Wednesday, October 17, 2012

There is no such thing as "relatively benign rape."

About a week ago someone I (usually) respect told me that there is a "continuum" of rape, from the violent, murderous extreme at one end to the "relatively benign rape" at the other. Those are his words.

For the record, let me state: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BENIGN RAPE.

When will men stop saying such outrageous things? What is it they don't get about rape?

I've been stewing over this ever since then, hesitating to write this because -- get this -- I didn't want to offend him. But I think I have to.

First, let's define our terms. These are my definitions, not Webster's.
Rape: the sexual assault of one person generally involving the insertion of an erect penis or other object into the other person.
Benign: harmless, of no lasting negative effect.
Thank God I have never been raped, but I have experienced sexual assault.

[Caution: if you are a survivor of sexual assault this may be triggering.]

For a very short while when I was in high school, I dated a man who was in university. He had a goofy smile, was about six feet tall and muscular. I was petite, weighed about 90 lbs soaking wet, fully clothed, wearing shoes and carrying a purse. We met through our Christian youth group.

One night, as he arrived to pick me up, my mother, upon learning who I was dating, was alarmed and said, "You're playing with fire." Ugh, I thought, mothers.

We went to his house in an isolated area out in the country. His parents were not home. He made tea, put on some make-out music, and lit a fire. Before I knew it, he was lying on top of me on the very soft couch and getting very excited. I began to feel afraid, worried that this was going further than I wanted. I tried to maneuvre out from under him, but could not. I tried pushing against him, but he didn't seem to notice.

I began to disassociate. I did not scream or yell (his mouth was covering mine, besides, who would hear me?), but my soul cried out.

Suddenly, the room filled with smoke. He leapt up and began fiddling with the fireplace damper and snuffing the fire.

I stood up and did not sit back down. He tried to resume where we had left off, but I told him that I thought I should go home. So he took me home. Thank God.

I am sharing this because I think most men - men who have never experienced unwanted sexual contact - don't understand what this does to our psyche, to our souls.

I felt
scared - frightened of what might happen
powerless - physically and emotionally unable to control the situation or his behaviour
shameful - because I had courted sexual activity with this man
guilty - because I let it happen

It has been 35 years since that night, but I still associate those feelings with it. I would call that a "lasting negative effect." And it wasn't even rape.

If he had had sex with me or coerced me into giving him oral sex, I don't think I would have been able to tell anyone. As my mother said, I had been playing with fire and got burnt. Or, as she also often said, "You made your bed, you lie in it."

So much in our culture puts the blame on the woman, as if men are powerless to control their penises and sexual behaviour.

As I pressed him, my friend cited the classic, misinformed cases of "she changed her mind" and the victim-blaming "she put herself in that situation (by drinking too much, going out partying)" as cases of "relatively benign rape."

The interesting thing about his arguments, to me, was that he didn't deny that it was rape; he only persisted in believing that they were relatively harmless, of no lasting negative effect.

He's wrong. When a man uses our bodies for his own gratification, against our will, it has a lasting effect. We lose our peace of mind, we lose our trust. It sticks with us.

I don't think men will ever understand the sense of vulnerability inherent in being a woman, but I do hope that this post helps enlighten them.

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