*Dedicated to Rush Limbaugh.
In my novel, The Rooms Are Filled, a man forces a woman against a wall and, holding her with one hand by the neck as she struggles, he sticks the fingers of his other hand up inside her, repeatedly and forcefully.
Several women readers have told me, “I’m so glad he didn’t rape her. I really thought he was going to rape her.”
This makes me sad. Because he does rape her. By every definition of the law, he rapes her. And if adult women can’t define rape, their sons and daughters probably can’t, either.
We need to fix this.
Rape is underreported, but somewhere around 1 in 5 women experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. So unless you know no women, you know someone who was raped. It might be your neighbor, your coworker, or even your mother. Who knows—rape stories aren’t ones most people share.
But I think they should. I think mothers should tell their daughters and sons if it happened to her. I think friends should talk about it. I think victims should tell their significant others. Largely for support. But also to help wipe out ignorance.
There are too many high school and college students who don’t know rape when they witness or even partake in it, whether it’s because the two people know each other, or because the offender is usually really nice, or because they don’t know what consent means.
They don’t know because we aren’t telling them. Consider the Steubenville parents, teachers, and coaches who turned a blind eye and remained willfully ignorant when a girl in their community was raped by two football players. Their story got a lot of attention, but it is not unique. Not even close.
It might seem like rape is not always black and white, like there are some gray areas. Largely this is because various states and organizations have their own definitions of rape and use interchanging words to mean the same thing. But there are not many gray areas, really. Rape is penetration without consent.
However, I find that the devil is in the details. In an effort to help clear up some things and rid ourselves of that devilish, imaginary gray area so we can better educate our youth–and our Rush Limbaughs–here’s a short, hopefully helpful, quiz:
Q: Two college students are at a party, drinking and flirting. He leads her willingly to a bedroom. They start to kiss on the bed. He holds her arms down and takes down his pants. She says she doesn’t think she wants to do this. He says she’ll like it and sticks it in. She silently begins to cry. She does not say, “No.” Is this rape?
A: Yes, it is rape. Not saying, “no,” is not the same as saying, “yes.” If a person has to be held down and talked into sex while she cries, it is rape.
Q: A man and woman are kissing and snuggling in bed. They stop, she rolls over, and falls asleep. She wakes to find him inside her and tells him to take it out. He does. Is this rape?
A: Yes, it is rape. I would not walk up to you and shove a cucumber in your mouth. You should not stick a penis inside me while I am asleep.
Q: A girl gets ready with her friends for a night out and says she hopes she gets laid tonight. At the bar, she gets too drunk to walk or speak coherently. The man she was flirting with takes her stumbling out to his car. Her friends let him because she seems happy and she’d been flirting with him. He has sex with her in the car. Is this rape?
A: Yes, this is rape. Again, if she can’t say yes, physically cannot put the sounds together to make the word and/or doesn’t seem to know she’s engaging in sex, then it is rape.
On this point, some people seem to think that because she wanted sex when she was sober, then it’s not rape. As if she should have expected it and should feel ashamed for bringing it upon herself. But let’s follow this logic. Say I go to a restaurant and order the ham and cheese melt. I really want the ham and cheese melt, because it’s 2am and I’ve had a few beers and the salt would taste sooo good. So I tell the waiter to hurry, but then I pass out at the table. When the waiter reappears after rushing to bring the food I want and finds me responseless, he’s annoyed so he starts shoving the sandwich into my mouth, thinking to himself, “She said she wanted it.”
Absurd, right? So is sticking a penis inside a barely conscious woman.
If a person cannot say, “Yes, I sure would love to have sex with you,” then the answer is, “No.” The slogan should not be, “No means no.” It should be, “Yes means yes.”
And men: If you’re unsure, it’s always okay to ask. A simple, “Is this alright?” or “Do you want to have sex?” should do the trick. If the woman nods but then slurs, “Mmmm. Yep. Yesh,” and something in your gut is saying she might not know what she’s agreeing to, then you have your answer. (To be clear: it’s no.)
I try hard not to get snarky about this topic. I know it’s condescending. I started this piece lovingly, with the best of intentions. But as I write, and I think about all the men and women who are ignorant on purpose, I get mad. I get mad because women are raped every day and are largely ignored. It doesn’t have to be that way.
When no one talks about rape, it remains hush-hush or considered shameful and victims don’t feel emboldened. It is then much, much easier for perpetrators to walk free because no one is holding them accountable.
Furthermore, rape cases can be hard to prosecute and hard to win. Since states attorneys don’t like losing, because they are usually elected into office and more wins make them look more successful, rape cases are rarely prosecuted—heck, even the evidence submitted by a brave victim after a rather invasive rape kit procedure is sometimes left untested or unused as evidence. It is relatively easy for the justice system to get away with this because we don’t talk about it enough.
Right now, we can’t rely on our justice system, but the best thing to do anyway is to prevent rape in the first place.
We tell our daughters to use a buddy system, to use mace, when not to walk alone. Talk to your boys, too. Talk and talk and talk about rape—what it is, what it isn’t always. Tell your children if it happened to you. Because if anything stops a cycle of ignorance, it’s knowledge.
The F.B.I. provides the following definition of rape:
“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.”
How to talk to your children: