Have you been raped without knowing it?

// 13 January 2006

As The Happy Feminist points out, this seems like a stupid question at first. But she uses her experience as an attorney to put forward three case studies where women thought they had not been raped even though they had effectively been forced to have sex.

Case One is the most extreme example and needs no explanation why: kidnapped at gunpoint and beaten, the woman concerned “went along with sex” and still thought it was consensual.

But Case Two is still more worrying in some ways, because it touches on the issue of marital rape and partner rape, which people seem to have a harder time accepting:

A woman and her boyfriend got into an argument culminating in him punching her and then forcing her to have sex. Neighbors had heard the screaming and called the police. The woman had a black eye. She was initially cooperative with the police and agreed that her boyfriend should be charged with assault. When asked by the police, she said that she had not wanted to have sex with her boyfriend at that time and that he had "forced her." She was, however, puzzled by the rape charge because she had had consensual sex with her boyfriend on prior occasions . In her mind, it wasn\x92t a crime because she had had a prior consensual relationship with him.

I’m not sure why people have a hard time grasping that this is still rape, and no doubt that is to do with the fact that our ideas about relationships are still tied up in the notion of ownership.

As the Happy Feminist puts it:

I\x92ve seen the lightbulbs go off on people\x92s heads when I have explained it in terms of the fact that the man does not own the woman from the time he first has sex with her forevermore. But people do not seem to initially think of the issue in those terms.

On some basic level, we as a society clearly do believe that one partner “owns” the other one for the duration of that relationship. We happily tell each other that we “belong” to each other, and on some levels that can be a positive, a sentiment connected with commitment and support and being able to rely on the other person. But this concept is clearly feeding into a more literal interpretation of ownership. Looking at the Happy Feminist’s example, it seems like even rape doesn’t shock people out of this point of view.

Now to Case Three. Again, I don’t think this needs any more elaboration as the facts speak for themselves:

25-year old man is supervising a sixteen year old girl in a fast food restaurant. After telling her that he really wished someone would give him oral sex (he didn\x92t put it quite so politely), he suddenly pulled her into a supply room, pushed her forcibly down on her knees, and yanked down his pants. (I don\x92t remember the precise sequence of events or what exactly he did physically to accomplish all this.) He told her that she "owed him" because he hadn\x92t fired her when she was late to work. She told him "no" and tried to get up and leave, but he pushed down on her shoulders and pushed her face into his crotch. He was yelling at her and calling her a "bitch." She felt that she had no choice but to give him oral sex and so she complied. She "wanted to get it over with." He was charged with rape on three theories under the law in my jurisdiction (A. using his position of authority over a victim under the age of 18 to coerce her into having sex, B. physically forcing her to have sex, C. having sex with her despite the fact that she indicated both physically and verbally that she did not wish to do so.)

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