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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Using the word 'rape'

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Author Topic: Using the word 'rape'
Tarnished
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There have been a lot of news stories about rape and consent in the media (isn't there always?) and it's made me think about my experiences with 'rape'. I just wanted to write this somewhere where maybe someone will understand...

1. My first boyfriend used emotional blackmail so I'd let him have sex with me, he made me feel like if I didn't have sex I didn't love him and if I didn't enjoy it he I was a freak, so I'd normally just role over and let him get on with it, it would hurt and sometimes I'd cry. I have no idea if he knew how much he hurt me (physically or emotionally), I have no idea if he is aware of what he was doing because he never outright said 'have sex with me or you don't love me', and for a long time I really struggled to know what to call it.

2. A close friend took me to his house in the middle of no where, we were in his room so the only place to sit was his bed and his bedroom door was locked, I had no way of getting out without him opening the door and no way of getting home without his driving. He showed me his guns and knives, it felt threatening. He was suicidal in the way that you either had to tell him how much he was loved, or you told him he was a loser so he got to play victim...if you didn't play this game, if you rejected his need for affection, there was the risk he'd kill himself. I don't remember what exactly happened, but I know I felt I had no choice but to let him have sex with me. I didn't call this rape.

Both cases to me FEEL like they were rape - I think that's what's important.

I felt like I wanted to curl-up as tightly as I possibly could, I couldn't close my legs tight enough, and I felt like I couldn't put enough between my vagina and the rest of the world to stop it happening again. My vagina felt like a separate entity, it wasn't part of me yet at the same time it was all I was about, thinking about my vagina made me feel like there was a huge gaping cavern inside me, and sex seemed to be everywhere so making me feel like I was a freak if I didn't want sex. For a while afterwards I tried to be 'sexually liberated' by being promiscuous which didn't help, but then within relationships I always felt like I had to have sex...my other boyfriends never pressured me into sex, but I always felt pressued by myself to have sex. I'd feel sexual but wouldn't want sex, I'd want to be submissive during sex but then that would remind me of what happened. I'd convince myself to have sex because it was what you do in a relationship, but then I'd get upset that I was trying to force myself to have sex so I'd not have sex...and then feel guilty about rejecting my partner(s), or I'd have some sort of panic attack then a new partner would freak-out because I just had too much baggage for them.

I think I'm better now, the fact that I now acknowledge what happened as rape...sexual assault...or whatever you want to call it, means I have a lot more control over my body and so I'm not in a battle with myself about whether or not I actually want to have sex or am doing it for my partner(s).

The problem comes in talking about it...

People think that rape is a stranger dragging you into a bush and beating you up while you scream no, there are so many seriously messed-up ideas about what rape is, and it's so sad to see so many women attacked like it's their responsibility if they were raped. So many people don't think rape can occur within a relationship - worse still is that people think 'lack of consent' means you said 'no'...what happens when the lines aren't that clear? What happens if you just let it happen? If you 'let it happen' when a stranger rapes you then you're a victim, but if it's someone you know (like a boyfriend) raping you and you 'let it happen' to some it means you consented. You didn't say yes, but if you didn't say no people tell you it wasn't rape and that you are 'crying rape', thus you are scum of the earth worthy of being attacked for using the wrong word.

Feminist sex education tells you that rape is sex without consent...that when someone has sex with you they do so knowing you say yes, if not in words then by your actions; you don't just 'let it happen' but you are an active and willing participant. The problem is not everyone knows about consent, I don't think my boyfriend or my close friend knew about consent, if you don't say 'no' or 'yes' how can a man (or a woman) know what you want? What keeps me from saying the word 'rape' to describe my experiences is that it could hurt the men involved - I don't think it is fair to label them rapists and possibly ruin their reputation when it is possible that they really genuinely didn't know that I wasn't giving my consent. However I've had many people attack me for not calling it rape or reporting these men to the police and ruining their lives by labeling them rapists.

I read a story somewhere online a little while ago, a young teen used to get drunk and go to wearhouses with men, men took advantage of her by getting her drunk to have sex with her, but she didn't realise it was rape. She tried to explain the situation to herself by thinking of herself as a party girl or sexually liberated. Years later as a woman this girl realised she had been raped and when one of her rapists contacted her she took the brave step of telling him what happened - he had no idea what he had done was wrong, he thought she had consented by 'letting it happen'. This helped him understand the importance of consent, and some people would say I should do the same with my 'rapists'...in fact, many people have told me that if I don't confront my 'rapists' that I'm responsible if they rape again (isn't that a lovely thing to say to a rape survivor? Talk about victim blaming!). I'm not brave, another reason I don't use the word 'rape' is because I wouldn't want these men to find out I've labeled them as something as vile and life-distroying as 'rapist', I wouldn't want to have to explain what happened from my perspective...and I'm scared in case I'm wrong, or that I'm to blame.

I'm still friends with my first boyfriend on Facebook, although we don't talk, he seems to have a healthy happy relationship. It makes me think of my mother, she was physically abusive to me as a child, but we never talk about it...it's like it never happened. I wonder if it's the same with my first boyfriend, maybe he knows but doesn't want to admit it. This brings another aspect into place; abusers make you think it is your fault, they don't admit to themselves what they do or realise what they are doing is abuse, and this makes it even harder for you as the victim to determine who is in the wrong.

There are so many shades of grey...we say that it is never the woman to blame for rape, however many counter-arguments are given and some ake valid points, for example if a woman is drunk and she consents to sex with a man...sure he may have taken advantage, but she was responsible for getting drunk and for saying yes. Where do the lines get drawn? Are we saying that people should nver have sex when drunk? When it comes to sex in relationships do we always have to start sexual experiences asking 'Do you consent to me having sex with you?' 'Yes, and do you consent to me having sex with you?' - the question for me is; am I to blame for not saying 'no' or 'stop'?

My current way of thinking about this is that I think I was raped, but I don't think the men responsible were rapists - I will not call them rapists, it causes too much damage to a person to be called a rapist to throw around such terms without it being absolutely clear that's what's happened. I think the word 'rapist' is too much for some people to cope with or use comfortably, likely because of what we think rape to be; a stranger dragging your into a bush to beat you while raping you - it's a hell of a loaded term. I'm sure feminist sex educators would want the word 'rape' to include all sex without consent, not just a stranger dragging you into a bush, but right now I think lack of understanding means victims are scared to use the word 'rape' and thus it's harder for them to come to terms with what happened and regain control.

When I see talk about rape I want to weigh-in but I can't because it hurts, not because of what happened to me but because some people are mad at me for saying I was raped, and others are mad at me for saying I wasn't. I am made to feel ashamed, not for the rapes but for the fact no one knows if it was rape, not even me. It's not as clear-cut as we'd like, it means we can't move forward and when rape cases hit the media we get (amongst the vile comments from within the victim-blaming rape culture) constant arguments about consent and when it's rape. We NEED to teach boys and girls about consent, I think we have a LOT of very confused young people with no control over their sexuality, and we have loads of adult men and women who don't know about consent...people like me who are caught between two worlds, attacked by both sides, struggling to understand if they were raped at all...and ultimately it screws us up even more.

Posts: 14 | From: Newcastle, UK | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
skiesofgreen
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You know I really really hear you on this. I think I've gone though a fairly similar process myself both in coming to terms with my own experiences with rape and how I talk about them.

A couple things I've learned in the process are that 1) we, as survivors, get to define our own experiences. If the word rape isn't something that helps us (or if it is) we get to make the decision about how it's applied to our own experiences. And trusting our knowledge of those experiences is so, so important.

2) What we know and feel internally isn't always what we want or need to express externally. For me that's meant only disclosing to those I felt comfortable with, at times using different terminology if that's what I needed to feel safe and looked after and remembering through all of that that looking out for my own mental well being is what really matters. There have been times or incidences with certain people where although I'd started internally referring to what happened to me as rape I chose for my own comfort and wellbeing to use a different word with that particular person or at that particular time and I think that's an ok thing to do.

I'd also remembering to have patience with myself has been key. Even (or maybe especially) when it comes to owning my own experience I've needed to remember that I get there when I get there.

I totally feel you on bad reactions too. Unfortunately you're all too right about the depressingly low levels of education around sexual assault and it can make talking about it, and disclosing it, a scary and sometimes sadly painful process. I'm really sorry to hear you've had those reactions. I'm very sorry to hear too that even people that recognized what happened to you as assault were blaming and accusative about the language you wanted to use and the actions you wanted to take around it. I don't ever think anyone should be shamed for their decision to not report. What we need to do for our own mental and physical wellbeing needs to be the number one priority and you shouldn't be shamed for those choices. I'm so sorry that happened.

I also agree that the way people talk about rape can be very not black and white but I don't agree that rape itself is so murky. Rape is sexual activity without the consent of the other person. And it's on the person enacting the sexual activity to seek out that consent. But I hear you on how hard it can be to internalize that message, it's something I still struggle with at times too.

But I also don't buy the idea that people are simply oblivious to someone who is totally not wanting to have sex with them. I didn't really internalize just how obvious it is when someone doesn't want sex and just how easy it is to say "hey, I'm really feeling this right now, are you?" or "I'm not sure if you're just naturally really quiet or if you're not into this? Would you like to stop?" until I got with someone who really DID get it. Once I had the experience of someone really noticing not just when I didn't want sex but even when I just wasn't digging a particular sensation it became less and less believable to me that someone could completely miss huge signals of fear, pain and serious non-consent. I also began to realise that it really really is normal for most people to see someone crying and be concerned and actively try to change the circumstances leading to that, not continue them or continue to pursue them. And that people who DON'T do that are actively making the choice not to care for the other person's wellbeing. Actively making the choice to rape.

And you know that conversation you presented ('Do you consent to me having sex with you?' 'Yes, and do you consent to me having sex with you?') while maybe not worded in the most sexy way possible really doesn't strike me as unreasonable anymore. I mean, for sure, I think there are times (especially when we get to know our partners) that their non-verbal cues are going to let us know how into it they are. But I don't think there's anything not sexy about saying "I want to have sex with you so badly right now, what about you?" nor is getting the answer "omg yes me too." And if that's not the answer you get? Well, I don't think anyone who really cares about the wellbeing of everyone involved is going to want to pursue sex where that isn't the case.

Also the example you give of the women being drunk doesn't stand up for me. Sure she made the choice to get drunk (the consequences of which she can reasonably be held accountable for being a hang-over, liver damage, potential alcohol poisoning etc.) but she doesn't make the choice to have anyone rape her while she is drunk. That decision was made and only made by the person who enacted the rape. He could just as easily have gotten her a cab or made sure she got to bed ok, or called a friend. Nothing (not her being drunk, nothing) made him decide to rape her except himself. I think a phrase that really helped me in that vein was that rape doesn't happen unless a rapist (or if you prefer, someone choosing to rape) is present.

So while I totally agree that rape is a word that is very much misrepresented and often very difficult to see people talking about properly (at least if we're looking at mainstream media) I also don't think that means we need to internalize that mode of thinking or even parrot it.

At the same time though I think it really is important to know that feeling like all of this is too painful or raw or stressful to weigh in on? That that's ok. We get to choose to opt out of those conversations, and that doesn't make us bad people or apologists or whatever else. It means we know our own limits and there's nothing shameful about that.

I know this doesn't address everything you said but I hope it at least contributes a bit to the conversation.

[ 09-19-2013, 08:26 PM: Message edited by: skiesofgreen ]

Posts: 245 | From: British Columbia, Canada | Registered: Mar 2010  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Tarnished
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Thank you for your reply.

I apologise for the late response, I just kind of posted it and ran. I was scared that even here I'd get attacked for not using the word 'rape', for using the word 'rape', for recognising that maybe rapists don't always know that they're rapists, or for thinking it may not always be appropriate or constructive to go after your rapist publicly or legally.

Right now it's just hard...

Every single day I'm seeing the subject of rape, cases such as the one in Marybille, the 1 in 4 college women who get raped (and how colleges shut them up), the rape-culture in colleges, schools, society, EVERYWHERE. If I stop following news sources like Jezebel, if I stop posting anti-rape items on Pinterest, even if I turn off the mainstream news...it still gets through, it's insidious! I'm a masochist for this too, I'll stupidly read the comments on rape stories and see a flood of 'where's the personal responsibility? It's never the victims fault BUT she shouldn't have gotten so drunk' etc. You don't always see this coming either, you assume that everyone thinks rape is 100% wrong all the time, only to then be shocked when an acquaintance starts victim-blaming - on the one hand you want to correct them, but on the other you're really not strong enough to fight. I'm not shy about saying that this happened to me, I'm very cautious though because not only is there the fear about my rapists learning that they are rapists, I'm also scared that people will blame me; I could have said no, I could have fought, I could have gotten out of the relationship, etc.

'If you THINK you were raped'
'Well, I suppose you were raped, BUT'
I have zero interest in having to deal with that, I may not be getting called a slut or told not to drink so much next time, but it's still the same victim-blaming and lack of understanding of consent.

It's just I guess when you're a rape survivor it's not just the rape you have to get over, but all the social BS...if you're not called a slut, then you have to deal with all the social ideas about rape and the victims. You get over the rape itself and come to terms with it, but with constant messages telling you that it was rape...it wasn't rape...it keeps you in this position where you don't really know the truth, and so you don't really know what to think or how to feel. You get your control over your body back when you get over rape, but you still have to fight to claim your own experience.

Ugh. I'm just really tired of seeing it all right now, and I'm not sure how to get past that.

Posts: 14 | From: Newcastle, UK | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Hey there, Tarnished. I'm heading out for the day, but I had a few thoughts in passing on what you've asked about:

1) Sounds like maybe you could do some more self-care when it comes to picking what you read and how much of it, like maybe reading the articles you want to, but NOT reading random comments? (Which tend to be hideous on just about everything pretty much everywhere, but I agree, on this topic they can be especially wretched.)

2) How about also amping up the *supportive* things you read? For instance, there are some great pieces over at Pandy's: http://www.pandys.org/ The Yes Means Yes blog isn't updated that often, but it always has the smart, good, supportive stuff too: http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/

I've written a lot of pieces about surviving here over the years, including surviving what we're told or hear. here are a couple that seem like they might be helpful to you, or a balm for some of this other crud:
• http://www.scarleteen.com/blog/heather_corinna/2013/02/01/please_stop_calling_rape_sex
• http://www.scarleteen.com/blog/heather_corinna/2008/04/07/the_revolution_will_be_televised_and_ill_find_a_way_to_be_okay_with_
• http://www.scarleteen.com/blog/heather_corinna/2011/07/25/because_yes_it_really_does_happen_a_thank_you_to_slutwalks
• http://www.scarleteen.com/blog/heather_corinna/2012/01/09/words_matter_cheers_to_the_fbi_for_recognizing_how_much

What else do you think you can do for yourself to weather the crummy comments when they do happen and they are not something you can avoid?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

Posts: 68290 | From: An island near Seattle | Registered: May 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Saffron Raymie
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I'm loving these resources! Registered at Pandy's.

[ 10-15-2013, 09:35 AM: Message edited by: Saffron Raymie ]

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'Obtain the virgin's consent before you marry her' - Prophet Mohammad (pbuh)

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