Rape is a criminal act where the aggressor forces the victim to engage in sex or unwanted sexual contact. Rape is an aggressive, violent crime, that can have serious criminal repercussions for the aggressor, and serious mental, emotional, and physical repercussions for the victim. Rape can occur within marriage.
What Is Rape
The definition of what precisely is "Rape" is different depending on the legal jurisdiction where the crime takes place. Many instances of forced sexual contact are referred to by the general term "Sexual Assault". This page will consider all forced sexual contact as being "Rape", and will use that term accordingly. It is important to note that the definition of rape here is going to be more broad then it likely is in the law where the reader lives. This page is not meant to constitute legal counsel.
Rape occurs when sexual acts are performed without the express consent of one party. This can include, but is not limited to:
- Instances when consent is forced, such as through threats of violence.
- Instances when consent is coerced, such as between people with authority (doctors, teachers, other leaders) and subordinates.
- When the victim is below the age of consent, and the other partner is an adult.
- When the victim is incapable of giving informed consent, such as while being under the influence of drugs or alcohol or a mental disorder.
Rape is most often performed by a male attacker against a female victim. However, this is not always true, and it is not uncommon for men to be raped by women or other men, or for women to be raped by other women.
Rape is always illegal because it is typically harmful to physical or mental well being of the victim. Even in a case where unwanted sexual contact is not considered "rape", it will likely be illegal as an act of sexual assault, common assault, domestic violence or some other violent crime. Threats of rape, or suggestions of unwanted sexual nature are typically instances of sexual harassment, which is also illegal.
The age of consent is the age at which it is deemed children are able to make informed decisions about sexual participation. People below the age of consent are considered "minors", and people above the age of consent are considered "adults". It is typically against the law for an adult to have sex with a minor, even if the sex is consensual. In an instance where a minor is married to an adult (assuming such practice is legal), sex between the couple is allowed as being part of a married union. The rape between a minor and an adult is typically called statutory rape, although that term can also be used in different situations.
In the case of statutory rape where the minor has consented, the act of sex with an adult can have profound, troubling and long lasting psychological effects on the development of the minor, and could lead to problems later in life.
Date rape occurs when when a victim is attacked by a friend or other acquaintance. This is different from other cases of rape where the victim typically does not know the attacker. It is not uncommon for rape to be committed by:
- Friends or acquaintances
- Boyfriends, girlfriends, or other people on a date.
- People involved in a long term relationship such as marriage.
It is important to note that unwanted sexual contact is always rape, even if the victim and the attacker are in a sexual relationship or a marriage. Date Rape can occur when one person has sex with a friend or acquaintance when that person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There is even a special class of drugs known as "date rape drugs" that are used to subdue the victim. These drugs can be administered in secret, through food or drinks, even in public areas. All people, especially women, are warned to keep their food and drinks close. People should watch their food to ensure that it is not tampered with, and people should also not accept free food or drinks from strangers.
Rape causes a number of harmful side-effects in the physical and emotional well being of the victim. The issues vary widely based on how the crime itself is handled, how the victim is seen by society and culture, and what sort of support is available. In all cases, rape is a traumatic defilement that is never "gotten over".
Rape victims may experience intense and sometimes unpredictable emotions, both immediately after the attack, and in the weeks and months following it. Victims are often severely traumatized by the assault for the first few weeks and months following the incident. It is also not uncommon for the victim to experience strong memories of the attack, or have nightmares.
The victim may suffer from psychological upheaval, including the development of near-phobias. Many victims will avoid being alone for long periods of time, and some experience permanent personality changes. At the same time, the victim may feel feelings of shame and reject attempts to reach them, or shun the company of others.
The victim may have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, eating, and normally functioning. He or she may feel jumpy or on edge. The victim may also experience severe, highly disruptive symptoms that make it incredibly difficult to function in first few months following the assault. These problems may disrupt the victim's daily life and prevent them from seeking assistance or telling friends and family members, resulting in Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). Symptoms of this are:
- feeling numb and detached, like being in a daze or a dream, or feeling that the world is strange and unreal
- difficulty remembering important parts of the assault
- reliving the assault through repeated thoughts, memories, or nightmares
- avoidance of things (places, thoughts, feelings) that remind the victim of the assault
- anxiety or increased arousal (difficulty sleeping, concentrating, etc.)
It is important for all victims of rape to seek help and possibly counselling. There are people who can help with the emotional side effects of an attack, and to help reduce the possibility of symptoms associated with rape manifesting, or, if they have done so, from becoming permanent fixtures.
In the short term, rape may cause physical trauma in the form of:
- Physical strikes and violence that accompany the attack.
- Damage to genitals, particularly to the vaginal area, vulva, or possibly anal passage depending on specifics.
In the longer term, rape may lead to the transmission of an STD, or even to pregnancy. It is important for all rape victims to visit a hospital to test for STD and pregnancy, and also to help heal some of the physical trauma associated with the rape. During such a hospital visit, doctors may take DNA samples and photographic documentation, that might help to catch and convict the attacker.
Rape and Interpersonal Relationships
Rape victims have problems dealing with the enormity of the damage done to them, mentally and physically, and this spills over into their relationships with others. Rape victims often times experience feelings of shame and self-disgust, anxiety, depression, or melancholy, which can disrupt even close friendships. Most people do not know how to handle the rape victim, especially in cases that result in severe personality changes.
In romantic relationships, there are further issues to consider. It is usually difficult for victims of rape to operate sexually in a normal manner, especially within the first 6 to 8 months of the incident. Many victims can have difficulties with sexual intimacy or even close romantic physical contact for a long period of time after the actual assault has occurred. In date rape situations this is of particular note, since many victims who are date raped tend to avoid situations where this can happen again, to the point of avoiding relationships altogether.
Reactions in existing relationships after a rape are so varied that any exact descriptions would be speculation. However, some victims can no longer deal with sexual activity of any kind after a rape, which puts stresses and can dissolve relationships and marriages.
Facts About Rape
There are a number of common myths about rape. Here, we will contradict many of those myths, and present some facts:
- When a person says "no", or when a person has verbally refused consent, any further sexual contact or actions are considered rape. In other words, "no means no".
- A person is not "asking to be raped" because of body language or the type of clothing they are wearing. Dressing or acting in a provocative way is not an "invitation" for rape.
- It is never the victim's fault for being raped, even if the victim is in "the wrong place", or if they have interacted with the "wrong people". Rape is always the fault of the attacker.
- Rape can be about violent dominance, mastery and control, but at its root is unbridled sexual lust and a complete lack of self control. Rape during military action is considered an illegal instrument of war and is now contrary to international law, and so susceptible to severe punishment by all military, criminal and international tribunals.
It is important for people who have been victims of rape to get help. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Medical help, including STD and pregnancy tests.
- Psychological help, such as counselling.
- Help and support from friends and family. Rape is deeply embarrassing for the victim, but secrecy is likely to be psychologically the most damaging strategy.
Many victims choose not to get help, and some even choose not to talk about the rape to anybody. This is a mistake, and could lead to severe mental and physical health problems in the future. All victims of rape should get the appropriate help, and help is almost always freely available.
Here are some resources to turn to if you or somebody you know has been the victim of rape:
- Rape Victim Advocates
- Pandora's Aquarium, a message board for rape and sexual abuse survivors
- Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN)
There are many other resources available, including many local organizations in different communities.
Parts of this page were adapted from text found at Wikipedia.