Another post about rape
Recently, Savage Love gave some advice to a girl who had been raped by her ex-boyfriend. Her new boyfriend was being a total human fail by considering the rape to be consensual enough and/or not rape-y enough to count as cheating. The girl had been at a party with her ex-boyfriend. He followed her out to her car, pinned her against it, and started kissing her and pulling down her pants. She repeatedly said no, pushed him away, pulled her pants back up, and he just kept at it, until she decided to just let him get it over with so he’d leave her alone.
The circumstances are clearly rape, though, as Dan Savage accurately and really fucking depressingly pointed out, she’d have a helluva time making it legal rape. Or, that is, a helluva time making it rape with a consequence. Though the definition of rape occurred here — she at no point gave her consent and repeatedly indicated that there was no consent — because there was a lack of obvious force or violence, her giving up would probably be considered consent in a court of law.
My rape was very similar. I had just told my ex-husband I wanted a divorce. I also told him we could have sex that night, because I assumed if I didn’t let him, he would rape me. He kept pushing for anal sex, which I unequivocally said I would not have. We argued back and forth, and I kept saying no. He finally backed down, we started to have “consensual” sex, and he switched over to anal. I didn’t fight him off, or continue saying no. I figured I’d just let him get it over with.
There was no question in my mind that what had happened was rape. There was plenty of hopeful doubt, pretend denial, but never a question. I knew. I wished it wasn’t so, but I knew exactly what it was. I knew because I had said no, out loud, several times, and when somebody has sex with you after you have said no, that’s the definition of rape. But I also knew because of how I felt about it. Because it was so different from other sex. Because I spent my time imagining I was a tree outside, and telling myself, “He’ll be done eventually and then this will be in the past,” and afterwards, telling myself, “I’ll admit what happened once I live in a place he does not have a key to.”
Now that rape has happened to me, it completely boggles my mind how somebody could look at the situation Dan Savage addressed, or mine, and wonder if it was really rape. If there was a “no” and sex still happened, that makes it rape — that seems so simple, people, but the fact that we have such confusion over it just indicates how much our society wants rape to be acceptable in as many circumstances as possible.
But I know for a lot of people — and I know it was true for me, in that inaccessible land and time of “before” — there’s a real question about how and when violence and force enter into rape. The event of rape seems like it must necessitate force — how else could sex without consent happen? Of course, there doesn’t need to be direct physical violence; there could be an insinuation, an “I’ll beat you if you don’t,” or something like that. That’s obviously force.
But what about rapes like hers, or mine, where there was no threat, no violence? Was there no force?
This is my post for people who have not been raped, and maybe some of those that have and have not been able to admit it. I want to explain how rape without violence occurs, and why it is still rape, and still force.
Several years ago, there was a guy at my work that I was friendly with. He was a nice guy, quiet, shy, but funny. He got his best friend — they’d been buddies since they were three — a job at the same place. His friend I didn’t like so much. He made frequent homophobic comments and told wild stories about the improbable threesomes he was having with the ladies, and beyond that, was just sort of generally needy and irritating. One day, Guy 1 told me he and Guy 2 had had a falling out. He wouldn’t say more than that, just that they were never speaking again — NEVER — and that was that. Guy 1 was pretty stoic about it, and nobody could get the story out of him; all he’d say in answer to our questions was, “It’s not about a girl.” Guy 2 went around with a long, long face, constantly sighing and wheezing and moaning about how his life had just gone to shambles, everything was fucked, everything was hard, he just couldn’t concentrate today, maybe we could talk to Guy 1?
I didn’t ask Guy 1 what the deal was, because I really didn’t feel like getting into anybody’s drama. But one night, many months later, me and Guy 1 hung out and, um, imbibed in some substances, and generally got into a very click-y happy connecting place. He asked me, “Do you want to know what really happened, with me and Guy 2?” He sounded so serious, I tried to sober up and make a serious face and said, “Sure, if you want to.”
Guy 1 told me that one night, Guy 2′s parents were out of town, and so he went to spend the night and get hella drunk. He passed out, and woke up to find Guy 2 molesting him. He was completely frozen, partially from being so drunk, but mostly from fear.
Now, Guy 1 was a big guy. Super muscle man. Guy 2 was a twiddly little thing. Even drunker than shit, Guy 1 could have broken Guy 2 in half. And he said as much. He said he knew he could have done that, but he was too scared to do anything. He just kept hoping Guy 2 would stop, or he would pass out again. Guy 1 seemed sort of ashamed, telling me this, kept repeating that he knows he could have or he should have and he didn’t know why he didn’t, but Guy 2 was his best friend. He’d known him his entire life. He never saw this coming, and if Guy 2 — his best friend — could do this horrible thing to him, he realized he didn’t really know Guy 2. He didn’t know who this person was, and he didn’t know what he was capable of, if he was capable of this horrible thing.
I related this story because, I think, when you take a woman out of the equation, sometimes it makes the whole “rape” thing clearer. Again, that seems ridiculous to say, but half our problems accepting when rape is really rape are actually reflections of our problems accepting what rights women and men have. That is, confusion over when rape is really rape is actually confusion over whether it is acceptable for men to be denied what they want from somebody who is not male. Rape isn’t about gender so much as it’s about power and privilege; but power and privilege are so completely tied to gender that that can sometimes get lost. I think sometimes it can be clearer to see how horrifying rape is, and how much it really is rape, when it’s done to somebody with power and privilege, somebody it isn’t supposed to be done to, somebody it’s not okay to do it to.
But mostly, I related this story because when Guy 1 told me why he didn’t fight back, that was the first time I really understood why some girls don’t. He put it so well: when somebody you knew, somebody you trusted, does something so frighteningly outside the boundaries of normal and expected behavior, that person becomes a stranger who is capable of anything. And, more importantly, a stranger who has already proven that they are willing to do anything. Guy 1 had no reason to believe that if he fought back, Guy 2 wouldn’t pull a gun, or a knife, or do something else as completely unforeseen, evil, and horrifying as raping him was.
This is why a rapist does not have to be physically violent, or state in clear terms that he intends physical violence, for forceful rape to occur. When somebody has illustrated that they are willing and able to step so far outside of the boundaries of human safety, a victim has every reason to expect that there are no boundaries on their behavior. If this person is willing to have sex with somebody who very clearly does not want sex, that person is probably also willing to, or at least capable of, causing physical injury when the lack of consent turns to a physical struggle.
Before I thought very much about this, and before it happened to me, I thought rape victims had two very clear options:
- “Allow” themselves to be rape
- Fight their rapist off and possibly get away
But the options are actually:
- “Allow” yourself to be raped
- Fight your rapist off and possibly get away
- Attempt to fight your rapist off and escalate a somewhat or relatively physically painless event that will probably be over in ten minutes into something that may take much longer and cause you to bleed a lot, or maybe even die
A rapist does not have to use violence. Initiating sex without consent already indicates how little the rapist cares about your consent in the act. How far does that lack of concern extend? Is this the kind of rapist that could continue to enjoy sex when their victim is in obvious physical pain? Could they enjoy causing the pain? Is this the kind of rapist that will happily kill their victim afterwards? A victim has no idea, whether the rapist is a stranger, acquaintance, friend, family member, boyfriend, or husband. Because if a victim could look at a person and know that they were capable of rape, they would not be within physical proximity in the first place. A victim doesn’t know their rapist is capable of rape until a rape begins; and once a victim knows that, they have no idea what else their rapist is capable of. A rapist does not have to threaten further violence. The rape is threat enough.
For myself, I had for many years only been having sex with my husband because I did not know what he would do if I said no. I suspected we would have sex anyway. So I said yes, because then at least we would be having “sex” and I wouldn’t be a “victim.” The yes was just window dressing, my refusal to admit I was afraid, to admit I was being abused. It was cooperation, not consent. We had had sex many times that was obviously very painful for me, either due to my facial expressions, my plain stating how much it hurt, or the blood that resulted afterwards. But there was no remorse from him, no stopping, no fear of what he had done, no concern.
So, considering all that, I know I made a very rational and logical decision not to fight back when he raped me. For years, I had known that saying no to sex would not result in our not having sex. I had known that he had no moral qualms with causing me great pain during sex. Though I didn’t think this to myself in order to blame myself, during the rape, I thought, “This is only rape because I said no. When I said yes, this exact same thing would not have been rape.” So I also thought, “If saying no makes it rape, fighting back will make it a violent rape.” I felt that was the only thing I had control over at the moment, whether or not my rape would be a violent one. And yeah, if I had made it violent, maybe I would have been able to go to court about it. Maybe our mutual friends would have believed me, or cared, or not needed me to hold their hands as I explained to them that rape was bad and I could not be their friends if they were friends with my rapist.
And maybe in the long run, all that would have outweighed whatever physical injury and psychological scarring I would have received from a violent rape. But you don’t think in the long run when you’re thinking about your life, your limbs, your blood. You think, “I don’t want to be beaten,” not “I don’t want to have to explain to my friends for the rest of my life why this was rape anyway.” You think, “I want to get away from this alive,” not “I better fight and scream or the jury won’t think it’s rape.” You think, “I don’t know what else he might do to me, if he would do this.”
That was how I knew it was rape, and every time I have tried to think, “Maybe it wasn’t,” I go back to that moment, where I entered survival mode, where I thought of nothing but how to get out of this without injury, how to make it end as soon as possible. Nobody has sex with thoughts like those. Nobody is not experiencing force or the threat of violence, with thoughts like those. “Letting it happen” is not consent. “Letting it happen” is making a choice between a three-story jump and a car crash, trying to decide which one you’re more likely to survive.
from → rape