Thursday, March 12, 2009

Seeking Objective Definitions Of Rape

I left the following as a comment to a post called Defining Rape at the SAFER blog supporting Katie Roiphe's desire for an objective defintion of rape:

We cannot have an objective and complete definition of rape which eliminates the perspective of the victim.

Katie Roiphe and many others who claim to want an objective definition of rape falsely dismiss the experience of most rape victims. Their desired rigorous definition of rape in fact seeks to deny many rapes rather than illuminating them.

In the case of someone brushing against another person there are 2 issues: freely given consent and sexualized contact. If the contact is sexualized then freely given consent is a requirement for the sexual contact to be legal.

Many of those who focus on objectivity seek to dismiss certain behaviors at a mechanical level unless those physical movements are always a crime.

For example, an interaction begins with one person holding a gun. Mechanical shorthand: Gun to head, penis in vagina. Rape is clear without asking the person with the gun to her head whether she consented.

This level of objectivity (which turns the victim into nothing more than an object) clearly eliminates most rapes because in most rapes it isn't the stripped down mechanical movement which defines a rape as a real rape. It is the absence of freely given consent.

This mechanical shorthand for rape committed on a date would be: date followed by penis in vagina. Since on a purely mechanical level that is not clearly rape, Roiphe and others dismiss rapes committed under these circumstances as bad sex.

This mechanical shorthand would also eliminate many non-sex crimes, but those who use this shorthand when it comes to sex crimes don't want this standard applied to all crimes. Many burglaries could be reduced to: Person walks through unlocked doorway, carries items out of house. From that "objective" description it would be impossible to know if a crime had been committed.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:18 AM   4 comments links to this post


At March 12, 2009 5:57 PM, Blogger Hiyaaah! said...

In other words, they want an 'objective' version because they don't believe the victims' version. This is the myth of female dishonesty again, plus a strong desire to disregard women's expressed views and wishes. Just like the actual rapists: it doesn't matter whether she wanted sexual interaction, and it doesn't matter whether she said no. Apparently Roiphe doesn't care whether a woman says it was rape; only an "objective" [man's] view makes any difference.

At March 12, 2009 5:58 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

No we cannot have a so-called 'objective definition of rape' if it is one-sided and ignores the perspective of rape survivors. For too long various legal systems, including the US and UK have defined rape solely from a male perspective which neatly ignores unequal power dynamics and male presumptions of sexual entitlement and continuous sexual access to women and girls.

Rape occurs when there is an absence of mutual and freely given agreement by both parties. This means one party (predominantly male) cannot presume he knows exactly what the other party (predominantly female) wants/desires/likes and then chooses to act on his assumptions. We do not qeustion burglery victims or mugging victims as to whether or not they 'consented' to being burgled or mugged but male dominant society claims women are always eager for sexual interaction with any man irrespective of his age, social position, etc. unless the woman is able to provide 110% evidence she did not 'consent.' This is what 'rape culture' means - women refused their right of sexual autonomy and instead only men accorded this right.

At March 12, 2009 7:27 PM, Anonymous Holly said...

That was an excellent comment. When it comes to rape and sexualized assault of any "term," we continue to see such a backlash of apologists who do all they can to blame the victim and dismiss the crime completely and the article that spurred this comment is yet another article trying to dismiss rape.

At March 13, 2009 5:52 PM, Anonymous m Andrea said...

The only thing which gives me hope is that no matter how large in number are the rape apologists, they cannot withstand a prolonged assault of truth and logic.

You are beyond fabulous Marcella.


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