Do You Know What Rape Is? Take the Quiz

*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.

Boy spray paintingRight 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:
·      The Wire

Meet: Our Collective Response

I’ve been writing every other Saturday for PDXX Collective, a group of women writers around the country, but mostly based in Portland, OR. Today, we offer a collective response to sexual assault in the military. Mine is below:

26,000. The number is just stunning. That’s 71 sexual assaults each day of 2012. In the U.S. military alone. If there was ever a time to use WTF, it’s after reading that.

It’s hard not to be angry that the man in charge of stopping sexual assault in the Air Force was arrested for sexual assault. Angry at the arrogance these people have shown—from the assaulters and rapists themselves to the brass who decided to either look the other way, overturn a ruling, or create and contribute to a culture in which those below them in rank thought that raping was OK. Lots of WTFs.

But all of that anger itself, even mine, makes me angry.


Clearing the Water on Rape

The following piece was also published on PDXX Collective

A lot of people have wondered over the last eight months, and especially the last few weeks, how teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio, could witness someone being raped and not do anything about it. But we know why. Of course we do. They watched as she was raped because we haven’t taught them otherwise. Not as parents. Not as friends. Not as a society. We’ve let the waters remain muddy, and some of us have muddied the water ourselves.

Over the last year, I’ve come to know three survivors of rape and their stories intimately. Some, I featured here. In each case, the perpetrator did not seem to know he’d committed rape. One tossed a friendly wave at his victim from across campus the day after the incident; another texted his victim a detailed apology–ie., confession of a felony, indicating he probably didn’t know he’d committed a felony. (Despite said confession—“I was too drunk to realize you were saying ‘No’”—the man was not brought to trial due to lack of evidence.)

There’s a fantastically sarcastic piece on Gawker by Mallory Ortberg in which she writes of the Steubenville football players: “Your ability to perform calculus or play football is generally not taken into consideration in a court of law. Should you prefer to be known as ‘Good student and excellent football player Trent Mays’ rather than ‘Convicted sex offender Trent Mays,’ try stressing the studying and tackling and giving the sex crimes a miss altogether.”

It’s tempting to write these guys off as assholes. Many men do not rape; if those men learned how to avoid becoming sex offenders, then surely Mays, Richmond, and the thousands of other rapists could have as well.

But consider, again, the bystanders. Add them to the whole mess and we have a crisis of definition, not only of rape but of consent as well. The waters are so muddy, we can’t see halfway to the bottom.

Candy Crowley and others got a lot of grief about their compassionate coverage on CNN of the conviction of the two Steubenville boys, lamenting the ruination of the young lives. But what I found most striking were these words of Crowley’s: “two young men…found guilty, in juvenile court, of rape, essentially.

Well, no. Just plain “rape” will do. It wasn’t “sort-of rape” or “the essence of rape.” It was rape.

Because, as we all should know, rape is the penetration of anyone, anywhere on their body, by anything. So, the fingers of Mays and Richmond into the vagina of the victim count, Candy.

Gosh, if an esteemed CNN journalist didn’t know, I think it might be safe to assume that the two boys who raped the girl might not have known, either. This does not excuse them. It just adds ignorance to their hubris, to their willingness to violate and humiliate a fellow human being, no matter the legal definition.

One bystander, when asked why he didn’t stop the rape, said, “It wasn’t violent.” Another boy who videotaped the assault said afterward he did it because he was, “Being stupid. Not making the right choices. I don’t really have a reason.”

Had he, and the others, been watching the stereotypical stranger-with-a-knife raping the girl, he probably would not have whipped out his video camera. Someone probably would have called police.

It’s got to be hard to rationalize that the same boy you sit next to in Algebra 101 is the same one raping a girl right in front of you. It would be less hard if we made it clear that about 84% of women who are raped know their assailant.* It would be less hard if we had no such distinction as “acquaintance rape.” If we have any distinction at all, it should be “stranger rape.”

Crowley’s addition of a cupful of mud to the water, on national television, regarding the definition of rape is almost imperceptible (all the more dangerous, I say). More overt are the bucketfuls of mud dumped by May’s and Richmond’s defense attorneys. Their two-tiered attack on the definitions of rape and consent are scattered among our various newspapers and on television, stating that the victim never actually said the word, “No” and “There’s probably a lot of indiscretion on her part as well.”  An intelligent and compassionate lawyer I know told me that though this defense is reprehensible, the lawyers were just “doing their job.”

I wonder where that argument ends and responsibility begins. I mean, if young people see those defenses being said out loud by adults, written in newspapers, and stated in court, aren’t they going to see them as legitimate arguments instead of what they are—dangerous and irrelevant arguments? Because, it doesn’t matter if she did not say no. Lack of consent does not mean saying, “No.” It means NOT SAYING YES. Being unconscious or asleep is a lack of consent. Being too drunk is a lack of consent. And, as long as we’re clearing the water, being too drunk does not mean, “Shit, I made a poor decision. You may rape me.”

Those defense lawyers know all this, but instead, to do their job, they decided to turn the victim into a whore at worst, someone who wanted it when she was sober anyway at best. They decided to play on the age-old misperceptions of what rape and consent are. Misperceptions that contributed to all those teenagers watching a rape and doing nothing but laugh and record it.

Boy spray paintingLet’s make sure boys and girls, and men and women, know what consent means, that “No means no” doesn’t cover it. That consent is indicated by saying, “Yes.”

Let’s make sure they know that rape is the penetration of anyone, anywhere on his/her body, by anything, without affirmative consent.

Women are often warned, as if the responsibility rests solely on their shoulders, that if they drink too much, bad things might happen to them. Let’s warn the men, too. As in, “If you drink too much, you might think it’s okay to stick your penis or finger or marker inside the girl passed out next to you. You might even think it’s funny. But guess what? If you do that, it’s a felony.”

As a blogger, I can check my site statistics. These include all the various search terms people enter in a given day that end up leading them to my blog. One of the most recurring search terms I find is, “Was I raped.”

Let’s clear the water and make sure they—and their rapists and any bystanders—never have to wonder again.

* Source: “Rape in America: A Report to the Nation.”

“We will always go dancing.”**

**Name that film.

Have you heard of One Billion Rising?

Here’s the gist: 1 in 3 females will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. Since there are about 7 billion people on the planet, and, say, half are female, that means 1 BILLION women and girls are being/will be/have been raped or beaten.

You don’t have to have a sister or little girl or mother you love to be stunned by that. And, those 1 in 3 don’t have to be every third house on your block, or every third woman in your office building. 1 in 3 women in OUR world are raped or beaten.

Sketch by Valley Haggard

One Billion Rising proposes a dance revolution of sorts. Read about it HERE.

Now, me being me, on Feb 14 I’m probably not going to jump off my proverbial couch (I do have a couch, but I’m not always on it), go to the street in front of my house, and start dancing. And I’m probably not going to join one of the events that are planned around the world–I checked and there are actually two within spitting distance of my house. (Not literally.)

BUT, I will write about it and add a small voice to the chorus that is growing ever-louder, thankfully, about the atrocity that is violence against women. About the attitude that women can be dominated, because we are lesser than.

AND, I will share the following story, which is a MUST READ. I put that in caps so you know I’m serious. If you’ve read this fur, then read a little further, please.

It’s not a big story, it got no press, no coverage on Huffington Post or CNN, that I know of. Just another True Story, one of a billion, about a woman whose foster child, a girl, insisted she was a boy:

Marie, who is profoundly deaf, came to live with us at the age of 7 years old.  At first she appeared to be your typical “tom boy”, but then she began to exhibit symptoms of being something more…symptoms of being an actual boy.  Quite simply, she TOLD me she was a boy.  She would only wear boy clothes, (including boy’s underwear.)  She refused to use the Ladies Rest Room so we found the family and unisex restrooms if she had to go to the bathroom in public.  She begged me to let her get her hair cut short, but her birth mother’s rights had not yet been terminated and she would not give permission for Marie to get a haircut, so Marie would pull it up in a pony tail on top of her head and wear a baseball cap everywhere….

***CLICK HERE to read more and get riled UP.***

Read Some More

There’s a part of me that sympathizes with Rep. Todd Akin, who got caught believing out loud that being very upset/scared/terrified can create super cells that roadblock the sperm forced inside a woman–or maybe the cells all circle the egg and hug it, protecting it from the invaders? Either way, the human body is amazing beyond comprehension. So it’s not entirely unbelievable that it could design a way for the reproductive system to work with the brain to prevent pregnancy.

It’s also not unbelievable that doctors paid by right-to-life organizations might write articles that conclude that rape rarely results in pregnancy, or that it never does because a woman will stop ovulating. And if that’s true, then an exception for rape in a law that bans abortion isn’t necessary. And politicians who want to believe said doctors’ conclusions read only those articles. Well, they need to read some more.

I think the following are worth a re-post.

“You Think You Don’t, But You Do.”

She says it was like a bad after-school special, and laughs. But there is sadness in her eyes, and shame. Not much, but it is there, I think. I want to say the right things, but it is hard to find the words when she tells me her story.

Jake* was older than I was, a frat boy. I’d had a crush on him for months and I was newly single, having just broken up with my boyfriend of three years. And now Jake and I were at the same party.

He fed me drinks all night. I laughed and flirted. My friend asked if I was going to hook up with him, but I said no. I was still sad over the break-up. My ex-boyfriend was the only guy I’d ever been with.

I blacked out for a while. I don’t recall walking upstairs. The next thing I remember is standing in a bedroom. Jake locked the door. We kissed on the bed but I was very drunk. I could barely move. He took off my pants and I remember saying, “No, I don’t want to do this.”  Click for more…

Teaching About Rape: 2 Things You Can Do

It’s a testament to its prevalence that I  know three women who have been raped. (Undoubtedly, I know more.)

But what I find particularly striking is that in each of the three cases, the man showed no indication that he thought he did anything illegal.

One waved and smiled at his victim in the days after and even tried to connect on MySpace. Another sent a text the morning after apologizing for being, “too drunk to realize you were saying no.”

If you know you committed a crime–uh, you don’t do that.

What’s with these guys?

Conventional wisdom, for one. Consider the alleged Congress Theater Rape. A young woman, in a drunken stupor, is waiting for her friends at a restaurant across the street from the theater when she is approached by several men. They are seen carrying her out of the restaurant. Thirty minutes later, she is found a half block away, bloody and naked on the sidewalk. She has been raped and beaten so badly she is in a coma.

Click for more.