Was It Rape?

The Internet is either a blessing or a curse, and it all depends on who you ask.  I can’t make up my mind about it, and I spend a great deal of time writing and reading content online.  But one thing that I am very much diggin’ about the Internet these days is the amount of female-positive, feminist messages I see going around.  Granted, I work hard to distance myself from the negative, hateful people who are convinced that women are property and therefore not really all that important.

A while back I read a post by the lovely Liz Furl on the grey areas of consent and rape.  “Was it Rape?” discusses a situation that falls into that shadowy area between the definites.  Rape should be one of those certainties–something that is known to be wrong.  Rape is a violent, horrible act that views a person as an object.  It is a violation of decency and trust.  But, like so many other areas in life, it has it’s confusing moments.

I know someone named Sara*.  Her name isn’t really Sara, but she doesn’t always feel comfortable with sharing her true identity.  Sara was dating this guy–we’ll call him Oswald.  When Sara separated from Oswald, it was because she found out that he viewed her as a fuck-buddy, his “friend-with-benefits.”  Sara was outraged, humiliated, and hurt.  She had never entered into that relationship with such intentions.  And she knew that Oswald knew that her sexuality was so meaningful and special to her that she would never use it on some guy just for fun.  Sara had had consensual sex with Oswald… up until after the day she finally left him.  After that day, she thought of herself as having been raped.

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This is where it enters that grey area.  When Sara thinks of her relationship with Oswald now, she thinks of all the times she was mentally and emotionally raped.  She thinks of how her feelings were manipulated by Oswald so that she would continue sleeping with him.  Had he been honest about his intentions, she never would have had sex with him, nor would she have continued to think of him as a boyfriend.

But our mainstream understanding of rape is of a physical violation, not a mental or emotional one.  Sara continues to feel conflicted about how to think of herself as a survivor of rape.  She can empathize with other survivors, but is unsure of how her situation would be thought of by anyone but herself.  I shared the “Was it Rape?” piece with her, and she felt it resonate within her.  She too will spend the rest of her life trying to recover from events she wishes she could take back and get rid of.  She too is a survivor of rape, even thought it wasn’t of the physical sort.

Why should we even have to ask these kinds of questions: Does this kind of rape really count as rape?

Any kind of rape counts as rape.  Rape is unwilling and not consensual  sex.  This can mean it’s a forced physical act or the lies and manipulation of one’s feelings and emotions in order to convince one to have sex.  Because really, if you have to lie to someone about your intentions, how can that lead to authentic consent?

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Another way to look at it is through this brilliant metaphor.  If you replace having sex with making tea, everything makes sense.  You ask someone, “Would you like a cup of tea?”  That person says they would.  That is consent.  What if the person is passed out?  Can they really agree to a cup of tea?  No, they cannot.  If they can’t agree to a cup of tea, they can’t agree to have sex.

Now, what if Oswald offers Sara a cup of tea?  She accepts this tea and drinks it.  A week later, Oswald says, “That wasn’t really tea.  It was milk.”  Sara did not agree to a cup of milk.  She was told that she was being given tea, and that is what she agreed to.  Sara did not consent to milk.

Sara did not consent to sex with Oswald.

Relationships are difficult things and take time, effort, and patience.  Nobody knows what makes a perfect relationship, and this isn’t helped by the fact that so many of them are built upon a foundation of lies and deceit.  These are not the building blocks to a healthy relationship.  Nor are they the means to consensual sex.

I desperately hope that one day ladies like Liz and Sara don’t have to spend their lives having an internal debate over the meaning of rape and whether or not their experiences are legitimized by others as rape.  I hope that one day the lines of consent will cease to be blurred.  Yes is yes, no is no, and tea is tea.

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