So there’s something I’ve noticed when I discuss sexual assaults with other victims that I really have trouble wrapping my mind around. It gives me a yucky gut feeling for more reasons than I can probably list here, but if nothing else I’ll try to present the most coherent ones.
As a matter of fairness, I should start off by saying that I completely understand where the people on the other end of this conversation are coming from. I used to think like that – hell, sometimes the thought still sneaks up on me and I have to stick my head into some official “What Is Rape?” documentation to calm my ass down.
Here’s the way it goes. I’ll be talking with another victim, and they’ll say that magic, awful phrase: I mean, I don’t think what happened to me was really rape.
You know what isn’t rape? Consensual, informed sex isn’t rape. That doesn’t mean that it was good sex; you can orgasm from rape, and you can be bored senseless by the most consensual sex possible. Degree of sexual pleasure has nothing to do with consent. What transpires has nothing to do with informed consent, for the most part; in my mind, there is (with some obvious exceptions) a safe, consensual way to go about satisfying just about any fetish you can think of.
So if rape isn’t about what happens, or how your body physically reacts to it, then what is left?
Rape is about lack of real, informed consent. Plain and simple.
That’s why it kills me when I hear other women taking their own experiences less seriously than someone else’s just because “he only stuck his fingers in me, not his penis” or “he used a beer bottle, not his penis” or “he didn’t cum in me” or “he used a condom” or anything else you can think of.
I do not believe that there is a sliding scale of rape.
With My Rapist, the assaults that actually involved his reproductive organs in or around mine were no worse than the others. In fact, in some ways, they were less violent and traumatic – they didn’t last as long, they didn’t hurt as much. But I spent the longest time raking my own ass over the coals because his favorite thing to do was throw me around/hold me down and perform oral sex on me, and Jesus Christ Avvie Everyone Likes Oral Sex So It Wasn’t Rape What The Hell Is Wrong With You?
That’s a dangerous line of thinking, and I hate when I find myself wandering down it even now.
It’s conventional wisdom that rape isn’t really about sex, it’s about Power (or whatever phrasing they’re using for it now). I for the most part agree with this, although I think sometimes Sex and Power are so intertwined in the Rapist Psyche that you can’t always draw a line between the two. So most of the professional world now agrees that, for the rapist, rape isn’t about sex.
So why are we still making it about sex for the victims?
We’ve instilled this bizarre idea that forced* penetration with a penis is the ultimate wrong you could do someone, and forced oral/vaginal/anal penetration with anything else is somehow a second-class offense. I can maybe understand certain aspects that would be a bigger concern from the former: pregnancy, for example. But barring those, why do we feel the need to make victims believe that rape is about the physical aspect of what was done to them?
My rapes have not, largely, left me with a fear of consensual sex. It has left me with the fear of trusting others, being left alone with people, getting tangled in anyone else’s emotional web, mental illness, and disabled men.
My rapes were not about sex.
My rapes were no worse than someone else’s.
My rapes were no worse than someone else’s.
We’re still playing into this idea that a woman’s sexual purity is part of her worth, and that the difference between a penis and a beer bottle is the difference between being totally and utterly destroyed and being expected to “just get over it”. I cannot bring myself to understand this. I cannot stand up and say truthfully that I would have been less traumatized had I just been fucked every time.
Rape is not about sex.
Rape is about being violated.
And you never even need to see an inch of the other person’s body for that to happen.
And for the sake of every other victim I’ve ever met, I hope that some day that becomes the conventional wisdom.
*I’m sure most of you realize by now that my definition of “force” is pretty broad, so I’m not trying to play into the “rapist with a gun” stereotype – it’s just for lack of a better word at the moment.