Rape by Any Other Name is Still Rape

David Pittman examines the reasons we, as a society, try to soften the term “rape” by calling it by other names. 

I was sitting on the patio having my morning Coca-Cola, when I came across the most disturbing article title, Is it Rape or Incest? Giving Abuse a Politically Acceptable Name. I didn’t think I’d ever heard of a politically acceptable name for abuse. Have you?
I was compelled to read on. The author went on to say, “RAPE. In any other realm outside of a family member would be referred to by its justified name, rape. My daughter was raped at age 3. I don’t call it incest, I call it what it is, rape. Because it was done by a very trusted family member doesn’t change what happened. The act is the same. Whether it was a family member or complete stranger, rape is still rape. Being raped by someone in your family doesn’t make it less of a crime.”
Being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, this got me to thinking about the other monikers associated with “any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person “as defined by Webster’s as Rape. Some of the names we associate with it are, “Date-Rape”, “Molestation”, “Statutory Rape”, “Despoilment”, and I even used one when describing what happened to me as a little boy, “Abuse”.
What makes us want to alter the name depending on the circumstances of the act? Is it to make us, as the victims of crime, feel less ashamed or dirty? Good luck with that. I can tell you that won’t work. Is it to make us as individuals feel less threatened as we consider “what happens elsewhere” or “not in my backyard”? Or is it to make us, as a society, feel less of a failure for not protecting our most precious resource, our children?
Whatever the rationale, none of it matters because none of it works or is justified. As the author of the article and I discussed on her blog, Rape is Rape. Period. And if no penetration occurs, someone still takes away the sexual innocence of a child, so therefore it is still rape. As I said in response to her post and she agreed, we must quit calling things by what is “socially acceptable” and call a spade a spade. Shouldn’t we cease labelling these crimes as date-rape, statutory rape or any other watered-down version of the harsh reality? It’s ALL rape. Shouldn’t we do all we can to prevent rape in the first place and to support all survivors of all forms of this criminal act?
Ah, therein lies the rub. To DO something by its definition requires ACTION. And that’s a tough pill to swallow, especially with our busy schedules. Breakfast and lunches to fix for multiple kids, soccer practices and piano lessons, conference calls to Europe and Asia, and on and on…where on earth will we find the time? Want to know when? When, God forbid, it happens to one of ours. It seems as only then do we realize how important raising awareness is, because “if we had only known; and we sure don’t want anyone else to go through this”.
Here’s an idea from a really smart guy: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass said that some time ago, and it’s still true today. Let’s prevent rape before it happens.
Don’t know how? Take a look online and see how many groups out there for survivors of rape, domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse there are…trust me when I say, there is no end to the lists of organizations. Join one and help be a part of the solution.
That’s just one man’s opinion.
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About David Pittman

As the Executive Director of Together We Heal, David Pittman works to educate the public through speaking and collaborating with other groups to raise awareness and expose the sexual predator's methods. TWH now works with therapists, counselors and groups aiding both men and women in their efforts to heal, grow and thrive. He is also the South Florida Area Support Group Leader for SNAP, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Comments

  1. I understand and agree with your point that some people may want to use a different term to make the crime seem less horrible than it is. Having said that, I do think there are different levels and degrees to a crime. For example, to say something like “theft is theft” is true, but we should be able to distinguish between a person who stole food to feed a family and a person who stole millions of dollars by defrauding shareholders. In the same way, rape is rape, but I do think we should be able to distinguish between one person physically and sexually assaulting another person and a freshman and senior in high school having “consensual” sex. Now having said that, I encourage people to get active and join organizations that treat ALL potential victims with compassion and dignity.

  2. I agree that all potential victims should be protected and preventions should be put in place. In my opinion, respect is the biggest form of communication. It works with any age, gender, or setting. By learning from other situations and circustances we can formulate a way to prevent. For example, the person who raped my daughter was my oldest son. Was it difficult to learn this? It was the darkest day of my life. I felt I was grieving a death, literally. The pain was unbearable in learning she had been raped, going through her surgery to repair her damaged little body, helping her recover the attack, and also learning my son was a monster and hurt someone so small and innocent and so close to him. We hold him responsible, it’s caused a lot of problems within our families. Sitting across a court room with my son shackled and having to go through the process of punishing him was harder than I expected it to be. The night I learned what had been happening I could have killed him. The rage that flooded every inch of my being after the initial shock and horror was unreal. I can honestly say it’s a good thing he wasn’t home when I found out. I have also found it’s maternally impossible to choose between your children. I love both of my children and because of unconditional love I learned that my son needed treatment as well as punishment. Something in him broke, this was a child I suddenly didn’t know. I wasn’t familiar with this dark side of him. We began treatment for our family, later we stared attending his. Through that we learned he was also a victim. As a parent, watching my children suffer in ways I was not familiar with was disheartening to say the least. Unimagineable. So long story short, we are working on both of their healing, together, as a family, as a support to them both. I cannot tell you that I’ll ever not have hurt and disgusted feelings toward my son, that may never leave me, but for the sake of giving him a chance at normalcy again I work through that. For my daughter’s sake as well, I don’t want her to see us acting in hatred and allowing that to guide our path. This will not define us, this will help us define our future. My son is only 15. My daughter is now 4. They both have their entire lives ahead of them, not to mention the other 2 siblings they have. This crime effects the entire family. This nearly tore us to shreds but because we have the ability to distinguish, as you say, between levels and intensity of crime, we can move on. We can prevent another victim in our family and hopefully other families in our healing journey. We want to keep both of their dignity in tact. Because in the end we know this will not define who they are, only they can do that.

  3. Thank you Rachel and Yoda for your comments. As I said to the author of the article that inspired me to write this, I believe that the way to increase dialogue is through our speech and writing, and from dialogue comes action, and action results in change. This is how we become better as people and as a society. Only when we engage in open honest discussion can progress be made. I appreciate your candor.

  4. You forgot one. When done to a boy by a grown woman, it is called “He is so lucky”

    • Aspire…interesting that 1) you chose to make your comment cloaked in anonymity, and 2) after reading this article, what you decided to take the time to respond with was how you found humor in this topic. I only hope you “aspire” to be a better person than your words tend to reveal you to be.

      • stromdal says:

        David: I interpreted “Aspire’s” comment entirely different: When a boy is raped by a grown woman he is supposed to feel lucky and be proud of what happened, even though it actually is rape. This boils down to the “fact” that a man is always ready for and willing to have sex. I found no intended humour in Aspire’s comment.

        • Stromdel, if your interpretation is correct, then I am only slightly less saddened that is still a prevailing thought, versus my previous perception that the comment was made in jest. Perhaps this is a good explanation, however why we need to have this very conversation. Old thoughts and mindsets in dire need of change.

  5. Shouldn’t we cease labelling these crimes as date-rape, statutory rape or any other watered-down version of the harsh reality?
    I think one of the hardest obstacles (and possibly one of the reasons we have so many terms for it in the first place) is going to be the legal system itself.

    In the legal system rape is suddenly broken down into:
    Rape
    Sexual assault
    Aggrevated sexual assault
    Molestation
    Statutory rape
    Indecent liberties with a minor
    Sex acts with a minor
    Sexual battery
    ……

    I’d wager that some of these terms are meant to give a more detailed telling of what happened (like the difference between a grown woman having sex with a 13 year old boy and it being called statutory rape and a grown woman having sex with a grown man against his will is called sexual assault). But these detailed tellings have now permeated the system to the point where they each separate criminal charges and carry different sentences.

    • Danny, first let me say thank you for adding to the conversation. An intelligent dialogue was a primary reason for my writing this article. But another was not an attempt to change the wording of laws, but rather our mindset on what many, including myself, believe to be a feeling that acts of violence criminally labelled as molestation and abuse are somehow less than what we define to be rape. I agree with you that in some cases, the intent was to give a more detailed difference. What I feel has happened however, that some have relegated these as less of a crime. That was the meaning behind my, rape is rape, statement. As the son of a retired cop and being an adult who understands there is difference in levels of criminality, my desire is that we don’t lose sight of what has happened and the severity of the act. Thank you again for helping to be a part if this conversation.

      • What I feel has happened however, that some have relegated these as less of a crime.
        Agreed. What I wonder is is there some link between the mindset of the people and the wording of the law. As in does the mindset of the people influence the law, does the law influence the mindset of the people, or do they both influence each other?

        What I think you’ll run into (and I really should have been more clear about this in the first comment) when trying to change the mindset of the people is a resistance that will be backed by the wording of the law. (Like when people try to argue that a man raping a woman is worse than a woman raping a man so a woman raping a man isn’t as serious of a crime or that it isn’t as grand of a violation.)

        • Danny, I think the point you make is valid and one I had not considered. Especially once I read some of the other comments made here. This resistance that you speak of has been made all too clear to me. I honestly had no idea that some would provide a level of push-back that I felt bordered on believing exactly what you described, that a woman raping a man is less of a crime than a man raping a woman. Do you think this mindset has a socioeconomical factor behind it, or is more of a generational issue? I am still trying to ascertain this myself. Your input would be greatly appreciated.

          • And for a real world example of this playing out check out what’s recently happened in India in regards to rape statutes.

            http://toysoldier.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/a-sad-day-for-male-rape-victims-in-india/

            So if it’s male against female its rape but if its any other arrangement it is “unnatural sex and related activity”.

            (And to make it even more odd and sad, it was women’s advocates that pushed for this sexist definition.)

            This is what you are up against.

            I school of thought that has decided that the “who” is taking precedent over the “what/where/when/why/how” of the situation when determining if it is rape. Not only if it is rape but which assaults are worse than others.

            Thanks for hearing me out and I wish you the best of luck.

            • Could that be because India is not where the US in terms of homophobia? Because the groups of women are in a panic given how much resistance they’ve gotten from the government? No, I’m sure it’s because women are just awful horrible people. That’s got to be it, all of them, monolithically.

              Listen, male rape is real, they have to start dealing it and this whole “unnatural against the order of nature” business and that’s gonna take YEARS, decades. And they also have to deal with the male on female rape issue that they have cause it’s huge too.

              I’m sorry they can’t do it at the same time, it’s a shame, but there is a cultural resistance to accepting gay sexuality in play that’s probably even farther behind than feminism.

              We can look at complexities, and frankly I’m not even qualified to speak on or at India (not being a woman of color from India), or we can say, yeah, women are evil and don’t want men supported. There’s more than that going on, probably because of the things I noted and loads of other things, and also…fear.

              That’s not an excuse, but it’s a place to look at at least.

            • Could that be because India is not where the US in terms of homophobia? Because the groups of women are in a panic given how much resistance they’ve gotten from the government?
              I’ve been told that intent doesn’t matter plenty of times. The problem isn’t why they advocated to prevent rape laws from becoming gender neutral. The problem is that they advocated to prevent rape laws from becoming gender neutral.

              No, I’m sure it’s because women are just awful horrible people. That’s got to be it, all of them, monolithically.
              Nah it’s not that widespread. (Oh my tongue bleeds from biting back the sarcasm.)

              We can look at complexities, and frankly I’m not even qualified to speak on or at India (not being a woman of color from India), or we can say, yeah, women are evil and don’t want men supported. There’s more than that going on, probably because of the things I noted and loads of other things, and also…fear.
              Who said anything about women being evil and don’t want men supported? And besides not only are males that have been raped being left out of this but also females that have been raped by females as well.

              I think this very much points to what David is getting at. Where the reality of what rape is is distorted to the point where the act itself takes a backseat to other things. Where the gender identity of the person being violated actually takes precedence over what was done to them.

              I’m all for getting down to why those people advocated for this.

            • Julie, as I told Danny, I want to first say thank you. Thank you for giving us a woman’s perspective and for bringing up what I think is the true, underlying, mitigating factor in all of the push-back we’ve read from others here and from lawmakers, both at home and abroad….FEAR. It seems that fear of homosexuality, fear of acknowledging the reality of an abusive culture, fear of women, I could go on and on listing out all of the fears involved, but I think you hit the nail squarely on the head by exposing the real issue underneath this all…it’s just plain fear. Thank you for helping me to see what I did not previously when writing this article. Peace be with you.

            • Danny, thank you for sharing this information. Sadly just when we think we have, as a society, taken one step forward…we take 5 leaps back-asswords! You are right, this IS what we are up against. Often feels like its spitting into the wind. But that’s all the more reason to keep doing what we do. Thank you for your insight and comments.

  6. soullite says:

    It happens more often the other way — calling relatively minor acts (groping, cat-call or a non-sexual punch) ‘sexual assault’. I rarely see people calling ‘rape’, say, ‘indecent exposure’. I see a lot of calling, say, public urination ‘indecent exposure’.

    I don’t see this problem in the real world. I only see it in the fevered imaginations of the professionally aggrieved. We need fewer reasons to lock men up and throw away the key. The last thing this country needs is more of them.

    • Soullite, having been “groped” by a serial child molester and being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse – that meaning I was assaulted/raped from the time I was 12 until 15, it appears as though we see things differently. And I wish I had your perception and I’m thankful you’ve not had my experience. And if any men do these acts, they do need to be locked up so they won’t do it to any other children. Thank you for providing the thought process behind a different perspective.

      • soullite says:

        What does any of that have to do with what I actually wrote? All you did there was change the subject. You didn’t respond to a single thing I said.

        If you want to be taken seriously, I suggest that you take others seriously. Stop battling straw men. Stop injecting irrelevant BS. Cut the scare quotes out of it, and stop trying to make this about you. If you wanted the discussion to be about your specific circumstances, then you should have written an article about that. You should not, however, try to twist other people’s comments so that you can talk about something you didn’t write an article about.

        Nobody said that men who molested children shouldn’t be in jail. I said that men who urinate on sidewalks shouldn’t be put on child molesting registries. Clearly, you disagree. You just lack the courage or ability to do so, so instead you changed the subject.

        • Soullite, since there has been a clear breakdown of communication I will make this response simpler so as not to confuse. I will take a line by line approach. You stated that “it happens more often the other way”, and “stop making this about me”. When I gave my personal experience I was not attempting to make it about me, I was simply using my own experience that refers to the empirical data from the CDC and NIH that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18. When you said that “you don’t see this problem in the real world”, I refer back to the previous statistic of the very real world of abuse that exists in our country. Unfortunately so many people, i.e., the Catholic Church, Penn State University, as just two examples of too many to list here, have kept their heads in the sand on this issue that is all too real. I hope this has been clear enough as to not be perceived as changing the subject. And nowhere did I say or infer that men who urinate on sidewalks be put on registries the same as those who molest children. That is not my belief. I hope this has cleared up any misunderstandings that I may have given previously. This subject is too serious and too important for frivolous name calling and opinion being cast out as fact.

        • Since there were some instances where my words were either misunderstood or just twisted, I thought it best to give an example of a real person, a woman who can speak truth and wisdom more so than most because she has lived what we have only been talking in theory. Her name is Patricia Singleton and I asked if I could quote her. Her response and blog follows.

          D.P. – Patricia, i have written an article that was published at The Good Men Project, and sadly there are some who I am not able to explain myself clearly. Would you mind if i quoted you so i can share with others the perspective of a survivor of incest/rape?

          P.S. – Dave feel free to share my words & my story with my name. I don’t speak anonymously because I am a real person & the incest & my pain was real.

          P.S. – Yes, rape is rape and incest is rape. It took someone else telling me that incest was rape for me to take it in. When I first started taking about being sexually abused by my dad, I didn’t know what incest was. I had never heard the word. I went from saying I had been sexually abused by my dad to calling myself an incest survivor. It took a friend telling me that I had been raped for me to make that connection. I saw rape as being physically violent and after the first time, mine wasn’t, in my mind. Each time that it happened I went inside my mind rather than staying and feeling the pain of being a child who was raped by her dad for 6 years. Today, like you, I can say that incest is rape. Rape does make it more real to me and to others.

          http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com/

    • Soul lite, in response to your “I don’t see this problem in the real world” statement, here’s some facts for you to consider, real world facts – http://www.invisiblechildren.org/2013/03/07/americas-child-abuse-problem-from-child-help/ – hope this helps.

  7. As the main topic seems to be words/phrases that minimize rape, I’d like to add four that drive me nuts and make me angry: “the Sandusky sex scandal” and the advocacy terms “child sexual abuse” and “child sex trafficking”, and finally, “molestation” (when used in place of the word rape).

    Now, I’ll address them backwards: News reports that say a child was “molested” when the child was clearly penetrated and raped. Is this a legal terms muddled issue, like Danny suggested? To me, it’s all rape, agreeing with you, David. But if “molested” legally means “touched” (no penetration) why does the news say “molest” when penetration rape did occur? I see this as a deflection, like you said David, a “softening term”. I don’t get into “this abuse is worse than that abuse” as it can all damage and impair for life. Yet this “let’s soften it for the public” BS makes me nuts. The public needs to grasp that the perp raped a child (in cases with and without penetration) so that they don’t end up on juries that acquit the rapist of a child because they think a bit of therapy can make them “stop touching kids”.

    I’m stuck with both of the advocacy terms because those are the “official terms”. But I object to the word “sex” and “sexual” in them. It should be “child rape” and “child rape trafficking”. Sex is not rape and rape is not sex. A pedophile doesn’t “have sex with” a five-year-old boy or girl. He or she raped them. I realize I’m essentially arguing semantics, but I think “rape isn’t sex” is a very important point to make, especially to victimized children. Teach them, “You were a victim of sex abuse” and then they get an intimate partner as an adult and the word “sex” is already tainted. My child rapes have seriously messed me up in my struggles with adult consensual sex, in some part, because both were called “sex”. That may be clear as mud….

    Time to pick on the news media again. For me, this is a whopper: “Sandusky Sex Scandal”. Sandusky raped boys. A lot of boys, with both touching and penetration. It was rape. A “sex scandal” would be if Sandusky had a sexual affair with somebody else’s wife. “Sex Scandal” diminishes, distorts, and sanitizes the horrific rapes those boys endured. Another example is “the Catholic Sex Scandals”. A Catholic sex scandal is catching priests having sex with nuns, or some other “not supposed to” sex. Raping children is not a “sex scandal”. Yet the news media (of all forms and regions) seems to insist on slanting it that way.

    Anyhow, just wanted to add that to this discussion. The news media can and does influence how society views these things. It seems anathema to me too, that the media usually seeks the stronger and more shocking (and issue-selling) headline. So why do they downplay “Sandusky Child Rape Case” to “Sex Scandal”? Getting down to basics, the word “scandal” in this usage is horrific. Rape isn’t sex. Sex isn’t rape – and rape is not a “scandal”… it’s horrifying crime.

    • I don’t get into “this abuse is worse than that abuse” as it can all damage and impair for life. Yet this “let’s soften it for the public” BS makes me nuts.
      While I agree that softening for the public does happen I’m still of the mind that a lot of it is straight hierarchy. There is a desire to hold up some sex crimes above others. Why? For political points? Activists looking out for their own? Who knows.

      A pedophile doesn’t “have sex with” a five-year-old boy or girl. He or she raped them. I realize I’m essentially arguing semantics, but I think “rape isn’t sex” is a very important point to make, especially to victimized children.
      While I agree that the public needs to firmly grasp and understand what the perp did I think it may be a bit too far to say that rape is not sex. I’d say its a very specific type of sex though. I think that to say that “the teacher had sex with the child” instead of “the teacher raped the child” is softening

      But I’ll add another in there. How many times have you see a female teacher/male student rape called a “fling” or “affair”?

    • W.R.R.,
      One of the most enjoyable moments I get when reading comments is when I am taught, inspired or in any way further educated about the topic I chose to write. And in this instance you have done all three. I won’t bore the readers by re-listing out what you have already spoken on so susinctly, but I will say this…thank you. Thank you for putting a MUCH finer point to what was already being said and in a way that cut to the heart of the matter. Many, many thanks!!!

  8. @ Danny: I’ve seen “female teacher rapes male student” called an “affair” and the boy called “lucky” far too often. I may have to agree with you about hierarchy. I know what you’re saying, but I prefer to think that rape is a crime that uses sex as its means, its vehicle, if you will. Of course, the same body parts are involved, and some of the mechanics. As a raped child told it was time to provide sex, though, it has been a trigger problem at times when an intimate partner says, “Let’s have sex.” I often wish my abusers had called it something else. As I am, the word has been tainted. This is just one of the problems survivors like me can face in the adult consensual bedroom. (Off-topic, I’ve often admired your efforts elsewhere on the hierarchy topic, and I appreciate your efforts.)

    • W.R.R./Danny,
      I’m with you on this W. Like you, I understand what Danny is saying, however, due to the symantics and vernacular we use in everyday language regarding sex, I believe it’s essential to differentiate sex from rape, if for no other reason, so that those of us who are or become eventual victims of the crime have a better chance of having some chance at a more normal, loving sexual relationship down the road. Also like yourself, because of the crimes perpetrated against me, I have had the same challenges with intimacy and if only what had happened been called what it was, Rape, then maybe, just maybe, I would have had that opportunity. That’s not to say its a given, but it wouldve been nice to see if it were the case. As it stands now, and with so many others, we’re “screwed” … Pun intended…

      Now with all that being said, the REAL reason why I and I believe you W.R.R. want these crimes to be called what they really are is for the benefit of the victims and so the perpetrators can be punished in accordance with what would be a more appropriate punitive penalty. (say that ten time fast)

      And if this were done, these predators would be locked up for longer periods of time, with less chances to harm more children. Just one mans opinion. And I thank you Danny and W for yours!

    • WRR:
      I know what you’re saying, but I prefer to think that rape is a crime that uses sex as its means, its vehicle, if you will.
      I can see that line of thought. A while back on a post around here somewhere I commented that rape was a way of the rapist telling the victim, “I’m going to exercise my power over you by making you perform of the most private, personal acts of all….and you can’t stop me.”

      As a raped child told it was time to provide sex, though, it has been a trigger problem at times when an intimate partner says, “Let’s have sex.” I often wish my abusers had called it something else.
      I am sorry for what you went through and I think it explains the way we are may view rape. Unlike you I have never been raped.

      This is just one of the problems survivors like me can face in the adult consensual bedroom. (Off-topic, I’ve often admired your efforts elsewhere on the hierarchy topic, and I appreciate your efforts.)
      And I’m glad you are speaking up about it because it is a perspective that some real living rape survivors have and therefore it must be taken into account. If efforts to help rape survivors are dominated by a single, and thus limited, perspective on what rape is and what it does to people then it can possibly do more harm to some survivors than good.

      Again thanks for speaking up.

  9. That’s exactly right, David; calling it rape (without the sanitizing and watering down cover terms) should, I hope, start to change sentencing for child rapists. We need to get rid of the statute of limitations for rape, too. By the time I was even able to consider being strong enough to report or not, I was past the Texas statute of limitations. Children brutalized by rape, especially those who received no help until years or decades later, often take many years to be able to report and deal with the fallout and legal steps afterward. Those who report need a lot of support, too. I often say, what is the point in surviving to report if the act of doing so brings so much trauma and revictimization that the survivor is overwhelmed and considers, or commits, suicide? (People who push for reporting without knowing if the person is ready or able, also commit abuse, in my opinion.) We definitely need life sentences for child rapists. Most psychology experts agree that they cannot be “cured” and the rate at which most of them reoffend if let out is appalling. We also need to crack down on churches protecting and moving child rapist clergy. Prevention is far better than trying to fix abuse damage afterward. “It can’t happen to my kid” is dangerous ignorance.

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