Redefining Rape – For Men and Women

In light of news stories about Vanessa Williams’ abuse at the hands of a female, and a police officer raping a woman at gunpoint, Zek J. Evets thinks we all need to get involved in redefining rape.

I recently read this article in the New York Daily News released on April 1st. It’s about the trial of former police officer Michael Pena, who was convicted of predatory sexual assault against a woman he had orally and anally molested at gunpoint. However, because there was no vaginal penetration, Pena wasn’t convicted of rape. [Trigger Warning]

Let me repeat, because there was no vaginal penetration there could be no charge of rape.

No, this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. This really happened. The author, David Handschuh put it like this:

“[T]he current penal law sets two standards. To convict someone of first-degree oral or anal sexual assault, prosecutors need only show “contact” between the attacker and the victim. But when the charge is rape, prosecutors must prove that there was “penetration, however slight.” Simple vaginal “contact” is “sexual abuse,” a much lower category of crime.”

He goes on to mention how the jury refused to convict Pena of rape because the prosecution was unable to prove penetration.

“Even though the victim testified that she had been penetrated. Even though two witnesses supported the woman’s account. Even though Pena’s semen was found in her underwear. Even though a doctor testified to injuries consistent with rape.”

♦◊♦

This story reminds me of the struggles male victims of rape go through, especially those who were raped by women. Most people believe that for men, erection equals consent. Most people, especially the kids of Middle America, believe that oral and anal sex don’t really count. Most people are only too willing to discredit victims of sexual crimes, no matter their gender. Under these kinds of cultural stereotypes, I have to ask: what is rape then? Is rape just a strange man in the bushes attacking women who’ve wandered into dark corners? Is that what it takes to be raped these days?

I know men who were enveloped unwillingly; who were raped by mothers, aunts, sisters, girlfriends and wives. Vanessa Williams, of brown M&M fame, has revealed that she was molested by an 18 year-old family friend named Susan when she was 10 years-old. For the record, Susan is a woman, a gender supposedly incapable of rape according to many.

But because there was no penetration in these cases, because they weren’t penetrated, society has stipulated that it wasn’t rape. Really? For real? … For really real? In the words of the late great Kurt Vonnegut, “welcome to the monkey house.” Meanwhile, their abusers get off easy with lighter sentences or, in the case of female offenders, often no sentence at all.

It wasn’t long ago that current Federal law defined rape as: “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will”, and this has been in use since the 1920′s. Under this law, the scenarios I mentioned above are mere sexual assault or harassment. Under this law men could not even be raped — male victims did not exist, legally. It was only recently this year that public pressure forced a change in the law to include forcible anal or oral penetration, the penetration of the vagina or anus with an object or other body part, the rape of a man, or the rape of a woman by another woman into the legal definition the crime. However, this has yet to take effect.

In the meantime, how do we change this reductive and debunked view of rape in our society? How do we—as Masculists or Feminists or just plain people—change the terrible ways in which rape is defined?

♦◊♦

I knew a teenage girl who refused to believe men were capable of being raped by a woman. When I told her the stories about Mary Kay Letourneau, Debra Lafave, and certain Zimbabwean women who even went as far as to steal semen in addition to gang-raping men. She said to me, “that doesn’t count.”

I’ve known grown men who are more likely to believe in UFOs or Bigfoot than some woman who says she was raped. (For the record: UFOs and Bigfoot are real.) They laugh at these women’s stories and slap each others’ backs while calling themselves “good Christian folk”.

Unlike almost any other crime, rape is one in which our private notions of gender, sexuality, and personal responsibility become politicized to the point of oppression. Because of the overwhelming stigmas projected upon rape victims, there are no accurate numbers to describe them. We can only hazard a guess at the sheer amount of Americans who’ve been raped in their lifetime. These uncounted survivors are true subalterns in every sense of the word.

For male victims, it’s like living a double-life, with no resources, no recognition, and no support from the greater whole of American society. Rape-activists regularly discredit men who say they’ve been raped by women, in addition to societal jokes designed to emasculate and shame which results in ultimately silencing these already oppressed men. These factors result in the smallest fraction of male victims coming forward to talk about their experiences, which paradoxically results in greater ignorance supporting the stereotype that men cannot be raped, are not raped, and let’s move on to talking about women shall we? Such actions are ironic among Feminist rape-activists, who passionately protest them in what’s called American “rape culture”.

For the survivor of Pena’s “predatory sexual assault”, society is only just beginning to recognize the further unnecessary suffering she was put through after having already survived rape. For male victims, the road ahead seems far bleaker and uncertain. But you don’t need a dictionary to know this: we need to redefine rape. As Masculists, we have a responsibility to our brothers and our sisters to prevent occurrences like in the offense of Michael Pena from happening to anyone.

So write your congressional representative. Write the President. Write to your local politicians. Write to your local police station. Write to your local newspaper. Write to rape-activist groups in your area. Start petitions. Make flyers. Form a support group. Do whatever you can, because each small pebble placed will eventually build a bridge across this precipice.

Photo: AP/Schalk van Zuydam

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About Zek J. Evets

Here's my bio: Zek J. Evets is a Writer. Musician. Artist. Anthropologist. Melancholic. Pessoptimist. Troubadour. Doodler. People-Watcher. Urban Explorer. Hopeful-Romantic. Pataphysician. Saboteur Academic. Now ten odd-jobs, seven near-death experiences, and three college degrees later Zek enjoys playing saxophone in the Oakland apartment he shares with his girlfriend, while working as a writer in the Bay Area. He blogs at zekjevets.blogspot.com

Comments

  1. Anthony Zarat says:

    “.. activists regularly discredit men ..”

    I do not think the word “regularly” is true any more. It was true 10 years ago, but not any more.

    I would use the word “sometimes”. Which is still bad.

    “… write your congressional representative ..”

    Asking for what? I am on your side here, but your message is not clear. At least, I can’t figure it out. The last thing you EVER want to do is tell a politician “do something about this!” Tell them exactly WHAT to do about it, or we might get another VAWA.

    Here is the most important thing that I think is missing in this debate: recognize the near-orthogonality of victims and perpetrators.

    1) There can be victims without perpetrators. In this case, healing and support are critical, but punishment is not. Two inebriated 15 year olds may BOTH feel like victims the next day, and both should be treated as such. Neither gave proper consent, and both may feel violated.
    2) There can be potential perpetrators without victims. A person who routinely engages in risky boundary-testing may find 99 willing partners before causing injury to the 100th. Promoting good practices is a good thing, even when no one has been hurt yet.
    3) Even when there is both a victim and a perpetrator, appropriate punishmen will require a more nuanced view than just “consent/non-consent”. Consent is an absolute, but perception of consent is not. I wish this were not true, but it is. Some perpetrators need to go to prison for 20 years, others need to go to jail for 20 weeks.

    • Zek J. Evets says:

      Anthony,

      I do not think the word “regularly” is true any more. It was true 10 years ago, but not any more.

      In my experience regularly is actually true. Especially in the Bay Area, unfortunately. The victim meta-narrative is strong here.

      Asking for what? I am on your side here, but your message is not clear. At least, I can’t figure it out.

      Haha, that’s kinda the idea, in a sense. I don’t want to presume to tell people what they should say to their own elected representatives. The point is to be active in communicating with them so they can hear your voice — because silence is very, very rarely speech.

      That said, your 3 points that you outlined in your comment are well-put. Perhaps you should write an article on it! (Or send print it into a flyer/petition for distribution?)

      • “In my experience regularly is actually true. Especially in the Bay Area, unfortunately.”

        Much as I love San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area, I gotta admit it’s a bit nuts in a lot of ways. I’m not saying this is one of them, because I’m not familiar enough with this aspect of the culture in the Bay Area. What I am saying is that, with pretty much everything, you kind of can’t take your experiences in that area and superimpose them onto the rest of the country.

        That’s true for everywhere, really…but I’d say it’s particularly true for that little corner of California.

        • Heather,

          Haha, indeed it is! I’m fine with that, because I still love it, but I’m hyper aware (having previously moved from the ultra-conservative Orange County in SoCal) of the ways in which the BA has its own brands of prejudice and ignorance.

          However your point is well-taken. I do often superimpose my experiences, which I’m always working on by trying incorporate the lived experiences of others (P.S. I love using that phrase, “lived experience”) into my knowledge base.

          • Holy crap…from Orange County to the Bay Area. Woah. Talk about a huge change! It’s like I moved from a small town in the Central Coast (of California) to NYC. Took a bit of adjustment too, lol.

  2. I do hope the definition gets a well deserved update, penetration and envelopment at least need to be included.

  3. I have to say, I do welcome the actions of Ms Vanessa Williams in telling her story.

    In dealing with sexual abuse/rape survivors there has been a long standing issue, for many women who were sexually abused and raped by other women, of there being No One who spoke out on the subject – No One who was a Public Figure Survivor. That has now changed.

    Ms Williams has finally filled that gap in the lives of many women. I have great respect for her courage and wish her well.

    I have been contacted by quite a few women who have expressed both relief – and a certain form of joy that only comes from there being public recognition that your personal reality is in fact real. Denial of their truths as abuse and rape survivors has been a long standing issue that now has some opportunity for closure.

    The Politicisation of rape and abuse has caused much damage, disrespect and suffering, with the people responsible still needing to be held to account.

    As for “.. activists regularly discredit men ..”, I have to agree with the use of “Regularly”, and to it I would also add Routinely, Unthinkingly, Uncritically and even Inhumanly.

    To it I also add that such deniers have acted to abuse Female Survivors too – where the perpetrator has been Female.

    There is a specific mindset in some activists(?) that is so denial driven, any opportunity that arises is grasped and even sought out for their peculiar views and lack of reality to be made manifest by any means. Their conduct has been and remains antisocial and inhuman.

    I also welcome Ms Williams Coming Out as it also acts to stop such deniers, who have yet more reality to deal with!

    Ms Williams actions and courage will do much to empower both female and male survivors of abuse and rape. Brava Ms Williams – Brava!

  4. Zek, these are the new definitions since just after Christmas.

    “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

  5. Eoghan,

    Thanks for that info. It seems consistent with the NY law, however it still leaves out quite a lot I see. No mention of envelopment, or a reverse of “oral penetration by a sex organ of another person,” because women do give oral without consent. In fact, penetration of any kind still leaves out quite a lot because sex includes way more than just penetration.

  6. trying this again.

    That’s by design Zek, the definitions were designed by 2wave radical feminist groups.

  7. wellokaythen says:

    I think the article uses “for the record” a little too confidently. When it compares women rapists with UFO’s and Bigfoot, the use of the phrase does not help the argument, in my opinion.

    Yes, UFO’s do literally exist, because there are literally unidentified flying objects in the sky. In fact, the less I know about weather and aviation, the more likely these things will be unidentified to me. The more ignorant the observer, the more likely the observer will see a UFO. That is the simple logic of the “unidentified” part. Whether these sights are all unidentified AND flying AND objects is less clear, and much less clear that they are from other planets. (For the record: not everything you see in the sky is actually “flying” or an “object,” e.g., a laser light show is not flying, and laser light is not precisely an object.)

    Bigfoot does exist. As an icon. He/it is a recognizable entity, common enough that he/it can be a mascot and a source of humor. Bigfoot exists at least as much as Santa Claus exists, and for the record I see a hundred Santas every Christmas…. (I think it’s odd that Bigfoot is almost universally gendered as male. What’s up with that? Sexism? The hazy, jerky film footage makes it hard to tell, to me, whether the person is wearing a male or female Sasquatch suit.)

    The larger point stands, however. Anyone who can touch another person is capable of sexual assault. It makes no sense for anyone to think that women are simply incapable of rape or to think that men are by definition not victims of rape.

    • Wellokaythen,

      I’m confused. Is your comment about UFOs and Bigfoot, or redefining rape? I’m sorry but I’m not sure I follow the semantical progression. Moreover, I’m not comparing women rapists to UFOs OR Bigfoot. I was comparing the belief in UFOs and Bigfoot to believing victims of rape. (I wasn’t even talking about female rapists in that paragraph, haha!)

      That said, my ‘”for the record” regarding UFOs and Bigfoot was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since you didn’t seem to notice ; )

      But enough of that, what do you think about the topic?

  8. coffee_queen says:

    Hi!
    Great article. Totally agree with 99% of it: the lack of a social script accepting that females can rape other females and males is so horrible, because it leaves the victims of female rapists suffering in shame, silence, and erasure.

    My only complaint was this: “These factors result in the smallest fraction of male victims coming forward to talk about their experiences, which paradoxically results in greater ignorance supporting the stereotype that men cannot be raped, are not raped, and let’s move on to talking about women shall we? Such actions are ironic among Feminist rape-activists, who passionately protest them in what’s called American “rape culture”.” – Please do not assume that all Feminist rape-activists are not interested in hearing and helping male victims of rape. I am an egalitarian-feminist rape activist in-the-works (haven’t yet found an organization to attach myself to as yet) and I care very deeply about male victims. Maybe I’m just an odd one out, but I’m sure there are other self-identified feminists who also care. Implying that all Feminists care only about women is unfair, in my mind. Sure, I can agree that a lot of feminist rape activists care ONLY about female victims (which personally I find frustrating), but just because most x do y doesn’t mean all x do y, you know? I hope that makes sense. :\ I guess what I’m saying is not all feminists are evil male-victim haters. :)

    Anyway, I also feel a little lost as to how to write to congress people etc., having never actually done any activism before (social justice n00b, haha, but we gotta start somewhere no?). I’m the type of person who seriously needs outlines and guidelines for these sorts of things. Like, models and examples of good letters that grab the attention and spur the reader to action. My background is in academic literature analysis so persuasive writing at the Average Jean level is something I’m not quite good at yet. :)

    So good article, agree very much that it’s wonderful for high-profile people to speak out about their experiences of being victimized by women, and major AGREE that definitions of rape need to be changed so that all victim-survivors receive the validation and support and healing they deserve and need.

    :)

    • Coffee_queen,

      Whew! Your comments are always so long and deep that I rarely get the opportunity to adequately respond. But let me try…

      Please do not assume that all Feminist rape-activists are not interested in hearing and helping male victims of rape. I am an egalitarian-feminist rape activist in-the-works (haven’t yet found an organization to attach myself to as yet) and I care very deeply about male victims.

      Don’t worry I don’t! =) I have a general perception that has been supported by my experience and those of many other men, but I am not so hypocritical to assume that every Feminist rape-activist is not interested in male-victims. That said, I admit to my own suspicion when I hear Feminists talking about rape, because my experience has often led to disappointment as male victims are denigrated or demeaned. It’s hard to let go of a prejudice which has been learned this way as opposed to one formed through ignorance or bigotry.

      Anyway, I also feel a little lost as to how to write to congress people etc., having never actually done any activism before (social justice n00b, haha, but we gotta start somewhere no?). I’m the type of person who seriously needs outlines and guidelines for these sorts of things

      If you send me your email I can provide you with some materials. Or, conversely, just go to any website dedicated to social justice, like DailyKOS or change.org, and you can create your own petition. Contact mensactivism.org and they can supply you with educational materials and draft letters. I prefer to write my own, but MRM activist groups can easily provide you with many kinds, and you can edit them to suit your own purposes.

      Anyhoo, thanks again for your comment!

    • “I am an egalitarian-feminist rape activist in-the-works (haven’t yet found an organization to attach myself to as yet) and I care very deeply about male victims. Maybe I’m just an odd one out, but I’m sure there are other self-identified feminists who also care. Implying that all Feminists care only about women is unfair, in my mind. ”

      It is unfair and inaccurate.

      And let’s remember something really crucial – without feminists’ insistence on the formulation that rape is sex without consent, we wouldn’t even be talking about male rape victims. Not even talking about them. we wouldn’t even be having the conversation. Feminsts gave us the vocabulary for this.

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        Thanks for caring, but there’s alot wrong with that.

        He’s not implying that all feminists feel that way, he’s saying that alot do. It’s really important to call them out.

        I don’t think it’s reasonable to say to a masculist that he should be thankful to feminism for his (philosophical) existence. Men’s rights issues are their own reality and men and women would have found a way to talk about them with or without feminism.

        On top of that the sex without consent model has been pretty troublesome at times, for instance: “yes means yes” as a measure of guilt or “believe the victim” campaigns have done some pretty serious harm.

        Personally I’d like to think we can do better.

  9. I totally agree with this article, its one of the problems i have with equal rights, rape doesn’t seem to consider men as a victim ever.

    Surely if a woman gives him a viagra pill and forces him to have sex its rape? if a guy told the police of this he would be laughed at of the station

    its the same as stalking laws, if a man stalks his exs house the police would be there in minutes but if a woman stalked her ex husband they wouldn’t take it seriously.

    Since men have all agreed we can’t hit women it puts us in a tight spot, if the ex husband got scared and defended himself the ex wife could easily say he is domestically abusing him and have him arrested.

  10. Hi Zek,

    We crossed words on a previous thread, but just dropped by to say this is a very good article.

  11. I struggle with the ideas presented here.

    On the one hand, I do not wish for anyone, regardless of their characteristics, to feel like they are marginalized because of who they are.

    But on the other hand: we are talking about expanding the definition of a crime for which society has decided there is no acceptable penance. Once you are convicted of a sex crime, that’s it, you’re labeled a sex offender for life. You are kept in a public database, also for life. You have restrictions put on where you can live, and who you can associate with, for life. Your photo is made available, online, so that, for the rest of your life, people can know what crime you committed.

    Getting a job, a home, an education, almost everything most of us take for granted as necessary to live can become impossible for a convicted sex offender.

    And you want to expand the definition of sex offender?

    I’m just not sure I can agree to that.

    • Mike,

      It’s not about expanding the definition but about redefining it. It’s about recognizing that other actions are not also, but always have been, rape. Certainly thinking of this as expanding the definition is one way of looking at it, but I disagree that it would be a bad thing. Victims of rape admittedly need protecting just as much as rapists require rehabilitation — and, in fact, I think many would argue they’re more in need than rapists. This is especially true for male victims, who are already incredibly stigmatized, shamed, blamed, and otherwise punished by society in addition to the horrendous crime they were the victim of.

      That said, I’m not insensitive to the difficulties sex offenders face. The system is stacked against them in such a way as to virtually guarantee and encourage relapsing to their crimes. It can be tough to live a life like that, despised by nearly every segment of society.

      What do you propose be done to balance these two dilemmas? I can’t in good conscience leave male victims as well as female perpetrators to their own devices in order to avoid further oppressing former sex offenders. But if you have any ideas, I’d be interested in hearing them.

    • But, they have committed sex offences … Therefore by definition, they are sex offenders.

      • Mike,

        Well let’s take the example of Michael Pena and the woman he attacked. Because there was no vaginal penetration it’s not classified as rape, but clearly the evidence shows this man did just that. Or what about Vanessa Williams who was “molested” by a female family-friend, again no penetration? What about men who are forcibly enveloped by women, or have had other sexual acts forced onto them? Our notions of rape, both cultural and legal, leaves these situations out of the equation. Jerry Sandusky might get charged with child abuse/molestation and be labeled a sex offender, but that won’t mean his crimes are seen for what they are: rape.

        That said, if you or anyone has a good idea, I’m always glad to hear it.

      • Welp…I knew there would be two “Mikes” commenting on here sooner or later, so I’m going to go by “Mike L” from now on (I’m the Mike who made the initial comment here).

        This goes to why we punish people.

        The reasons for punishing sex offenders are essentially the story of emotions overriding rational thought. We have decided that the definition of sex offense should be expansive (it includes consensual sex between teenagers in some jurisdictions), and that the punishment should be life-long (the database and all that).

        Yet sex offenses have some of the lowest recidivism rates we can track. Estimates are in the 2-3% range for re-committing a crime in the same category, compared to something like 70% for people who commit crimes in the robbery/larceny category (obviously these are subject to variation across jurisdiction).

        If the goal of punishment is to dissuade people from committing crimes, then the punishments for crimes with high recidivism rates are likely too lenient, and the punishments for crimes with low recidivism rates are likely too harsh (is it worth the amount of money necessary to maintain constant surveillance on someone who only has a 1% chance of committing the crime again?).

        If, instead, the goal of punishment is to disable the ability of a criminal to commit additional crimes (because they cannot harm the public when behind bars), then we are still at an impasse because a low recidivism rate means it is not worth the amount of effort we put into punishing them: they effectively disable themselves and so our additional efforts are not worthwhile.

        An additional theory of punishment is rehabilitation. If you believe that this goes on within the criminal justice system, you are wrong: prisons do not have any effective rehabilitation programs, nor are they investigating any. Any “rehabilitation” that occurs happens by pure chance, and not as a function of directed intent.

        There is a final theory of punishment: retribution. This is an irrational response that is essentially “You hurt us, and so now we hurt you.” As a society, I would hope we can recognize that no one benefits from this form of “justice.” Yet every time we respond to a “heinous crime” with “tougher” sentencing laws, we are letting our emotions get the better of us and continuing down a path to “more prisons, more guards, more state budge shortfalls.”

        We should punish with our heads, not with our hearts.

  12. coffee_queen says:

    On the issue of most feminists seeming not to care about male victims of rape, Holly Pervocracy has a really decent analysis of why this unfortunate reality persists:

    http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2011/05/male-victims.html

    I do, though, take issue with the “not our department” attitude of many feminists in discussing male victims of rape and other forms of sexual assault and abuse. :\

    @Mike: You raise a good quandary here. Unfortunately this attitude persists toward all criminals, and is, I think though cannot prove, a result of the retributive system of justice in most countries, and especially USA. What really needs to happen at all levels is to step back from punishing and making examples out of offenders, and start rehabilitating them. Personally I like the philosophy behind the restorative justice theory.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice (yeh yeh teh Wikipedia, shaddup =P)

    My only scruple on how sex offenders are treated is Jaycee Dugard’s story. If the parole board had given more than two shits and if sex offending laws were more enforced, odds are she would not have been abducted in the first place, or barring that, would have been found sooner. :\ Considering that sex offenders usually re-victimize it’s hard to feel sorry for them, but on the other hand, the fact that they are so stigmatized that they can’t live normal lives almost creates a reality where repeat offending is basically a given. There’s justice in making sure sex offenders are punished, but then, when and what is too much punishment? When does punishment stop being just and start being tyrannical? How do we protect victims and the rights of potential victims while at the same time ensuring that sex offenders aren’t so stigmatized that their lives are effectively over the instant they are officially convicted?

    It’s a sticky issue. No one wants to form a Sex Offender Rights group because of the squick that surrounds them; they’d rather form groups for victims – kind of like how people care more about endangered animals if they are cute and fuzzy vs. ugly and nasty, e.g. polar bears vs. scorpions.

    :\

    • coffee_queen says:

      I should amend this to say that I don’t quite agree with Ms Pervocracy’s assessments that male victims are rare, and that there is more violence, specifically sexual and in general, against women than men. For me, “more vs less” rhetoric only encourages us-vs-them-ism instead of the we-ism that humans so badly need to cultivate with each other. :\

  13. I think the legal definition of “rape” should involve penetration, but it’s not even as simple as saying any forced penetration of any orifice with any object, or at least, I don’t think it should be. The definition need not be restricted to the person who is penetrated, so it would also cover “envelopment” rape. However, I don’t think that mouth, anus, and vagina are interchangeable (or in the case of envelopment, hand), and the nature of the object doing the penetrating (or being forced to penetrate) seems to me to make a big difference.

    For example, if a victim is penetrated by a penis against his/her will in any of those three openings, it seems like a pretty unambiguous case of rape to me. If it’s a finger, then it still seems like rape or very close below the waist, but if someone forces a finger into someone else’s mouth, I don’t think that’s rape. The same goes for a foreign object. The idea of a rape charge for forcing a victim to penetrate the perp with a foreign object (i.e. non-body part) would seem absurd to me.

    I still think “sexual assault” should cover many other possibilities short of rape and carry severe penalties, but I think expanding the definition of “rape” to include all unwanted sexual contact is a mistake. For example, fondling or stimulating someone’s genitals over the clothes against their will definitely sounds like sexual assault to me, but if that and lesser contact get included in an expanded definition of rape, I think it would diminish and trivialize what actual rape is. Imagine someone telling a vaginal rape victim, “Yeah, I know you feel – I had a finger shoved in my mouth once.”

    The big problem I have with the redefinition suggested by the author is that it seems based on how violated victims feel. I have huge sympathy for such feelings, *but* they’re a crappy basis for criminal laws and sentencing. Imagine if the varying degrees of crimes of theft or murder were based on how violated victims feel. Shoplifting and armed robbery could both be defined as “theft” and prosecuted the same as long as the victims were outraged enough. Accidental manslaughter and first degree murder would just be “murder” so long as the vicitim’s families were adamant that the killer be punished. Being feelings-based, the charges would also vary a lot from victim to victim, since different people may experience very different amounts of trauma despite objectively similar crimes against them. This seems very true of unwanted sexual contact, where one person may feel that someone “rudely copped a feel”, while another, subject to the same touch and circumstances, might feel violated or even raped, depending on their background and tolerance for such things.

    Maybe what’s needed are more subcategories like murder has, so instead of just rape and sexual assault, the hierarchy might be something like:

    *Rape, First Degree – Forced penetration by penis of vagina, anus, or mouth; or forced envelopment of penis by same.
    *Rape, Second Degree – Forced penetration of vagina or anus by finger or foreign object; or manual stroking of penis without victim’s consent.
    *Sexual Assault, First Degree…
    etc.

    I don’t know what the exact breakdown should be, but while I’d like to see more rape victims get justice, I don’t think a catch-all definition is the way to go about it. Some thefts aren’t grand larceny, some killings aren’t first degree murder, and some sexual assaults aren’t rape.

    • There is also have the option of putting new crimes on the book or enhancing sentences for existing crimes, such as sexual battery. Redefining “rape” (which has a very specific legal meaning going back centuries) is not really necessary; it’s possible to do away with the term “rape” completely and just have degrees of sexual assault/battery. I think what victims care about is that the offender be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced appropriately.

      • Sarah,

        It’s not about the semantics, but about the seriousness. I’m sure rape has a very specific legal definition going back centuries, but clearly that definition fails. It fails men, it fails women, it fails children. It fails countless victims and I believe firmly that we need to redefine it to include the victimization these survivors have suffered. Whether we’re talking about Vanessa Williams or the victims of Jerry Sandusky, these crimes need to be included in the definition of rape, because the ARE serious and they ARE rape and they NEED TO BE dealt with accordingly.

        • It is about semantics, because you’re talking about what it means to be raped. “Semantics” is not a synonym for “pointlness nitpicking” – it’s about meaning. You appear to be suggesting that “rape” should *not* take seriousness into account, because you think it means everything from some unwanted over-the-clothes fondling to penetration of a bodily orifice by a penis, as if those two things are equal in seriousness and cause equal trauma. They aren’t and they don’t.

          • I disagree. I’m talking about including acts such as what happened to Vanessa Williams, Pena’s victim, as well as forced sex that doesn’t include P in V penetration. Not over-the-clothes-fondling. And it’s about more than just legal definitions; it’s about our cultural definitions too.

  14. Marcus,

    You’ve got a long comment, so I’ll just focus on the part I find most important.

    I think the legal definition of “rape” should involve penetration, but it’s not even as simple as saying any forced penetration of any orifice with any object, or at least, I don’t think it should be. The definition need not be restricted to the person who is penetrated, so it would also cover “envelopment” rape. However, I don’t think that mouth, anus, and vagina are interchangeable (or in the case of envelopment, hand), and the nature of the object doing the penetrating (or being forced to penetrate) seems to me to make a big difference.

    So how do we account for what happened to Vanessa Williams. Was she not raped then? What about what happened to the victims of Jerry Sandusky? How does your idea of degrees of rape account for this varied circumstances and crimes?

    • I think you may be mixing up the word “rape” with the idea that victims who don’t meet the strict legal definition of rape are denied justice. There are dozens of sex crimes on the books, some of which may have very severe sentences (like forcible lewd acts on a child). This whole highly charged debate about what “rape” should mean could be avoided by just calling all of it sexual assault/battery with different degrees of severity, defined accordingly. That doesn’t mean lighter sentences because sentences can be as harsh as we want. I think in the New York case, the jury didn’t like the victim and didn’t believe her, that’s what that case came down to.

      • I agree with Sarah. You seem to be saying that unless it’s called “rape”, there’s no accounting for the wide range of sexual assault that may occur, and therefore no justice that can be served. I disagree with that premise.

        I googled Vanessa Williams’ account of abuse to try to find a more extensive excerpt from her book, because the link provided in the original article didn’t have much. I didn’t find any that made it sound like rape, and it seems like if she had, that would feature pretty prominently in the summaries and quoted excerpts. Instead, what was included in every one was an incident that unquestionably sounded like sexual abuse, which is a punishable crime, but *not* rape. If you’ve seen a more detailed account, please link it – I’m not saying there’s no way she was raped, just that none of the news stories I could find about it would seem to support that conclusion. I also read the grand jury report on Sandusky (back when it was news), and it sounds like some if his victims were raped, and some weren’t, but all were sexually assaulted. The whole point of degrees for a crime is to account for the varied circumstances – it’ s not to say that anything short of the most severe type of the crime is unworthy of prosecution.

        I’m not making this distinction lightly. I was molested over the course of one weekend as a child, which included having my genitals touched over my clothing. It was wrong, it was criminal, and I was a victim. But I was not raped. If my abuser had penetrated me, I think that would have been worse, but if we call all sexual abuse “rape”, there would be no way to distinguish that even worse offense in the eyes of the law, or even in everyday usage if people call it “rape” no matter how slight or severe the degree of violation that occurred.

      • I remember once seeing a comment on an old noseriouslywhatabouttehmenz article (from back when it was a separate blog) in which the commenter suggested a similar thing (using classes of sexual assault to indicate the seriousness of a sexual crime, rather than a distinction between rape and sexual sexual assault). I thought it was a really good idea at the time.

        If I remember rightly, contact with mucous membranes which leads to risk of pregnancy or disease were factored into the seriousness, which also seems like a good idea.

        As I understand it the term ‘rape’, unlike ‘sexual assault’, can be traced back to definitions which treat sexual assaults as property crimes against the husbands or fathers of women (only) who are the vitims sexual crimes. I think this may have something to do with why definitions of rape still struggle to incorporate male victims.

  15. Kat Miler says:

    This was a promising piece of writing – except this paragraph ruined my impression.

    “I’ve known grown men who are more likely to believe in UFOs or Bigfoot than some woman who says she was raped. (For the record: UFOs and Bigfoot are real.) They laugh at these women’s stories and slap each others’ backs while calling themselves “good Christian folk”.

  16. John Sctoll says:

    I often wonder as I read stories on this site where some people hang out. Time and Time again, I hear people say how ‘men’ are going these awfull things, like being more likely to believe that a woman wasn’t raped but do believe in UFOs and Bigfoot. Is it hyperbole I wonder to try and make their story sound better.

    There used to be a poster on here (who isn’t here anymore) who had literally 100s of stories of how bad men were and how he had witnessed it first hand. His story always seemed to fit perfectly into his narrative about how men were bad and women were good. He didn’t seem to know a single ‘good’ man or ‘bad’ woman. I have known 1000s of people in my life and can name 100s of good men (and bad) and 100s of bad women (and good) yet some people just simply don’t know anyone outside their current narrative.

    • John,

      I hate the victim metanarrative too. We men are not carte blanche brutes to be controlled by society. But sadly it’s always the notorious minority that gets the attention, and is used to cast negative stereotypes on everyone else.

      I know men who everyday heroes and women who are everyday villains, yet compassion/understanding is clearly accorded along strict gender lines. It’s difficult to swallow these bitter pills, but I grin and bear it because I know that the world is changing everyday, offering new chances for all of us.

      • Zek

        I’m also interested to know where these men are. I know for sure that bad, mentally deficient man stories sell tickets, but I’ve never known someone that doesn’t believe that women can’t be raped, not to mind knowing an abundance of them.

        • *doesn’t believe women can be …”

        • Eoghan,

          I think specifically of the squatter’s community I spent a summer with by the Salton Sea in California. (Ever heard of Slab City?) My original purpose was to interview the residents for a collection of folklore from rural California I was planning as an anthropological project, but I ended up getting more than just that. 90% of the men there, and in nearby Niland, CA., believed that women lie about being rape. There was also a trend in which 70-80% of these men self-identified as either evangelical or baptist. Notably, nobody I interviewed — and I interviewed hundreds of people — believed men were ever raped by women. One resident actually told me, “if a man says he’s raped by a woman he’s just guilty he cheated on his wife.”

          If it makes you feel better though, Eoghan, I never peddle the “bad, mentally deficient man stories” as you call them, because I believe they’re false. But I also recognize that there are men, and not just a few, who think/act this way. Just like with women. If you want I can tell you about what THEY told me, some time.

    • Confirmation bias plays a part, seeing the world negatively as well where you notice just the bad stuff and overlook the good. Some people get key events with key people in their life that can really mold their mind from their experiences, for example during my schooling I was physically abused by a teacher that yelled at the top of his lungs to the point the entire class was crying, this key event gave me a fear of adult grown men yelling well into my 20′s, a decade or more of fear from 1 single event. The bullying I got in high-school made me notice bad people more, I noticed young people were mean, bullies, etc but what was really happening was my mind was paying attention to those who reinforced my belief and I overlooked a lot of average nice people.

      Now that I stop looking for the bad, I’m finding the good and it’s great!

  17. Important academic survey called http://www.malesurvey.info is investigating the sexual assault and rape of males in the UK and also public perceptions of this crime. The online survey is open to all UK male residents over the age of 16, takes less than 5 minutes to complete and is 100% anonymous and confidential.

    Please support http://www.malesurvey.info and help improve male safety and wellbeing.
    You can follow us on twitter – @Malesurvey

    Please support http://www.malesurvey.info and help to improve mens safety and wellbeing.

  18. Peter Houlihan says:

    @Zek:

    How would you feel about getting rid of the word altogether? So long as we have a word called “rape” which we consider distinct from (and worse than) sexual assault, then lines are going to have to be drawn which define the difference.

    You may argue that the line is currently drawn too tightly, leaving out some forms of assault which deserve to be considered rape, but no matter how loosely you define it there’ll always be something “just outside” the line which isn’t really all that less awful than anything covered by the definition.

    So why not just go with “sexual assault.” It perfectly describes a whole variety of crimes without trying to catagorise them or create a hierarchy of victimhood. Leave it to the judges and juries hearing the cases to decide the appropriate weight given to each crime.

    • We are just spinning our wheels pretending that we have any say in what the definitions in the first place.
      The groups that recently lobbied the FBI, are radical feminist groups that receive billions in funding, and they have already expanded the definitions to what Zek thinks is required.

    • Peter,

      I could be convinced to redefine rape into specific actions, but not to do away with it altogether. Sexual assault is rather ambiguous, and rape itself is incredibly narrowly defined. But besides the legal definition I’m also talking cultural: rape is something that hits us right in that spot where we take action to stop it. Sexual assault bothers us, but rape infuriates us. It’s seen as a crime up there with murder, yet paradoxically almost nobody wants to believe [insert group/individual] could do it — meanwhile we’ll gladly say O.J. did it.

      I did somewhat like the idea of dividing rape into degrees (1st, 2nd, 3rd) to distinguish sexual crimes that *do not* involve penetration or envelopment (including oral and anal forms) from those that *do*. I would also advocate that rape includes sexually explicit actions without the person’s consent that occurs when the person is not wearing clothes. This would cover what happened to Vanessa Williams and Jerry Sandusky’s victims.

      Notably I don’t want a hierarchy of victimhood. I want a recognition of victimhood. I’m happy leaving it to the judicial system to accord weight and try these crimes, but the system has also proven itself woefully inadequate at doing so. We, as a culture, are extremely bad at dealing with rape, rapists, and rape victims, especially when the rape-crime does not fit our stereotypes of what rape “is”/”should be”.

      Obviously things will be left out with any law, but I’m not talking about marginal individuals who suffer unique crimes against their person — I’m talking about entire groups of people who are denied adequate justice based on arbitrary legal definitions rooted in discriminatory gender concepts.

      Honestly though, my solutions are probably as unworkable as the next because I’m not a legal scholar or criminologist. I’m just some blogger on the internet with ideas and outrage.

      • You are basically saying that we need to call things rape because the word rape connotes “really bad” and by NOT calling some things rape, we are disrespecting victims by implying what happened to them isn’t “bad.” That’s not how criminal statutes work.

        Burglary historically meant breaking into a dwelling house at night with the intent to commit a felony. If you broke broke into a house during the day and stole someone’s TV, it wasn’t burglary, it was breaking & entering & theft. Was that disrespectful toward people who suffered daytime break ins? Robbery meant theft with the use of force or fear. If you pulled a gun on someone and stole their wallet, that was robbery. If you picked their pocket, it was theft. Did that mean society didn’t think pick pocketing was important? (Note, many of these definitions have changed over time, depending on the state.)

        Rape historically meant penetrating a woman’s vagina with a penis because rape was essentially a property crime. It was a crime against the woman’s husband who “owned” her vagina. Or it was a crime against her father because now she would never get married and he would have to support her. Or it was a crime against her because it wrecked her marriage value. If a woman just got beat up but didn’t get a penis in her, she wasn’t “ruined,” so no problemo. Or if she wasn’t a “chaste” women, then getting raped wasn’t considered a big deal. Some laws required that a woman prove she was chaste as part of her case against the rapist. She had to prove that she resisted. If she didn’t resist because of fear for her life, too bad, no rape. Also keep in mind, the penalties for rape used to be very light. I’m talking up to the 1960′s and 1970′s, many perpetrators, even if they were convicted, might only spend a few years in prison for committing a violent forcible rape.

        So updating old definitions is often a good thing. I’m with you on that. The meaning of rape has changed many times over the years. Also, sentences for rape have gone way up so the situation has reversed; rape used to be considered a less serious crime, now it’s more serious. I agree that other types of sex offenses need to be taken seriously, and actually, I think they are, though they may be charged as sexual assault and battery and not as rape per se. If we are going to start calling groping through clothing a kind of rape, well, at some point you just get so far away from the accepted legal meaning of the word that maybe you need a new word, which is why I suggest just defining different forms of sexual assault. Of course there would still have to be clear definitions and politicians would still have to make judgment calls about the “seriousness” (and appropriate sentences) of different kinds of sexual assault. But just saying “everything is bad so it should all be called rape” doesn’t provide a lot of guidance to prosecutors, judges and juries.

        • Sarah,

          Wow, so your comment is all over the place and I’m not sure of your what exactly your point is, but I’ll try to respond as best I can…

          You are basically saying that we need to call things rape because the word rape connotes “really bad” and by NOT calling some things rape, we are disrespecting victims by implying what happened to them isn’t “bad.” That’s not how criminal statutes work.

          Okay, so here you’re actually changing what I’ve said to suit your interpretation. If you want to, you may quote me in order to see the difference. I’m saying we need to redefine rape because, legally, the current definition fails to include lots of forms of rape that consequently lead to miscarriages of justice. Just read the article in my post. Concurrently, we need to redefine rape culturally because our own stereotypes lead us to further victimize those who’ve survived rape, especially those rape victims who’ve been raped in such a way as to challenge the archaic ways society envisions rape.

          Again, I’m never said EVERYTHING should be rape because it’s bad. That’s a straw man argument, and I would appreciate you refraining from misrepresenting me. My goal is to combat injustice by addressing the problems.

          Now, if you can get behind this, I’d love to hear your concrete ideas about how to fix these problems.

  19. i think some on here have taken the “fingers or objects” part of the law and are trying to give the broadest stroke possible to diminish the impact that this has had on victims that have had to use a less serious term of sexual assault for years. if a female uses a sex toy on a man or another woman, then saying that it isnt rape because it wasnt genitals is just as wrong as saying that because it wasnt the vagina that was penetrated then its not rape. i dont think that a finger in the mouth could be construed as rape unless there was a sexual intent and connotation with it. another thing that needs to be brought up is that when a man is the victim, often times the perpetrators will force the man to ejaculate, thereby confusing the victim and making them less likely to go forward, or to give the impression that he enjoyed it thereby its not rape. there for “enveloping” needs to be included in the definition so that if a man is raped, there are just as serious consequences for a female as there are for the male perpetrator.

    one thing that was said is that men arent victims of violence during the attack, but that goes against most of the studies that i have seen recently, often times there is more violence when a man is the victim and more injuries occur. another thing is that women usually carry out the attack over time, so its less likely to be detected and often times more confusing for the victims. there is a lot of psychology that goes with the attack, and emotional abuse.

    i just read a story the other day on facebook where a russian woman defended her business from a would be robber, then took the man and tied him up in the back for three days and used him as a “sex slave”. the comments were applauding the woman for turning the tables for once, this is the mentality that we need to over come, no one deserves rape.

  20. Not to beat a dead horse, but there are feminists organizations that support male victims as well. Slutwalk has been a vocal supporter or male sexual assault victims. It was through them that I learned about justdetention.org which supports victims who were abused in prison.

    • Melissa,

      Slutwalks? Bleh =/

      Slutwalks are not a very good example of “Feminists who care”. I mean, besides the racial slurs on their signage, the entire concept behind Slutwalk evokes class, race, and hetero privilege, to the point of ignoring the sexualization that negatively affects poor women, Women of Color, gay and lesbian communities, as well as transgendered individuals. Peopleofcolororganize.com has a great article on this actually. I can provide links and examples if you wish.

      That said, I do like JustDetention, as they’re based in the Bay Area where I live. However they aren’t a Feminist organization. They’re independent of gender in their advocacy.

      • coffee_queen says:

        JustDetention is a wonderful organization. It’s wonderful to see a gender-neutral organization for once; so many seem to tie themselves to some element of the gender divide. RAINN also has started reaching out more to male survivors, though from reading their section for male survivors on their website they implicitly reinforce the male-rapist-only stereotype.

        http://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/male-sexual-assault

        Another really excellent men-only website is MaleSurvivor. http://www.malesurvivor.org/ They specifically educate and meet the needs of boys and men sexually abused as children, as well as male survivors sexually assaulted/raped as adults. Plus they acknowledge the reality that many times these boys and men were victims of female rapists and sex offenders, which is really good. I’m not a self-flagellation woman, but I do believe that more awareness needs to be raised about female sex offenders/rapists and more done to stop them and give their victims healing.

  21. Really excellent post. Rape generally and rape against men are both dismissed all to easily. The more discussion the better. To give you some ammo for how socialized we are to violence of all kinds against men this video of a South African man talking about rape and how it mixes with murder in prisons is shocking.

    http://youtu.be/4xn90GqBxbU

    For me the unspoken threat of prison has always been rape. It’s never been about repentance.

    I wrote a novel, Secret Skin, a few years ago looking at sex slavery in the Middle East, it looks at how it affects women of all cultures, which was praised, but nearly all editors rejected the male character as he didn’t fulfill the male all-conquering hero stereotype. He is also raped which may have had a lot to do with it. You can find that on my website it it interests you.

    I’m trying to think of media where male rapes have occurred, Shawshank and Deliverance are the only two that come to mind. Anyone have any more?

    Thanks for the post, will retweet to the world. :)

  22. I like the working definitions from The Chrysalis Collective, published on p. 204 of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’s recent collection The Revolution Starts at Home:

    Rape: Nonconsensual sex through physical force, manipulation, stress, or fear; the experience of sex as the unwanted physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual violation of sexual boundaries; not an act of caring, love, or pleasure; sexual violation of trust.

    Sexual assault: Any unwanted physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual violation of sexual boundaries.

    Consent: An understandable exchange of affirmative words and actions regarding sexual activity; agreement, approval, or permission that is informed and freely and actively given without physical force, manipulation, stress, or fear.

    I have really limited understandings of criminal law, though, so I realize that these are likely not appropriate or workable for the type of criminal law changes being advocated for here. It should be noted that The Chrysalis Collective is part of a network of groups I admire who are seeking the long, difficult, yet community-building road of transformation of rape culture (against ALL bodies) through the Transformative Justice movement. And their working definitions above were formulated in the context of working within activist communities to address the gender and sexual violence that too often gets minimized. They don’t proclaim them to be the one-size-fits-all definitions necessary for the federal redefinition conversation you’re seeking to have here.

    But I’ve found the definitions–and the Transformative Justice movement–profound for thinking with.

    Cheers!

    • John Schtoll says:

      Consent: An understandable exchange of affirmative words and actions regarding sexual activity; agreement, approval, or permission that is informed and freely and actively given without physical force, manipulation, stress, or fear.

      I wonder how this scenario would fit into this definition:

      A woman meets a wealthy man, she decides that she is going to have sex with him to get pregnant, they have sex, after many months of trying she isn’t pregnant. She finds out that lo and behold the man is sterile because he had a vasectomy when he was younger and didn’t tell him. In this case, she would never have had sex with him had she known he was sterile. Did he rape/sexually assault her because he did not tell her about his ‘medical’ status that would effect her ability to consent. I know this is a rare (probably never happens) scenario but in terms of consent is it much different than HIV status, after all , while the danger to the person in the HIV status case is there, the consent or INFORMED consent is still missing in both cases.

      • No, he’s an asshole, but not a rapist. HIV is important to disclose due to the risk whilst the risk for that guy is actually lower since he’s most likely not going to impregnate her (which is risky).

  23. I was unaware until reading this article that all rape victims were junior military officers.

  24. Random_Stranger says:

    Well…to be clear, they law hasn’t changed its definition. Rather, the FBI changed the definition they used to add a rape incident to rape crime stats as follows: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

    They also went not nearly far enough. They expanded the definition to ensure gender neutrality among victims but fell just shy of ensuring gender neutrality among perpetrators. The new definition remains essentially reserved for the prosecution of men, meaning rape stats will continue to reinforce the depravity of men. For some unknown reason, the vagina is explicitly excluded as an instrument of assault while simultaneously, the penis is excluded as the object of assault.

    • The Blurpo says:

      Maybe it has something to do with politics. Lot of feminist are scared by the though that they will end losing or cut the foundings for DV and rape centers for women. Witch is sad because doing this, they fall directly into the gender norm and gender binary trap. They work against feminism.
      I think honest feminist should speak up against the behaviour showed by the feminist political arm who is not only denying helping people but also betraying feminism.

      Speak up people, speak up!

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  1. [...] humor disproves the existence of rape culture, but rather proves it.  Zek J. Evets writes at the Good Men Project: I knew a teenage girl who refused to believe men were capable of being raped by a woman. When I [...]

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