Yesterday, I got this comment on an older post about a judge who, among many other things, said that a 24-year-old man who repeatedly raped a 12-year-old girl was not a predator because he was in a “relationship” with the girl he was raping. The commenter goes by the name “This is not rape,” which is clearly a part of the comment:
This is staturory [sic] rape. It is wrong but it not like when some one forcefully rapes somebody. So girls don’t get your panties in a bunch. Stop crying
Yes, ladies, what’s with you getting all upset about a little statutory rape of a 12-year-old girl, especially one who had already been abused before? It’s not like it’s a real rape.
Like most of the very few comments that inspire me to write a post, this one isn’t among the worst or most shocking, but it does hit a chord precisely because of how simultaneously common and dangerous the sentiment it contains is.
This is indeed a problem. We see rape of all kinds, but especially “statutory” rape, referred to regularly not only in conversation but also in the media, as “sex.” Even if the victim of that rape is as young as five-years-old, but even more commonly if the child has reached an age at which s/he might be displaying some pubescent attributes. Like, you know, at the age of 12. And it’s for the reason stated by the commenter above. Because the rape of these children is not seen as real rape.
Let me explain again, once more for the dummies, why “statutory” rape is rape. Statutory rape, or the rape of a child under the age of consent, is a crime because the child is too young to consent. If the child is too young to consent, regardless what he or she said, he or she is therefore incapable of giving informed, enthusiastic and meaningful consent, at least with an adult party. And if someone is incapable of of giving informed, enthusiastic and meaningful consent, the consent cannot exist.
And “sex” without consent? That is called rape.
Personally, in case you can’t tell from my scare-quotes, I’d like to do away with the category of “statutory” rape entirely. I think that rape is rape, and rape is sexual penetration (of any kind) without consent. Far too many people associate the category of “statutory” rape with actually consensual sexual relationships between two teenagers very close in age (say, 16 and 18). And I think much more more importantly, far too many people associate the term with sex that is consensual except for with regards to the age of the victim. They pretend that a 12-year-old can consent to sex with an adult, but some stupid law just pretends otherwise. Or they pretend that a 12-year-old can consent to sex with an adult, but we should keep the adults from taking them up on the offer because, well, it’s just icky.
Too often, they don’t get the fact that the 12-year-old cannot consent to sex with an adult, period, and that any said “sex” under such circumstances is therefore rape. And in large part because of the “statutory” tacked onto the beginning, they don’t get that rape — even when the 12-year-old victim “goes along” with it — is always violent.
Yet again, we get into the “this rape is worse than that rape” phenomenon. And those who like to play this game do so for the purpose of invalidating certain rapes as not really counting.
As I’ve stated before, you know what? Some rapes are worse than other rapes. I’m wholly unconvinced that “statutory” rape is by nature not among those worse rapes, but the fact remains that a gang rape involving a beating, weapon, threats of murder, etc. is probably usually “worse” than the rape by coercion, committed by a single perpetrator.
But the fact also remains that for the most part, gauging which rape is worse than the next is usually pointless, often offensive, and in many cases downright impossible to do accurately. And you rarely hear a case of murder by suffocation commented on with the statement that “it’s not murder-murder, because it’s not like the victim was stabbed in the gut 50 times and took over an hour to bleed out.”
I think that this was one of the reasons why that “If Only” PSA hit so close to home and offended and triggered so many survivors. Because survivors of childhood rape are so used, like survivors of “date” rape, to having their experience minimized. The rape in question is often considered to be “not as bad” because there usually is a lack of struggle or weapon — even though the victim was only a child. It’s too often treated as not really rape, because like the commenter above, too many have a really fucked up definition of “force.” And this was really reinforced by the choice by the makers of the PSA to use the word “sex” rather than “rape,” even though the alternate choice would have been more shocking, much more accurate, and a lot more likely (along with other very significant changes) to hit the point home and help the average viewer to recognize the rape in question as rape and therefore violence.
Instead, we have a PSA that, for many reason, more closely perpetuates the ideas presented above. That the rape of a child is “wrong,” but you know, not really wrong. After all, it’s not even worth the accuracy of the big, bad “r” word.
And here we are, with people taking time out of their lives to publicly declare “This is not rape.” To add the caveat of a “statutory” in front of the word as though it changes the wrongness of the act that was committed. As though it erases the violence. As though it adds consent.
But it doesn’t. This is rape. Statutory or not, this is rape.