Have You Ever Been Raped?

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.

  1. Get to a safe place, away from the assailant.
  2. Call 911.
  3. Preserve evidence. Don't urinate, douche, bathe, brush your teeth, wash your hands, change clothes, or eat or drink anything.
  4. Request a rape kit examination.
  5. 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. 


  1. Several years ago, my autistic, MIMH, 25-year-old daughter was held against her will for several days by 2 "friends" of hers. They raped her in every possible way. She told her story over and over again to a police detective. He eventually said that the prosecuting attorney would not want to proceed because of an Indiana statute that says she was intelligent enough (her IQ is around 62) that she should have gotten away from them. I asked that they speak with Dr. Cathy Pratt from the Indiana University Center on Autism. She agreed to try to explain how my daughter was thinking and why she wouldn't escape. They never called her. I contacted every service available for help, including RAINN and was told over and over that there was no help for her. She sees a counselor and has been diagnosed with PTSD, but she is doing great. She doesn't quite understand why they were never punished and frankly, neither do I.

  2. Dear Anonymous, I am so sorry this happen to your family and also shocked to hear no criminal or civil action was taken. I can't speak to whether the recent changes in the definition of rape would make any difference. The minute technicalities of the law can be confounding. I am so glad she has gotten counseling and is doing well and will pray for her continued recovery.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    I also am very sorry for what happened, but I am not shocked that our criminal justice system has failed to respond appropriately. The problem lies not in our statutes or definitions, but in prosecutorial discretion and the difficulty of proving force beyond a reasonable to a jury when your daughter believed these people were her friends and perhaps went with them willingly initially, having no idea what they intended capable of or intended. Other details may also complicate the case, including when your daughter told, who she told, and whether there was a rape kit performed and a proper medical exam documenting injuries.

    To say that she is unable ever to consent to a loving and intimate relationship may not be the best solution for her in the long run and really shouldn't matter in this case because she DIDN'T consent. She was forced and held against her will and brutally violated. The difficulty, though, lies in proving it beyond a erasable doubt when her assailants are presumed to be innocent and she is presumed to consent if she is able. Sexual assault is the only crime where the victim's consent is presumed and must be overcome by a showing of force or that the victim was unable to consent and the perpetrator knew that beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Even if the prosecutor agreed to file charges, the trial would be difficult and ugly. I've tried these cases before and they usually end up in a mistrial with the jury unable to reach a unanimous verdict. In one similar case the woman thought a man was her friend, went with him when he suggested it, and had no idea what he had in mind. She was so frightened that she froze. This is a very common response to fear- fight, flight or frozen fright. The last to make it nearly impossible to prove force. Although we had a report of rape as soon as she got home, significant physical injuries in the genital area, and DNA from the perpetrator we were never able to persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. He argued that he was as inexperienced as she was and had a rather large male member and that they both wanted it, but she experienced "buyer's remorse" when she got home and her parents found out she'd been with a man. The first two trials resulted in a hung jury. The third time it went to trial, I was on maternity leave and another deputy tried it and he was found not guilty. By the third trial, the victim was easily confused on cross examination by minor inconsistencies in what she told the police, what she said in her deposition, and what she had said at the first two trials. The jury finally decided she wasn't credible enough to send a man to prison.

    It's heart-wrenching and so wrong, but it's the world we live in.

    1. Thank you both for your comments. I do understand that it would have been hard for her to go through a trial, so perhaps it was better this way; it just seems so 'unfinished' somehow. The perpetrators go merrily on while she had to deal with the mess. She is doing very well and tells me that she prays for them because they obviously don't have Jesus in their hearts. I tell her that I pray for them too, but I am praying they go straight to hell. (She understands my sense of humor very well, so I am not traumatizing her by saying that)
      I write 2 blogs about her and our journey together and I am putting a book proposal together for a publishing company. The blogs and the book deal with all of our experiences, not just that one incident. Most are quite humorous or at least they are in retrospect.

    2. Anonymous, you and your daughter are amazing people. I would enjoy reading your blogs. Could you please private message me via our Facebook fan page at https://www.facebook.com/GloryandStrength with a URL to your blog?

      Many blessings, Debra
      Glory and Strength Editor

    3. Yes, of course I will. I really don't have to be anonymous. You can e-mail me at doty7843@yahoo.com