Rape: definitions matter

Emily Hubbard

People tend to turn a blind eye to rape, and it’s unacceptable. Rape physically, mentally and emotionally affects millions of men and women around the world, but the way it’s codified in the law influences how it is interpreted. With rape appearing more frequently in the media, it is the perfect time to educate and inform ourselves. The definition of rape on the federal level hasn’t been as direct as some may think. States have even revised the definition throughout the years.

On Jan. 6, 2012, the United States Department of Justice updated the definition of rape for the first time since 1927. The definition of forcible rape before the revision was, “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will,” which is narrow and outdated. The problem with this is that it is so vague, implying rape is only defined as between a man and a woman, as well as excluding men from being victims.

In 2012, the revision became “the 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.” The new definition includes any gender of victim or perpetrator while also recognizing that rape does also include objects being forced, not just sexual organs.

The new definition also makes sure to include instances in which the victim is not able to give their consent because of mental or physical incapacity.

Many rapes are facilitated by drugs or alcohol which leave the victim unable to comprehend, let alone give consent. Lack of consent does not mean physical resistance must be demonstrated, now the definition is more inclusive of the reality of the situations.

In Texas, rape is defined as “intentionally or knowingly causing any of the following: penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another by any means without that person’s consent; penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor without the person’s consent; or the sexual organ of another person, without that person’s consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus or sexual organ of another including the actor.”

It is important to understand the definitions but also understand the victims. Victims can often be dehumanized, stereotyped and questioned on their experience by people who are often ignorant to the issue at hand. In contrast, we need to show understanding of each person’s individual circumstance and work to help others through their trauma.

People tend to see life through rose colored glasses. If it doesn’t affect them, then it doesn’t exist. This mindset is the predominate issue when it comes to cases such as rape. People love to play the blame game, but the clothes you wear and the way you present yourself does not make you any more of a victim than anyone else.

Nobody deserves to be raped or taken advantage of and it is never the victim’s fault. Survivors deserve to be listened to. As their voices are being heard, meet them with support, understanding and validation.

If you or someone you know may need help, contact the Rape Crisis Center at (210) 349-7273.