Is it rape if the person it happened to doesn’t call it that?
A post published recently at Thought Catalog, written by an anonymous author, recounted a situation where a friend was drinking with another person and was “taken advantage of.” No consent was given. The incident did not escalate violently. And thus, the author’s friend doesn’t call it “rape.” After all, a person simply took advantage of the body belonging to someone who lacked the capacity to exercise their own agency:
Just because someone thinks they weren’t raped doesn’t meant they were not raped by definition, right? Does state law define rape or do your emotions?
I know that I will always be there when he wants to talk about it.
But do I tell him he was raped? According to state law, he was sexually assaulted. According to him, he was just too drunk to realize what was happening and say no. In my mind, that is rape. But in his mind, it’s just an unfortunate incident.
But there’s one problem here: that is rape.
Let’s be clear about this: rape is a violent act of power and control exerted over another person. In the USA alone, one in six women and one in 33 men are the victims of an attempted or completed rape. Furthermore, a Harvard study revealed that 72% of college students who were raped over the course of the study were intoxicated. If the 72% holds true across the entire population of rape victimization, alcohol is a factor in approximately 12.37 million survivors’ rapes. (Ironically, rape survivors are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.)
Sexual assault support websites like RAINN have advocated on behalf of inebriated rape victims for years. Intoxicated victims are often blamed for their own rapes, although feminists and survivor advocates have been fighting this stigma and working for years to convince the world-at-large that anyone who is “physically impaired (due to voluntary or involuntary alcohol or drug consumption)” can’t give consent, making clear that sex you’re unaware of, unable to stop, or too incapacitated to have to fend off is rape. Furthermore, RAINN provides a three question checklist to establish if a rape has occurred. The pertinent question is: “Do both people have the capacity to consent?” If there’s no consent, there’s no sex. If there’s no consent, it’s rape.
The Thought Catalog author asks “am I victimizing him or is society?” This is a difficult quandry – respecting your friend’s experience is obviously important, as is supporting them in any way possible after any sort of violation. But as a proponent of blaming who is at fault, the perpetrator victimized the author’s friend, and I feel that needs to be recognized no matter what words we’re using to describe what happened. Danny Brown calls his assault “the incident,” and throughout history we’ve been conditioned to think of unwanted sexual activity as “bad sex,” “awkward situations,” and – worst of all – something that is our own faults. That doesn’t change anything about what happened.
Rape is rape is rape, no matter what it’s called.