Sunday, October 27, 2013

When People Say "She Wanted It": The Difference Between Rape and Sex

In Law & Order SVU, in one of my favorite episodes,  Detective Elliot Stabler (character played by Christopher Meloni; he's no longer on the show, though, unfortunately) is questioning a  suspect in a rape case, and the suspect goes, "What? I have a girlfriend. I don't need to rape anyone! Why would I rape anyone?" And Stablers' response? "Rape isn't the same thing as sex."

So I'm writing this post to talk about the difference between "rape" and "sex" and about the too disturbingly common claim that "she wanted it" or "she was asking for it" (where "it" = rape, unfortunately, but people constantly confuse it with sex!).

As everyone knows, I'm infinitely crazy about the TV show Law & Order SVU (Special Victims Unit). I unbiasedly think it's the most important show on tv right now. If you've never watched it before, try going to this site and watching it:

It has taught me so much about so many things. About rape, about sexual assault, about general assaults, about the law, about the justice system in America, about men, about women, about society. I'm a Gender Studies student, and I don't know so much about gender issues but this show has given me so much knowledge I could spend my whole lifetime thanking everyone involved in its making. I started watching it (online) about a year ago and finished the entire 12 seasons that they had at that time within 3 months.

In so many episodes, we get a glimpse of the conversations "she wanted it" (where "it" = rape, but people confuse it with sex!) or "hey, I don't need to rape anyone, okay? I have a girlfriend." These are some of the most disturbing comments we hear commonly on the issue of rape. So, let's talk about it a little more.

1. "She wanted it" (where "it" is rape): NO! No one wants to be raped. No one wants to be abused, humiliated, dominated, controlled, attacked, hurt -- and that even hurt for life. And even if you still insist that someone "wants it," dude (or dudette)!! How the heck do you know what someone wants? Oh, lemme guess - because they're wearing a mini-skirt? Because they're barely dressed? Because they're flirting with you? Because they asked to be alone with you? Because they're drunk?

Even if any of the above are true (e.g., they are flirting, are drunk, barely dressed, etc.), they do not want to be raped. They do not deserve to be raped. They may or may not be seeking your attention (which does not translate to rape, no), and they may or may not be seeking sex (which, again, does not translate to rape!), but they do not hope or expect or want or seek to be abused, attacked, forced, raped, humiliated, or in any way hurt or tortured by you. Or by anyone else. 
Clothes have nothing to do with rape. This can never be emphasized enough.  People don't get raped because they're showing skin or because they look or dress sexy. People get raped because the rapist believes he (or she - rare but not non-existent) needs to assert his/her power over the individual being or getting raped. Rape is about power and control. It's not about the desire to have sex. This is why someone who has easy access to sex will still rape people, sometimes even his wife, girlfriend, fiance ... or others like children. It's also an established fact that rape is popularly and historically used as a tool of power in the military. (American soldiers, for example, frequently rape the women of the countries they invade; it assures them that they're in power. Pakistan did this in a very disturbing way, too, with Bengali women during the Pakistan Bangladesh war in 1971--over 200,000 women were raped. Other sources say the number was over 3 million. The point is still about rape as a tool of power.)

Rape is also, of course, about the violating of a human body. This is why nothing can ever explain why it's okay to rape another person or why someone would deserve to be raped simply because of the way she/he was behaving or dressing or walking or talking. Raping someone means doing something against their body and mind without their approval, without their consent. This is why marital rape also exists--rape is rape whether a husband does it or a boyfriend or a friend or a stranger. When you take someone's clothes off by force (e.g., they're not happy about what you're doing or they're just generally not okay with), when you enter someone by force, when you touch someone by force - that's rape. That's abuse. That's not okay. That's actually against the law in many countries.

Then, of course, we know that children also get raped. And boys, too, not just girls. (Men, too, get raped.) For the same reason that little girls and boys and men get raped, women get raped. The more we justify rape by saying that the victim (in most case a young woman) was asking for it because she was drunk or not dressing according to society's misogynistic standards, the more we're allowing rapists to get away with raping people.

So the next time you feel like saying, "She deserved it" (rape) or "she wanted it" or "she was asking for it," etc., please pause and think about what exactly is that you think the rape survivor wanted or asked for. Is it really ever okay to violate another human, or her/his body, by raping or abusing them in any way?

2. "I don't need to rape anyone--I have a girlfriend [or wife or fiance]."
Whoa, there! No one ever "needs" to rape anyone (except those who need to feel like they're more powerful than another human being by raping them). People with girlfriends can and do still rape people. Rape doesn't happen because the rapist is seeking sex. Rape isn't sex; rape is the violation of another human through forced sex. 

The way that SVU talks about rape is something I so deeply appreciate. They always make sure to remind the victims/survivors that it is not their fault, that they did not deserved to be raped, that even if they were "dressed like a slut" according to their rapist or to some people in our society, nothing gave the rapist the right to go ahead and violate or rape them; that rape is a crime no matter who does it against anyone. I especially love Detective Olivia Benson (character played by Mariska Hargitay) in the show and the way she reaches out to rape and assault survivors. I think it also helps a lot that she (her character) has been attacked a couple of times and almost raped in one very emotionally disturbing episode. So she's able to deeply connect with the survivors.
So just remember, folks: rape is never okay, rape is against the law, a person's dressing style does NOT say anything about their wanting to get raped because no one wants to or deserves to or should be raped. Rape is about control and power, not about the rapist wanting to have sex with someone! Because, after all, rape isn't the same as sex--rape is forced sex and forced entry and violation of another human being. Rape is just as wrong and just as bad, if not worse, as any other form of assault and abuse. Just like no one should be allowed to inappropriately touch, harass, abuse, or rape a child, one should not be allowed to do so females who are dressed in a way we find "inappropriate," or who are drunk or are flirting with people. And remember, if they're drunk, they cannot give consent; if they cannot give consent, no matter who much we might think "they WANT to get raped" (what the hell), then raping them will get the rapist imprisoned because any sexual activity for which at least one partner is unwilling or not consenting is against (American) law. It should be against all laws everywhere.

If you forget everything else I've said above, just remember this last point: rape is never the rape survivor's fault; it is always, always, and always--and only--the rapist's fault.

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