Yes, Statutory Rape Is Real Rape

Trigger Warning

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.

0 thoughts on “Yes, Statutory Rape Is Real Rape

  1. Etherspirit

    Cara,

    I agree with your post. However, I would hope that you would also agree that if the genders were reversed (12yo male, 24yo female), the same vehemence would occur. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. There are many times when male children who are victims of abuse from female adults are treated very casually.

    *

    Reply
    1. Cara Post author

      Etherspirit, I think that male victims often go through something that is notably different from what female victims go through, but no in a way that is better or worse. Much of the suffering overlaps, much is different thanks to our society’s gender norms and stereotypes, and it’s all horrific. You’ll note that I made references to child rape gender neutral except when talking about the specific case of the 12-year-old girl from that one post. Here is also an example of a post that I wrote about the rape of an 11-year-old boy being referred to as “sex.”

      Reply
  2. Anna

    I would say it works both ways. A twelve year old in a ‘relationship’ with a twenty-four year old? It’s written off as ‘not real rape’ because you know, she must have led him on, all lolita style, etc etc. Which is disgusting. What’s equally disgusting is if a boy is raped by an older woman – I can’t be bothered to dig up the link but there was a news report on ‘the world’s hottest rapist’ he’s assumed to be ‘getting lucky’.. South Park illustrated it fantastically. When Ike, who is three, I think, was having a relationship with his female kindergarten teacher, the police start to write down some notes until the genders of the rapist/victim are received at which point the male audience raises a few eyebrows, whistles of ‘..nice!’ ‘isn’t she that hot one?.. nice’ and noone really takes it that seriously because, you know, he’s getting lucky and she’s hot.

    This wasn’t meant as an attack on teacher/student relationships, which I’ve no problem with as long as the student is over 18.

    Reply
  3. Isabel

    I think I agree with you about the doing away with of statutory rape, since it can lead to misunderstandings and outright falsehoods in either direction (I am inclined to agree that a 12 year old cannot consent to sex, though there are a few countries in the world, including most of Mexico and, weirdly, the Vatican, whose laws say otherwise, and therefore saying anything other than “rape” is inaccurate; I also pretty much refuse to believe that a 16 year old and an 18 year old having consensual sex is rape of any kind, and wikipedia informs me a substantial percentage of countries in the world agree – the US appears to be unusual among industrialized nations in having some states setting it as high as 18).

    Can I ask, out of curiosity, where you would set age of consent? (I’m not sure what my own answer to this question is, incidentally, though 16 is definitely the oldest I’d be willing to go – with the possible exception, like Anna says, of what Wikipedia informs me are “position of trust” relationships, which I can see a rationale for setting at a higher age – something else several countries do. also, a bunch of countries have different ages of consent for straight and gay couples, a few for boys and girls, some for anal and other kinds of sex, and many have near-in-age exceptions).

    Reply
    1. Cara Post author

      Isabel, I personally really like the NY laws, or at least what we were told are the laws by a police officer that came into our health class in high school. The law was that some at age 21 or older could not have consensual sex with someone aged 17 or younger. There should of course be additional restrictions in place, and I think there are in NY, so that the law doesn’t say that a 20-year-old can have consensual sex with a young teenager. My personal pick would probably be no one over the age of 18 with someone under the age of 15, in addition to the NY rule above. And I would add an overall age of consent rule at either 13, with close-in-age exceptions.

      Of course, this is all off the top of my head!

      I remember living in Australia, and my husband explaining to me that, at least in Sydney, there were blanket consent laws. The age of heterosexual consent for girls was 15, and 16 for boys — but 18 for homosexual relations. The second provision strikes me as blatantly homophobic. The different ages for girls and boys strikes me as flat out wrong and unequal, and especially so for the age to be lower for girls. Even if the reasoning is, as my husband explained, that “girls mature faster than boys,” guess which set is preyed on more regularly by adults (though both of course are)? Ugh.

      Reply
  4. Isabel

    whoops meant to and forgot to add to the end of the first paragraph that I think you’re spot-on about people having a messed-up view of the word “force,” to which I would add too few people have any understanding of the extent to which children are emotionally manipulated and the fact that the psychological harm caused by such manipulation sometimes especially at an early age can have devastating lasting consequences on a person’s life.

    Reply
  5. Etherspirit

    Cara,

    Thank you for your response. And, I do agree with your response. However, I wanted to share something that illustrates a bias — which I argue is far more common — against males.

    14yo male, 12yo girl, 11yo girl, consensual sex, boy gets charged with statutory rape, and females are not charged.

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/02/boy_accused_of.html

    If you reverse the genders, I highly doubt that a 14yo girl would get charged with statutory rape of 12yo and 11yo boys.

    *

    Reply
    1. Cara Post author

      That particular type of bias may be more common against males, Etherspirit, but it’s only one of many forms of bias when it comes to the issue of rape and sexual assault. There are many, many reasons that assailants are not charged, and most of them have to do with misogyny. And yet, that also doesn’t mean that it’s not just as bad when it happens to men. Please, let’s not turn this into some kind of competition.

      Reply
  6. Evie

    The fact that some people, and I would tend to think they aren’t feminists, take the child rape of boys lightly is surely an argument for taking these instances of rape more seriously rather than an argument for taking the child rape of girls less seriously.

    I think that often the levity centers in around teenage boys, rather than very young boys, people don’t seem to take the abuse of very young boys by Catholic and Anglican clergy as lightly as they take sexual abuse and rape of adolescent males by their school teachers for example.

    The assumption seems to be that teenage boys enjoy the experience because of all those hormones. In reality, even though a rape victim’s body may (and only in some cases) respond to sexual contact of its own accord, rape and sexual assault aren’t made any less traumatic, harmful and confusing by this.

    Reply
  7. Etherspirit

    Cara,

    You brought up how statutory rape is still rape, and how despicable it is when it is treated casually as in this case. I’m not talking about whether female or male victims suffer more, and I’m only talking about statutory rape.

    What I am pointing out is that statutory rape is generally treated much more casually when the victim is a male. For example, here is a case where a 14yo male abused by a 40yo mother did not get justice because the judge ruled that he “seduced her”. Would a judge in western society say the same thing had the victim been a 14yo girl and criminal a 40yo father? I think not. It’s just not fair. As a gender equality advocate, I would hope you could agree with me on this as much as I agree with you on your post.

    Read: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3192883/Mother-was-seduced-by-14-year-old-boy-says-judge.html

    Reply
    1. Cara Post author

      So, Etherspirit, you are trying to turn this into a competition. No, I do not agree with you either that rape is treated “much more casually” for male victims — it’s treated casually in a different way — or that this is a productive conversation to have. And yes, I do think that a judge would call it seduction if the victim was female. We have a whole fucking name for it — “the Lolita Syndrome.”

      Okay, do you understand? This is a feminist blog. It is supposed to be a safe space for survivors of all kind. I will not tolerate any bullshit about how “male victims have it so much worse than female victims.” Nor would I tolerate the opposite.

      I asked you already, once heavily implied and once explicitly. Stop it, now. That is the final warning.

      Reply
  8. Anna

    Um, I think it does happen as badly for girls; having said that I’m in no way saying it doesn’t happen for boys, etc. I’ll dig up the links later but one that comes to mind offhand is a 12 year old (or 13, I forget) girl who was raped and told that it wasn’t his fault, she dressed too provocatively for her age.. a case recently where a 15 year old girl was gang-raped and filmed by loads of soldiers on an army base, nothing happened to any of them; case in australia lately where a 10 year old was gang raped and told that it was her fault.. yeah.

    Reply
  9. Bettyboondoggle

    “Would a judge in western society say the same thing had the victim been a 14yo girl and criminal a 40yo father?”

    Yes. Far to frequently. Girls as young as 11 have been accused of seducing men more than twice their age.

    “I think not.”

    Obviously, you don’t pay much attention.

    Reply
  10. Faith

    “Would a judge in western society say the same thing had the victim been a 14yo girl and criminal a 40yo father? I think not. It’s just not fair.”

    Yep. It happens all the time.

    Reply
  11. Anon Ymous

    Tasmania still has age of consent at 18 for homosexual relationships (I believe – they certainly did when I was 20 (just) and my girlfriend was 17(nearly 18), because my dad warned me heavily about it when we were down there visiting for Christmas… this was just over 4 years ago, we’re still together and getting married this year). I think 16 for hetero relationships is nationwide.

    Personally, I like the rule of thumb of “half your age plus 7” as the minimum age of a person you can sleep with. This sets a minimum of 14 with someone your own age – and the younger you are, the bigger age gaps feel.

    Of course, I’d also put an age at which point people are relied upon to be able to use their sense of judgement and restrictions gone… Maybe at 18. Not sure.

    Reply
  12. E.M. Russell

    WHOA. Talking about the age of consent, apparently I don’t know jack about Canada, where I live. The age of consent is now 16, I thought it was 14 though it was recently changed. “Anal intercourse” as Wiki calls it has the conesenting age at 18. WTF, that makes me really mad. I had no idea our laws were such ‘phobes.

    Reply
  13. Anna

    I’m not mad keen on 1/2 plus 7, as it’d make my partner a bit weird. As we share pretty much everything in common – even same music taste – I’m not comfortable with that. It’s a decent rule of thumb perhaps but there will always be exceptions (btw, he’s 29, I’m 19.)

    Reply
  14. Sara B

    “The law was that some at age 21 or older could not have consensual sex with someone aged 17 or younger.”

    As someone who was coerced into a sexual “relationship” with a 21-year-old at the age of 16 (the legal age of consent in my state) I think more states need to follow this example. Of course, the unfortunate thing is that 18-year-old high school students who really don’t have any more emotional maturity than 17-year-olds become “fair game.” Age of consent law may never be perfect, but it definitely deserves serious consideration because it strikes to the heart of rape culture, in that sexuality is far too often a matter of what someone can “get away with,” and that as long as it is *technically* legal it is socially acceptable.

    Reply
  15. Anon Ymous

    Anna,

    Maybe I wasn’t clear enough. You’re over 18, so the “1/2 + 7” rule would no longer apply (assuming 18 was the age where it stopped), you’re just an adult, and deemed mature enough to choose your partner without the state’s protection (under my hypothetical situation).

    I think the reason I don’t like the age of consent being strictly 16 (or whatever the age is varying by country or state), and prefer a little fluidity in it, is the contrast between the “romeo and juliet” cases of stat rape, and then on the other end of the spectrum you get Amy’s* story…

    My oldest friend’s younger sister is now 22, but started dating a 29 year old when she was 16. She left our city to live with him in a larger one up the coast before she turned 17. They lived together for some 4 years before she caught him online in chat rooms chatting up a new 16 year old. At which point she yanked their internet connection. 6 months later she had a long talk with him, figuring if she couldn’t trust him at all then why was she with him, and they renewed the internet connection – mostly for playing WoW – with the new rule of no chat rooms. Things seemed fine for about another 6 months, until the next time she woke before him. His laptop was out in the living room, he hadn’t even closed the screen, and a chat window was open. He had been pretending to be an 18 year old, chatting up a 14 year old girl online, and discussing when to meet up.

    Needless to say, she dumped his arse. I wanted to know if she called the cops on him, too, but she said that they weren’t interested.

    Yes, Amy was 16, and thus “legal” when she started seeing this guy, but she wasn’t an adult, he took advantage of her, and his later activities suggest that he’s likely to continue at the very least taking advantage of other teenage girls, if he somehow manages to avoid crossing the line into statutory rape.

    *name changed, as well as unimportant minor details.

    Reply
  16. L.

    I have to disagree. I don’t think the girl consented – most people that age are unable to consent (I know I was), so it was probably rape. But her age has nothing to do with it. It’s a hint she probably wasn’t able to consent – but some young children can and some adults can’t. The only person who knows is the girl (and probably the man).

    “Statutory rape” is bullshit – if you happen to be five and able to consent (okay, that must not happen often), go ahead and have sex. It’s useful as a rule of thumb, as “people below that age are usually unable to consent, so let’s assume they didn’t unless they say otherwise”. But all that matters is whether, in each particular case, the participants consented.

    I had sex at 14 (the legal age in my country is 15). I fully wanted it, knew I was ready, and initiated it, even pressured my partner more than I should have. My partner was even afraid I’d sue him for raping me – it would have been his word against mine, and the judge would have believed the 14-year-old girl (I only found out later I wasn’t one) over the 18-year-old boy. Of course I would never do such a thing. But if someone had sued him on my behalf, he could still have been sentenced for statutory rape, even though I would have claimed it was consensual sex.

    That’s ridiculous! When someone is unable to say whether they consented, or is pressured into saying they consented, age may be a good rule of thumb – but when someone is claiming “I wasn’t raped, damn it!”, that’s all a judge needs to know. Why doesn’t anybody ask the girl? Doesn’t her opinion matter more than what you think about whether she can consent just because of her age?

    Reply
  17. Faith

    ““Statutory rape” is bullshit – if you happen to be five and able to consent (okay, that must not happen often), go ahead and have sex. It’s useful as a rule of thumb, as “people below that age are usually unable to consent, so let’s assume they didn’t unless they say otherwise”. But all that matters is whether, in each particular case, the participants consented.”

    The point of statutory rape is that people under a certain age cannot give INFORMED consent. People under a certain age are accepted (by rational thinkers) as not being able to understand the impact or consequences of having sex, therefore, having sex with those people is rape.

    Reply
  18. Anna

    I just wanted to say thank you again for this post. There was a story in the UK news today about a 13 year old who killed herself after being repeatedly raped by a 39 year old man who is currently on trial for raping a 15 year old girl. Not only was it clearly rape due to her age, she said it wasn’t ‘just’ statutory rape – i.e. it was forcible – but the BBC insists on referring to it as sex, despite the fact she herself named it as rape before hanging herself. It made me sick to my stomach. I hate this world.

    Reply
  19. Eghead

    This hits a lot closer to home for me than I’d like to admit on a public message board, but let’s just say I’ve had plenty of first-hand experience as the younger partner in such relationships. Yes, that’s plural. I’m definitely not a mentally healthy individual, and I can attribute part of that to those…experiences… but I’m loath to call it rape. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I did it specifically because I knew it was bad for me. This is not to say it should have happened, or that these men aren’t terrible individuals. But I was 15, 16 at the time, and I think that’s quite different than 6 or even 13. Consent is really something of a continuum, and so, no, I don’t believe that statutory rape should be thrown in with other kinds of rape, at least not when the younger person is 15 or 16 (obviously when they’re 6 or something). It’s a very painful, complicated issue, and I don’t think it’s easy to draw lines between what is ‘rape rape’ and what is ‘statutory rape,’ and frankly I don’t even think we should try.

    Reply
  20. liberality

    New here. Excellent blog post.

    What I hate is that when I tell anyone I’ve been raped and then they want to know when (I was 6 the first time) they say “oh no, you were molested” which I just do not understand. Like molestation is somehow not so bad. Ugh! Rape is attempted soul murder as far as I’m concerned.

    Reply
    1. Cara Post author

      Liberality, I’m so, so sorry that anyone would say something like that to you, or try to mitigate what was done. It happens much too often, to far too many of us, and I’m increasingly horrified each and every time.

      Reply
  21. Faith

    “ut I was 15, 16 at the time, and I think that’s quite different than 6 or even 13. Consent is really something of a continuum, and so, no, I don’t believe that statutory rape should be thrown in with other kinds of rape, at least not when the younger person is 15 or 16 (obviously when they’re 6 or something).”

    Once the age drop below around 13 (or prepubescent age), it is no longer legally statutory rape. It becomes child rape, child abuse, child molestation, etc.

    Reply
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  23. Ann

    So a 23 yr old engages a 14yr old in a “relationship”….he gets insistent on having sex but she says no…too young…so he says -ok we’ll wait till your 15 (by now he’s 24!). A week before the 15 years olds bday the guy confesses he slept w/someone else-because he has needs, and she is saying “not yet” to him…apologizes…and because she doesn’t want to “loose” this guy (loser)…at 15 he pushes her again-does it when there are people upstairs…sayign you said we would do this-she is to scared to speak up so they do…statutory rape? What about they continue seeing eachother after that and the first several times after he “pushes” for it…by this time traumatic bonding is created…the girl is devastated by the thought of losing him-goes hell and high water against her parents wishes and sneaks to see him behind their back…the parents tried to seperate them even by moving her to another country-but the “bond” created was too strong….goes on to marry the idiot at 21. Experienced loads of verbal, emotional, sexual abuse….even physical abuse-even while dating. But ignores it because she is so bonded emotionally “trauma bonding” … finally kicks his behind to the curb-2 children later….after having experienced marital rape as well. Free of him for over 5 years…

    but yeah…. statutory rape can create HUGE ramifications-it is NOT “just statutory rape”….

    Reply
  24. Haikuu

    Etherspirit, I think you are valid in raising that point. I understand where you are coming from, and I for one am an advocate of gender equality. So I can see why you would be raising a point about potential difference in the treating of both male and female in relation to statutory rape. Cara, I don’t think Etherspirit’s intention was to initiate a competition. I believe that the intention was to raise awareness of potential political injustice.

    🙂

    Reply
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