You’d think it never happens; victims typically don’t discuss it and perpetrators uniformly deny it. But it happens a lot (see below).
In the US, the official definition of forcible rape was established in 1927, and wasn’t updated until January 6, 2012. That’s why I’m writing about rape now. The US Attorney General has just announced a revised definition of rape so that it can be more accurately reported and prosecuted. My hope is that by talking about it openly, it won’t happen to you or your loved ones; but if it does, offenders can be prosecuted and victims can more likely get justice.
Here’s how the new law differs from the old one. In 1927, “forcible rape” had been defined by the UCR SRS (Uniform Crime Report (UCR) Summary Reporting System (SRS) the “national report card”) as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That means a man forces vaginal sex with a woman. It left a lot to be determined; required an immediate visit to the doctor to look for sperm in the woman’s vagina as well as any signs of trauma. There was no law for a woman raping a man or a man raping a child. During my training, many nights I was asked to examine women for alleged rape, and the details of what I wrote in the hospital notes had a great impact on whether or not an alleged rapist was convicted. It’s not easy for a victim to think clearly or to want to talk about it. But that’s what has to happen.
Here’s how the new law describes rape: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
So if a person forces an object (animate or inanimate) into another person, it is rape.
Susan B. Carbon, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, states, “For the first time ever, the new definition includes any gender of victim and perpetrator, not just women being raped by men. It also recognizes that rape with an object can be as traumatic as penile/vaginal rape. This definition also includes instances in which the victim is unable to give consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.”
How common is it? According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 1 in 6 women report that they have either been raped or an attempt has been made to rape them in their lifetime. The first time for 60 percent of these women was before age 18.
What is it? Sexual violence is any sexual activity for which you do not freely give consent. That includes both sex against your will and sex that happens when you cannot freely give your consent. If you have been drinking and suddenly wake up and find a man having sex with you and that was not your intent, it is rape. Think of it like this, if you are under the influence, you cannot sign a consent form for a medical procedure, and you cannot give consent for a sexual act, either.
Rape is more than unwanted sex. It’s an act of violence and it’s a crime.
Who commits it? Unfortunately, all kinds of people; a current or former intimate partner; a family member, friend, or acquaintance; a person in a position of power or trust, or a stranger. According to the CDC, in a nationally representative survey that looked at the first rape experience of female victims, perpetrators were reported to be intimate partners (30.4 percent), family members (23.7 percent), and acquaintances (20 percent). This means that the victims knew over 71 percent of the perpetrators.
What are the risks? The short-term risks are getting pregnant (for women), acquiring a sexually transmitted disease, or being injured. But there are also long-term risks that can affect your physical or emotional health:
- Chronic pain
- Fear and anxiety
- Problems trusting others
- Anger and stress
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
What can I do to prevent it?
- Avoid using excessive amounts of alcohol and drugs. It interferes with clear thinking.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Be cautious and alert.
- Try to walk in groups rather than alone, especially at night.
- Take a self-defense class.
- Lock all doors to your car and residence at all times.
- Believe in your right to set limits that match your sexual desires and limits.
- State your limits clearly and loudly, including “NO” if necessary.
- Yell “Fire” or carry a whistle and blow it. It attracts people’s attention.
- If the rapist is unarmed, fight back, shout “NO” and run away as soon as possible.
- If the rapist is armed, try to talk him out of continuing the assault or resist passively by pretending to faint, vomit or urinate
What do I do in case of rape?
- Go to a safe place and call a friend or family member to be with you.
- Take some slow deep breaths and realize that what happened is wrong, it’s not your fault and that you have value.
- Call the police; rape is a crime.
- Do not bathe, douche or change clothes.
- If you choose not to contact the police, go to a hospital emergency department to be checked. You do not have to report to police to get medical care.
- Write down as much as you can remember about what happened and the person who did it while it is most fresh in your mind.
- Contact a rape treatment center. A counselor there can be of great help.