Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Rape Inflation

In today’s Dear Abby, a 17-year-old complains about her boyfriend who wants to have sex all the time. At the end of her letter, she says:
The other day, I told Johnny I didn’t want to do it, but it happened anyway. I didn’t resist, so it wasn’t like he raped me or anything, but it wasn’t right.
And here is part of Abby’s reply:
And I have more bad news – when a person says "no" to sex and it “happens anyway,” that is the definition of rape.

I urge you to pick up the phone and call the R.A.I.N.N (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network)… They can help you to clearly understand what happened and find counseling.
A charitable interpretation of Abby’s remarks is that she thinks the writer may have been raped, and RAINN can help her figure out if she was raped or not. But as I read it, Abby’s saying a rape did occur and RAINN can help her to realize that’s what happened.

The writer never indicates that she said “no.” All she says is that she didn’t want to have sex. I’m sorry, but merely having sex when you don’t feel like it does not count as rape. Lots of people consent to have sex just to make their partners happy. If you don’t want to go to work in the morning, but it happens anyway, that’s not slavery, that’s life. Sometimes people do things they’d rather not do. Now, maybe she did say “no” but neglected to mention that fact to Abby. Possible, but the only evidence provided points exactly in the other direction: the writer expressly states that she was not raped. Instead of assuming the writer doesn’t know what rape is, why not take her at her word? Rape is a serious accusation, and it shouldn’t be thrown around in situations where all indications point to the guy just being a jerk.

Abby would be on stronger ground if she had focused on statutory rape. The writer called herself “Too Much Sex in Victorville,” and the only Victorville I know of is in California, where the age of consent is 18. The writer doesn’t state Johnny’s age, and in any case, I’m not sure whether California has an exception for minors having sex with other minors. (If there is no such exception, and two minors have sex with each other, are both guilty of statutorily raping each other?) With statutory rape, consent is not germane, so the whole “no” issue is beside the point.

For more on what’s rape and what’s not, read Dan Savage’s trenchant comments here and here.

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