CAUTION: This article contains graphic language. The author, an attorney and child advocate, speaks frankly as the law states it. It is not the intent of the author or Glory and Strength to be offensive, but to reach out and help those who have suffered.
By Laurie A. Gray, JD © 2012
A simple question: Have you ever been raped? Yes or no? We are conditioned to sort and label our experiences in black and white, true or false, but what seems like a straightforward question can be confounding to someone who has been sexually assaulted. Who gets to decide whether or not it’s really rape? The two people involved in the action? Local law enforcement? A jury? Each state has its own criminal code definition, but for society at large rape is becoming a catch-all term for sexual assault.
Sexual assault runs a gamut of seeming opposites, often driven by unclear facts and innuendo. On the one side is legal, moral, consensual, pleasurable sexual contact; on the other is criminal, immoral, nonconsensual, devastating sexual contact. Our social expectation of right and wrong, our personal judgments regarding good and bad, and our individual experience of pleasure and pain are all loaded into our perceptions regarding sexual contact. The more able a person is to give consent, the greater our expectation for physical violence to show lack of consent. When a person is unable to give consent, we are more apt to recognize the violation regardless of physical injury, as we do in statutory rape cases.
Although the precise definition of rape differs by state, national rape statistics are gathered by the FBI for Uniform Crime Reports. For 80 years, the FBI defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will." In December 2011, the FBI finally expanded its definition to include both genders and oral and anal assaults. The new FBI definition of rape for the purpose of Uniform Crime Reports reads, “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.”
This definition is much improved from the old one, particularly in the shift from “force” to “without consent.” Nevertheless, the new definition remains flawed due to several basic anatomical misconceptions, specifically:
the use of “vagina” rather than female sex organ
the requirement that the anus be penetrated for an anal assault
the requirement that the mouth be penetrated for oral assault
The vagina is the birth canal, the most inaccessible part of the female sex organ. The new definition does not include oral assault that focuses on the clitoris (located outside the birth canal). Nor would such an act necessarily penetrate the mouth of the perpetrator with the female sex organ. Also excluded from the definition is any assault where the perpetrator rubs an erect penis inside the labia majora and/or labia menora without penetrating the birth canal. Nor does it include rubbing an erect penis inside the butt cheeks of the victim against, over, across and on the anus, but not in it.
Why do these seemingly technical discrepancies matter? In court, they matter because every element of an alleged crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Rape is a legal conclusion. From a more practical standpoint, the technicalities matter because the level of violation is the same regardless of whether actual slight penetration occurs. Any nonconsensual sexual act involving skin-to-skin genital contact and oral or anal assault violates the dignity of the assaulted individual. Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to have the assault recognized as the crime it is.
Our definition of rape has evolved from an offense that can only be committed by a man upon a woman to any act of sexual penetration without consent. Such evolution continues, and the process creates gray areas. The new FBI definition is a step in the right direction; however rather than feeling conflicted, survivors of sexual assault should be able to answer the question “Were you raped?” based upon the violation they experienced rather than the specific act of violence defined by statute or anyone else.
IF YOU’VE BEEN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED
- Get to a safe place, away from the assailant.
- Call 911.
- Preserve evidence. Don't urinate, douche, bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hands, change clothes, or eat or drink anything.
- Request a rape kit examination.
- If you suspect you were drugged, ask that a urine sample be collected.
If you are an adult and choose not to report the assault to the police, you should still seek medical attention to determine the risk of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.
For more information, visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network online at www.RAINN.org or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for free, confidential counseling, 24 hours a day: 1.800.656.HOPE. It’s never too late to ask for help!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Attorney, author, teacher and child advocate Laurie Gray is the founder of Socratic Parenting LLC (www.SocraticParenting.com). Her debut novel Summer Sanctuary (Luminis Books/2010) received a Moon Beam Gold Medal for excellence in young adult fiction and was named a 2011 Indiana Best Book Finalist. In addition to writing, speaking and consulting, Laurie works as a bilingual child forensic interviewer at her local Child Advocacy Center and an adjunct professor of criminal sciences at Indiana Tech.