstand the meaning of consensual sex enough to blame a rape victim.

A lot of people like to think that women use rape as a means of revenge, or as a pathway to money and their 15 minutes of fame. It saddens me that this belief has some basis in reality. I’m sure that somewhere some woman has done this. What sucks is that she not only besmirched the name of an innocent person, but also made it harder for millions of other rape victims to plead their case.

A lot of the problems with prosecuting and reporting instances of rape come from the ambiguity of the charge. There’s a lot of debate, political and philosophical, surrounding what it really means to rape someone. Trust me, I’ve had just a taste of it (about two weeks’ worth of discussion and essays in my “Sex, Society, and Ethics” class [one of my favs, btw]). All of these arguments focus on the word “consent” and the practical applications of it.

I just read an article (http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/a-letter-to-my-son-about-consent/) that argues that the only real consent it one that is blatantly, soberly, knowingly given. This means that in order for any sexual act to not be rape, both partners must ask “is it ok for me to do X [whatever touching or sexual action you want to do] to you?” and receive a clearly stated “Yes.”

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but where do you draw the line? Do you have to narrate everything that you’re doing to someone before you do it and get consent? “Honey, can I move on from touching your right breast and now touch your left?”  It could get a little ridiculous.

It’s a good idea, though. We’re always told “Never assume. It only makes and ASS out of You and Me” or, in this case, a rapist out of you and a rape victim out of me.

As you can see, though, that might not always be practical.

Let’s put that option for consent to the side now and consider some tricky situations. There’s the ever so popular “Morning Sex Situation” to consider. There’s a married couple. The husband has just woken up and feels like having sex. The wife is still asleep. They’ve had sex before, and have been married for years. The husband decides to have sex with his wife. His wife wakes up in the middle of the act, and doesn’t resist it. Is this rape?

The wife didn’t give consent. In fact, she was unconscious when entered. Yet we’re hesitant to call the husband a rapist. I mean, he’s her husband. BUT, granting the husband the “right” to do as he pleases with the wife (aka: when you say “I do” you’re consenting to whatever your husband wants to do for as long as you both shall live) isn’t something we want to agree with either. Maybe the part that clears him is that the wife didn’t resist. She didn’t exactly consent either, though. Okay, maybe she went along with it. Maybe she was tired and thought “Oh hey. Good morning to you too. Whatever, what the hell” (that’s about as coherent as I am in the morning). Maybe she decided resisting wasn’t worth the fight she’d end up having with him. Maybe it was better to just let him do his thing and then get on with her day. Maybe you can say she consented there. Maybe (you could also say her “consent” was coerced). You can’t say she consented when he first penetrated, though. So, did the husband rape his wife?

The coercion bit is interesting. There was one court case where a woman was attacked in an alley (if you REALLY care, I’ll dig out my notes on it and tell you when, where, and presided over by whom, but I’m not in the mood to dig up my notes now, so bear with me). Her assailant held her at gunpoint and told her to lead him to her home, and let him in. She could tell from the way she was being held that she would probably get raped. However, she was told that if she didn’t take him up to her apartment, she’d be shot. Her options were a) do as the man says (and most likely get robbed and raped), or b) refuse to do as he says and get killed. Did she consent?

The judge said she did.

I. KNOW. This was a couple of decades ago, but this argument is still used now and then. By doing what the man said, she “consented” to whatever he did to her. Therefore, you can’t charge the man with rape.

Here’s the thing, she didn’t consent. Consent cannot be coerced. It’s in the definition. Resigning yourself to your fate isn’t consent either. Why? Because consent is a choice. It is you willingly choosing to give up some of your rights. If you’re put in a position where your life is at stake, you can’t say you consented.

Yet some people say that’s a false dilemma. Maybe she could have resisted. Maybe the girl could have gone all Buffy Summers on his ass and freed herself.

Yeah. Uh huh. As much as I’d like to think that’s possible, it’s definitely not probable.

By resisting like that, the odds are she would have been choosing option B, thus forfeiting her right to life.

So, we’re back to square one. You can’t consent when coerced. Coercion can include a real threat to your life, or a threat to your livelihood (aka: you will be robbed, you will be fired, you will be forced to leave your home [the house, the city, the state, the country], etc.). I want to extend the definition of coercion to include a real threat to the life or livelihood of someone you greatly care about (husband, mother, brother, grandmother, best friend), even though that can get a little complicated.

The thing is, you shouldn’t have to trade anything very meaningful in order to avoid sexual intercourse.

That’s why the author of that letter said you had to explicitly consent to sexual intercourse. If it wasn’t coerced at all, then that “yes” puts you in the clear.

However, like I said, that’s a bit idealistic.

So, people want to say that other behaviors besides explicit consent count as consent. Such as not resisting. However, that has been proven to be a little wooly as well (like in the marriage case).

What about being “sexual?” So, wearing revealing clothing, standing in such a way as to broadcast your sexual identity, or even mentioning sex in conversation (jokes, discussions about the meaning of rape, etc.)? Are all Victoria’s Secret models consenting to have sex with anyone who sees them modeling the latest Angel’s line, just because they are “looking sexy?”

That would suck, because I look sexy all the time.

In all seriousness, though, do women (and men, though for the ease of this rant I will refer to women since only 8% of rape victims are men [not to imply that that isn’t still a significant amount of victims]) put themselves in situations where they tempt men to rape them? Can some of our actions be “asking for it?”

Let’s look back at the mugging case. She let her assailant into her apartment, knowing that she will probably be raped. We said she couldn’t have consented. She was coerced. However, the other side of the argument is that she allowed herself to get into that situation. She was in the dark alleyway, or walking close enough to be pulled in. She didn’t have an armored guard with her. She went into a private space alone with a possible rapist. Is she at all at fault?

In an ideal world, I’d say no. I should be able to walk down the most dangerous, poverty-stricken street in the world’s worst slum while wearing Barney Stinson’s diamond suite without having to worry about being robbed. I would be a major douche, but I wouldn’t have to worry about someone infringing upon my rights and robbing me.

We all know that’s not possible. The longer you wave the catnip toy in front of the cat the more likely it is that the cat will pounce.

What constitutes the metaphorical waving of the catnip toy, though?

Lots of people claim that a woman’s very existence is the tease. “She walked down this street,” “she talked to me,” “she accepted a drink,” “she wore a shirt that didn’t hide the fact that she had breasts,” etc.

Newsflash: MALE HUMANS–the fact that I have breasts and a vagina does not mean that they are yours for the taking.

Here’s the thing, if you say that subtle behaviors  such as-oh, I don’t know- existing count as teasing you/egging you on/waving of the catnip toy, and that because of this I deserve to be raped, then you’re claiming that you have no control over your actions.

If my walking down a street at night automatically makes me at fault for whatever might happen to me (in this case, rape), then there’s not something wrong with me, there’s something wrong with the world and the men in it.

I’ll admit: I try to avoid situations where bad things can happen. I don’t wear diamond suits in slums, I don’t walk down dangerous streets by myself at night, and I don’t leave my door unlocked when I go to bed. I know that I can’t rely on every human to have the same respect for basic moral principles as I do (or for them to not be in a situation where they need to break the law in order to survive [like Aladdin having to steal a loaf of bread]). However, when it comes to a crime such as rape, I take a different view.

Some rapists claim it is a compulsion they can’t control. I say it is an inability to recognize another member of your species and the rights they have. Any man who blatantly rapes a woman (so, in this case, I’m excluding the overly amorous husband situation) has some horrible inability to understand that a woman is still a human being with rights. There is never a situation where you HAVE to have sex with another human being. If you have to orgasm that badly, use your hand.

SO, while I won’t tempt fate, I also firmly believe that no behavior of mine besides spreading my legs and saying “come and get it” can be called “asking for it.” 

If men are honestly incapable of controlling their basic animal urges (aka: fighting the supposed compulsion), then I don’t know how they’ve been house-broken. If this is really the argument they want to use, then fine. We’ll agree. Let’s cage the beasts, strip them of their rights to vote and to operate machinery, and let them be the animals they claim to be. If you can’t stop yourself from having sex with anything that moves, then you can’t be trusted to do anything else. If you claim that the rest of your sex has the same problem, then the rest of your sex will be controlled as well.

Here’s the thing, though. All men aren’t like that. How do I know? I’ve lived among them. I know at least 5 guys that I could joke about sex with, accept a drink from, sit on a couch next to, and fall asleep in front of that would never, ever rape me

So, there’s not something wrong with all men, just some of them. I don’t know if they have something wrong with their brains, if they’re less developed, or if they somehow missed the memo that humans besides themselves have rights too, but I’m betting it’s the latter. These men have a sense of entitlement that includes other people. Other people are now just objects that they are allowed (and maybe in their minds, supposed) to use. I don’t know who to blame for this wrong idea. I do know it’s incorrect.

So, even though we haven’t worked out the subtleties of consent when it comes to rape, we have a general understanding of it. Enough to understand that if a woman wears provocative clothing, or even none at all, if she walks home alone at night, if she accepts a drink from someone, or if she even jokes about sex with someone, she still hasn’t given up her right to her body, and she still hasn’t consented to sexual intercourse. Thus, no matter what she’s done: whom she’s had sex with, how many people she’s been intimate with, or how little clothing she’s wearing, she hasn’t “asked for” anything- except the most basic form of respect.

Apparently, we’ll be asking for that for a long time.