Rape is not a question of personal life. There is tremendous social pressure to make women endure atrocities by telling them that those abuses are merely personal. To destroy someone’s life and sexuality is not simply a “personal” transgression. The rape trauma takes the victim out of social circulation by isolating her with fear, anxiety and misery. If anyone goes absent from the collective of social life, that collective social life is changed.
Rape can be seen as a human rights question. Classifying rape in terms of “family law” or “domestic violence” does a terrible dis-service to women who have been raped in the relationship setting. We should all have access to life without fear of being sexually abused and hated at the intimate non-consensual level. Rape is a hate crime. If your boyfriend rapes you because he’s stoned and/or he just wants to “see” this or that, he is not respecting or validating your humanity, right to live, feelings, and being. He is insulting and diminishing you at the most visceral level possible. Rape is an attempt to slaughter your will and desire to live. Perhaps life does go on for some women after rape. But try imagining who you could have been without it, and without having to worry about sexual abuse in the future? And not everyone’s life goes on after: it depends how violent the rape was, whether the rapist treated the victim as a human later (apologized and so forth), or any number of other things that may or may not help repair, restore or further damage the victim in the aftermath of such an act.
Here are a few facts I have learned that I believe everyone should know about many states in the US (and, for the most part, Canadian) rape law:
1) Rape is rape whether or not the perpetrator is your spouse or anyone you have had consensual sex with before. If you did not consent to what the person did in a particular instance or instances, then it is rape.
2) There are many ways to express non-consent besides explicitly stating “no.”
3) There is no statute of limitations on rape. If you have ever been raped, you can press charges at any time.
4) The legal system offers different options to get a perpetrator to face consequences. It’s not an either/or choice like his jail vs your silence, though (jail for him) could be an option.
5) Despite the fact that I have outlined (above) the strengths of the legal process, the legal system is stacked in favor of men. The police force is run by men. A lady police officer, born professionally in this establishment of aggressive men, is just as likely to try to convince you not to press charges, albeit using a more calming or pleasant approach. She also might not tell you that rape is not under the authority of the police, and is a different kind of crime. Most women won’t know that they probably have to go further up the food chain in order to press charges. It’s also extremely difficult to become informed about your rights. Attorneys have different interests, and *many* will try to intimidate women (as a reflection of their own psychologies.)
6) Men who rape almost always lie about it. Some who are more sophisticated may choose a different apologetic strategy, and that may or may not be helpful to the healing process. But the apologetic rapist is rare, and the apology might not be enough for the victim.
7) Falsely reported rapes do very occasionally exist. Their number is hugely exaggerated. I believe that sometimes women will retract a rape statement in order to try to back out of the public side of the aftermath experience or out of fear retaliation (or have other reasons to backpedal.) I have never seen anyone try to study false retractions, but I cannot see how they do not exist. Either way, the number of un-reported rapes is *enormous* compared to the number of false reports.
Let us make a network of mutual support so that we can publicize and take legal actions when it is our right to do so. You may be a man’s first rape victim, but it is unlikely that you will be his last.
I wish for a society that is equally free for women, where women do not have to put up with constant objectification and sexual abuse (so much so that sex, fashion, film and music industries try to convince us not to see abuse or to even ‘enjoy’ this abuse.) Power relations are neither part of “human nature” nor are they present in all societies. Maybe some day we can re-think sex as a collective on more human terms, outside of the purist/porn dyad that has been shoved down our throats in different ways in this epoch (*not* “since the beginning of time.”)
Some day dialogue and community interactions may be enough to create broad scale shifts in thinking and acting. But at this time the most effective resource women have are legally punitive ones. If it’s only through the legal threat that those who fail to consider the life of the other will abstain from the violence that follows extreme narcissism, then that is the weapon we should pick up. All of the same tools for fighting all the other social battles apply to women, and apply to the as yet un-dreamed possibility of our real shift away from the very serious condition of sexual servitude that every act of rape, and the denial, tolerance or acceptance of it proves.
The idea of the ‘personal’ is a lie. The feminist projects of the 70s and 80s have met with both smear campaigns from the Right as well as completely fake and insincere forms of support and tolerance on the Left, and among liberals and media makers. Let us not be afraid to use whatever tools we have available now as we learn together as a collective how to forge new ones.