Over the weekend, two Ohio teens were found guilty of raping a 16 year old intoxicated, incapacitated girl. There were many witnesses to the incident, who did not make an effort to help the girl or stop the teens who were violating her. The most telling part of the story was the testimony of one of the witnesses. From the Yahoo article:
“It wasn’t violent,” explained teammate Evan Westlake when asked why he didn’t stop the two defendants as they abused a non-moving girl that Westlake knew to be highly intoxicated. “I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone.”
There is a grave misunderstanding of rape in our society. We watch shows like Law & Order: SVU and think that rape = a violent attack. If the victim walks away without any physical damage, it must not have been rape.
Rape does not require violence. I would wager that most rapes are actually non-violent. Rather, rape often involves a much more subtle coercion of the victim. The perpetrator then denies that any rape occurred because they didn’t brutalize the victim into submission. I know that this was the case in the three rapes that I have experienced in my lifetime.
The first time I was raped was when I was 13. An older neighborhood boy, age 17, had a reputation for being the local “virginity thief.” I hadn’t had much experience with boys until I met this group of boys that he belonged to. I enjoyed the feeling of inclusion, the attention. My parents were gone a lot at work and so I spent most of my summer just before high school with these boys.
The 17 year old walked me home late one night, after I had snuck out of the house with my little sisters and their friends in tow. He climbed in my bedroom window. As the kids fell asleep on my floor, he began kissing me. The kissing wasn’t a problem until things began to move very quickly. I said no. I was a virgin. I wanted to wait until I was married. He said, “Come on…” and continued to coerce me, meanwhile going ahead with his business against my wishes.
The second time was not long after. I went with some friends to visit a boy I liked. He was only two years older than me. He didn’t know we were stopping by; it was unplanned. He saw me, knew I was no longer a virgin from the gossip within our group, and backed me into the spare bedroom. I told him I didn’t want to have sex. He had a large group of friends in the next room. He did what he wanted anyway.
The third time was many years later. I had an argument with the man I was married to. We were visiting a friend out of town, who had given up his bedroom to host us. I had said something to our friend that was probably better left unsaid, felt bad, and confessed it to my husband. He became angry. I went to bed. He came into the bedroom not long after and proceeded to initiate intercourse. I said I wasn’t interested; I said no. He said, “You owe me,” and did what he wanted anyway. Our infant son was sleeping in the Pack ‘N’ Play, just a few feet from the bed. To this day, he insists that I am “misremembering,” and that “we argued and then had sex.” I have not misremembered. And I don’t sleep with people with whom I am angry.
In each act listed above, I simply gave up my protest (hint: giving up protesting is not the same as giving consent; it is simply admitting defeat). I wasn’t drugged, intoxicated, unconscious, beaten, or held at gunpoint. None of the perpetrators in these cases viewed themselves as rapists or as having committed an act of rape; they all went unreported. All of these men have gone on to lead normal lives, marrying and having children. With each of these incidents, it didn’t occur to me at the time it was happening that it was rape. I was under the same false impression as the witnesses in the Ohio case–that rape is a violent act.
Rape does not have to be a violent act. Rape can be a subtle violation of the victim’s will as much as it is of their body. Clearly, if several people can walk past a woman being raped and not recognize it as rape–if even a victim of rape cannot recognize it in the moment–we are failing as a society when it comes to understanding and educating others about rape.