Talking About Rape

Trigger warning for discussion of rape, rape culture.

I have never been raped.

When I was in college I had faith in everything that I had learned about how to not get raped. I knew to walk in groups, to cover my revealing club clothing between my dorm room and the bar or house party, to not get too drunk if I wasn’t going to be in a group or a safe space, to carry pepper spray and a whistle, to not act trashy if I didn’t intend to follow through.

I knew that rapists wait in dark corners in masks, commit the heinous deed and then disappear into the night. I knew that rape is what happens when a man puts his dick into you even though you’ve clearly told him no and fought like hell to try to make him stop.

Over time I have come to understand that the fact that I have never been raped relied greatly on chance and happy circumstance. I have learned that while I was preparing myself to not get raped in college, many of my peers had already been victims of sexual violence. I have learned that men, women and people outside of the gender binary – of all shapes, sizes, ages, attitudes and backgrounds – get raped, and more often than not, raped by someone they know. Sometimes they raped repeatedly, and sometimes they don’t know that what they’re experiencing is rape. I’ve learned that rape doesn’t have to involve a penis or a vagina. I’ve learned that it’s not always possible to fight back or say no to a rapist.

It is terrifying to reflect on how deluded I was back then, how much chance played a part in my making it to this point in my life physically unscathed by rape. That even now there is nothing I can to do to guarantee that I will never be raped.

I’d like to think that if I had been raped, that I would have had the strength, courage and support to try to bring my attacker(s) to justice, but I wouldn’t place any bets on it. Too often getting raped is seen as a weakness, a moral failing because the victim didn’t prevent it from happening. The thought of having to go through the public scrutiny of a rape trial makes my stomach clench. My culture has shown me that when someone accuses a person of rape, society will do everything in its power to cast doubt on their credibility – lay bare their life, their past actions and sexual activity, their behavior, their character. As if anything in a person’s character could ever make them deserving of rape!

All of these thoughts are brought on, of course, by the ruling in Steubenville this morning. Two teenage boys were found guilty of raping a 16 year-old girl who was intoxicated. To paraphrase a witness, the victim  was “not moving, not talking, not participating” when she was carried around and her vagina violated by the rapists’ fingers in at least two locations at two different times that night, while others watched on, laughed, took pictures and video.

The defense tried to cast doubt on whether the victim was really as drunk as she appeared to be, implied that she wanted sex because her friends tried to talk her out of partying with the boys who ended up raping her. The defense tried to argue that there wasn’t incontrovertible proof that what happened that night was rape, while at the same time dismissing the overwhelming evidence as tainting the case. The victims two “past best friends” testified against her, said she “lies about things”. I have seen ignorant asshats in blog commentary wonder what the uproar is about since she “only got fingered”, not really raped.

These are big reasons why victims don’t speak up when they are attacked.

When we say that only a certain type of person gets raped, or that the actions a person takes makes them responsible for their rape, we cast a false sense of security over ourselves that we will never suffer rape because we aren’t, or would never x, y, or z. We’re good, worldly people who have taken the proper steps to protect ourselves, and so we aren’t at risk of rape. We’re not like those other people who were – at best! – ignorant of the dangers they brought upon themselves when they [insert damning circumstance here] or – at worst – lying degenerates who invited rape. And when we do this we tell rapists that rape is sometimes okay – that if they can find someone who didn’t follow the rules, then what they’re doing isn’t really rape because alcohol-makeup-slutty clothing-flirted-not a virgin-wrong part of town.

Even if “all of the proper precautions are taken”, we can still be raped. Even if we don’t take any precautions, getting raped is not our fault. Rape is only ever the rapist’s fault. EVER. I can name too many people who have suffered and who still live with trauma because of our reluctance to teach people not to rape, to teach that non-consensual contact of any kind is never okay, and that consent means an unequivocal and hearty yes, not a “they didn’t say no”.

A combination of victim-blaming and a reluctance to believe that someone we know would “do something like that” makes it seem like stories such as Steubenville are a rarity, when in fact, the only thing that was rare in this case was the amount of insurmountable recorded evidence of rape and a guilty verdict against the rapists.

I hope deeply that this verdict will send a message that rapists can be brought to justice, and that more victims will be encouraged to speak up. And I hope that the 16-year old girl who was raped will find support and love and healing. I hope that among all of this talk of ideals and rape culture and cheering for the guilty verdict that we remember that there are other victims like her who did not make the six o’clock news, whose stories are still untold and who haven’t yet had a chance to heal.


There are resources available for victims of sexual violence. RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – might be a good place to start if you need help or advice.

Note to the potential commentariat: This thread will be moderated. Rape apologetics are not welcome here.

Talking About Rape

3,664 thoughts on “Talking About Rape

  1. 1

    Nobody would ever think to question whether or not a rape had occurred if she had been penetrated by a foreign object against her will but because she was only “fingered” it shouldn’t count as rape??

    This is a by-product of rape culture.

  2. 2

    I actually find this even more disheartening. Yes, rapists can be brought to justice, if you have a mountain of video evidence from multiple sources. Even then, they’ll try to get it thrown out.
    Us poor sods who were raped somewhere like a friend’s house by that friend? Not a chance in hell. Raped by our partner at the time? Even less chance. Unless we’ve got magic video surveillance footage of the entire relationship (because coerced consent is impossible to prove without a complete A/V backlog of the history of coercive behaviour) there’s no justice at all. That there’s no mechanism for defending against assault of this type is no less than utterly disgusting, but I can’t see a solution other than re-educating the entire population.


    1. 2.1

      First, I’m so sorry that you had that experience, Sophia. To your other points – Yes, it’s absolutely horrible that in the face of overwhelming video (and otherwise) we are still as relieved as we are that the rapists were found guilty. It should have been a no-brainer. That they had to gall to plead not guilty is disgusting. As for re-educating the entire population…it’s a big job, no doubt. Let’s do what we can.

      1. Thankyou, I really wasn’t trying for sympathy though. 🙂
        I just wish my experience wasn’t so universal! If only the violent, visual and extreme cases get publicised and require such conclusive evidence to be taken seriously, then the justice system and the public learn to associate rape with that extreme level of visual evidence and disturbing violence. The whole concept becomes devalued as the definition bar becomes higher and higher to reach. All the non-violent, non-publicised and unrecorded rapes becomes unimportant and uninteresting, and are generally not even classified as rape by the general public. Rape is that thing that happens with the violence and the derision and the videos, like we saw in that case on TV! Anything less isn’t rape at all.

        Sorry, I’m just ranting away on your nice, clean page! I certainly don’t want to diminish the disgusting nature of the crime committed by the Steubenville perpetrators, just try to put it in its real perspective. Most rapes are silent, non-violent, unavoidable, unprovable and completely devoid of the possibility of justice.

  3. 3

    As has been mentioned several times this weekend, we need to teach men not to rape. We need to teach them what exactly rape is. We are doing a very poor job of this. We need to teach them that a girl too inebriated to say ‘no’, is not saying ‘yes’. I taught my sons about rape as teenagers. We talked about it frequently. The one thing I didn’t think to teach them, was how to intervene if they saw a situation such as this one. My sons are middle aged now, and I hope they pass on these lessons to their sons. Rape is NEVER the fault of the victim.

  4. 4

    As a teenage girl, I did probably all the wrong things people always tell you about.* Passed out drunk, crashed on couches, shared a bed with guys I didn’t know because hey, it was a bed, got drugged, and so on, and so on. Nothing bad ever happened to me. Not because of the things I did or didn’t do, but because the guys didn’t rape me.
    The time it got really dangerous and I narrowly escaped? Luck. Nothing clever, nothing brave. The simple luck of getting to my car before he got to me.

    *Fun fact: my mum was deeep into rape culture. Do X, not Y, don’t walk home along the fucking main-street of a small town at 9 pm in summer, but she was also totally convinced that I was safe within certain groups and institutions, which is even worse because it means that she did not believe a priori that anything bad could happen there.

    Some weeks ago I wondered what would happen if my husband raped me. Not that I fear he would, I trust him completely. But in the theoretical case, I would have 0 chance. I would just be a horrible ex who makes up stories to keep the kids to herself. How would I be able to produce forensic evidence for rape unless I was seriously hurt? My mental health issues, my sexual kinks, all that would be used against me and I might lose the kids. Because rape culture. Which totally only exists in the imagination of evil man-hating feminists

    1. 4.1

      Nothing bad ever happened to me. Not because of the things I did or didn’t do, but because the guys didn’t rape me.

      I’ll just highlight that because it seems rather important. The deciding factor in rape is the rapist. If a person is willing to rape, then rape will occur; it’s only a question of how, where, when and who. If a person is not willing to rape, then rape will not occur, no matter how, where, when or who.

      In a way, this whole thing is encouraging. The fact that the rape-apologist bastards are out in force is a good thing for us. It forces them to come right out and say what they mean. Given the moral bankruptcy of their position, that can only be to our advantage.
      I know for myself, the thing that really made me sit up and care about this was not so much the arguments from our side, but hearing the other side speak without holding back. So, let them speak. If they’re speaking, we’re winning.

    2. 4.2


      Yes. I have kinks too – I also have mental issues, but -all- of them as far as I know were caused by abuse, not just my brain being wonky. Abusive parents, abusive husband, and all the judge sees is “history of mental illness” and “sexual kink/fetish” and it’s useless to argue from there. Yay!

      One person’s (forceful, dominant and privileged) word against another (terrified of confict, used to being silent and disempowered) person’s. Of course, both sides are equal.

      YAY. 😐

  5. 7

    The only thing being raped is my mind, from having to listen to your inane and incoherent ramblings. For crying out loud, just find a real cause to fight for instead of inventing one, it’s not like we are short of causes.

    1. 7.1

      Who’s making you listen? If someone is forcing you to sit in front of the computer, that’s not right. Tell them to stop and if they refuse, call the cops. That kind of thing is illegal.

  6. 8

    i have been ridiculed by my peers because i don’t have sex with girls that are completely stoned/wasted/tripping , they are consenting but i still feel that its not okay because they wouldn’t even think of doing it if they were sober
    but then they go and bang someone else so it makes no difference and that makes me real uneasy

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