Rape is Rape–But Legally, What Is Rape?

According to the FBI, rape is defined as the “carnal knowledge of a woman without her permission”.  Unfortunately, that is a pretty narrow definition of rape: it excludes things like statutory rape, same-sex rape, rape of men, forced anal and oral sex, and other similar instances of rape.  Because of this, the Feminist Majority has embarked on a campaign known as the Rape Is Rape campaign (you can sign the petition here) to get the FBI’s definition of rape changed.

It is worth noting that this definition is only used for the reporting of rapes.  In reality, the law used for prosecuting in rape cases is gender neutral, recognizes that threats as well as overt force to overpower a victim constitute rape, and the favorite catch phrase of colleges, drunk consent is not consent (it falls under the umbrella issue of taking advantaged of someone who is incapacitated).

What this translates to is a disparity within our understanding of what rape really is and who is considered a rape victim, because the definition under which we prosecute is not the definition under which we report.  Remember what I told you in The R Word?  Many rapes are ALREADY unreported…and that is just the ones that fall into this narrow category considered eligible for reporting.  Imagine what our rape statistics would look like if we including in the FBI reporting process these different rape instances that are currently excluded by the working definition of forcible rape? (It is one of those things I would rather NOT think about…but I think we have to).

Interestingly enough, the definition of rape has already changed several times.  The original definition was “a carnal knowledge of a woman not one’s wife by force or against her will”, which meant that spousal rape was not considered rape, and also included all of the gender related and same-sex related problems that would later be corrected, at least in the judicial system if not under the FBI’s definition.  This precedent for altering the definition of rape shows an evolution of society’s understanding of practices that do persist within the United States and the necessity to address them under the legal system, and hopefully this will translate to an adjustment of FBI reporting definitions as well.

It certainly looks like progress will take place.  Yesterday, the New York Times reported that a spokesperson for the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report stated that the FBI is looking at modifying the definition.  More than 130,000 people have already signed The Feminist Majority’s petition to change the definition, and recent statistics indicate that about 80% of police departments believe the reporting criteria needs to change.

But (and readers, you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) it seems that not everyone is really clear on what, exactly, rape is.  Unfortunately, by “not everyone”, I mean “many members of the GOP currently in the House of Representatives”…because according to the GOP, rape is only rape if it involves force.  Under their new “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act”, which was first introduced to Congress months ago and was finally added to the Senate calendar as of May, the definition of rape as it pertains to pregnancy as the right to get an abortion would be severely restricted.

There are many other problems with this bill (for example, people would also not be able to use tax-exempt health care funds to pay for an abortion under the law), but the mere fact that the definition of rape as it applies to our rape and incest exemptions for abortions would be so limited is frustrating and horrifying.  It excludes issues like statutory rape and instances of coercion, as well as instances where the woman was drugged and then raped.  As a lawyer from the National Women’s Law Center so succinctly put it, “The law takes us back to a time when just saying ‘no’ wasn’t enough to qualify as rape”.  Moreover, the bill utilizes the definition of “forcible rape” (the very definition that the Feminist Majority is trying to change) to define rape as it pertains to abortion eligibility.

Readers, I do not call you to action very often (with the exception of my comment about the importance of voting at the end of my last post, I can’t remember EVER calling anyone to action), but I am going to today: Rape is rape.  All pregnant children ought be considered raped (statutory).  Do not let the GOP restrict this definition in their attempts to limit abortions in this country-~-even if you are personally against abortions, this is still an issue of pregnancy due to rape, something we commonly consider an exception.  Sign the petition.  Contact your congressional representatives and tell them that rape is rape, that pregnant children ought not be responsible for bringing children into this world, that rape victims ought not be punished for what has happened to them.  Rape is rape, and political agendas aside, this is one issue on which we should all stand united.


~ by Randi Saunders on September 30, 2011.

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