Rape is NOT a Sex Crime

I’ve wanted to talk about this topic, but have found it difficult to do. It’s weighty, for one. For another – this is stark startling subject matter. It’s hardly something you bring up out of the blue.

It also bugs people for all kinds of reasons. I understand that as people share stories with me. Maybe they were too close to this at one point, went through it, found themselves not standing up for someone in a moment they now wish they had…maybe they question their own past behavior – a difficult reveal even to yourself I’m sure for those who turn the light on that.

The title of this post is simple – easy to grasp, explain, and understand – but… still a big idea requiring shifts in thinking and legal verbiage.

One specific goal I have for this book is to get the ball rolling in more people seeing the value in removing the word sex from sexual assault and other so-called sex crimes.

It helps if I share my story to illustrate the point and that story is lengthier than a blog post. This is a topic in a chapter called Worth in my book, 9 Word Rethink To Get On With Life.   My book explains my thinking, personal experience, and what it took to overcome use of this terminology while recovering from having been attacked at age 21. Here’s an excerpt from the book specifically about what I went through and why I think this change matters.

My heart swelled at the reaction I received telling that story at the recent Leadership Illinois Conference offering thoughts for change in finding a way to turn having been sexually assaulted in college into a plan of action to improve the future for others.

My story illustrates clearly why I think this ONE change is KEY to more reporting of these crimes. It’s often noted these are significantly underreported crimes. I lived at least a few reasons WHY that is – through my own overcoming.

It boils down to this: What happened to me wasn’t sex as I understood sex to be which includes my consent. To then take that to a crime with a label that included sex didn’t connect for me as a young woman going through it.

Add to that – the fact I wasn’t interested in navigating how we view sex as a public in relation to the violation I experienced – in an open forum, no less. They weren’t the same subject area.

Why would I open up a part of my life so intensely private, precious, and meaningful to the masses with a label on it that didn’t align with what I experienced? It was a total disconnect, because that particular crime label didn’t ring true and what comes with that particular label only compounds the personal damage absorbed in surviving that category of crime. That was my thinking at the time. I was only 21 and, yet, that was a crystal clear awareness even then.

For anyone who says – well that IS sex – I take that on in the book with the idea of gynecological exams. We wouldn’t, for one moment, consider a respectful professional gynecologist out of line when they work ethically to take care of us. We know that is not sex, in part, because it’s not a sexual experience to us – the receiver. Why wouldn’t we, as a receiver, have the respect of being able to assert that being sexually assaulted is not sex either? I talk more in-depth about my perspective on this in the book, as well. I’ve wondered about the peculiarities in this for decades.

Using the word sex referring to these crimes sets up the discussion for judgments about consent which turn a horrifying frightening experience into a tawdry one.

Why would I report this as that crime then? We want more people to report these crimes, but underestimate the cultural baggage that comes with the word sex.

Remove the word sex from descriptions of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the bigger umbrella idea called sex crimes, in general.

What we do now is outdated given what we’ve learned as a society. It generously hands the starting point of these crimes to the perpetrator perspective. I’m not even talking about being found guilty or not guilty in a court of law. We aren’t even there yet in what I’m talking about here. I’m speaking to the very initial stages of the entire process – what can impact whether or not it is even actually reported as a crime. The accused perpetrator has a leg up immediately, because of how we view sex and who holds responsibility for controlling it – blatantly and in the subtext of American culture.

Right out of the gate – a survivor is at the mercy of the perspective of the person who would do this harm to them. That’s a double-whammy immediately after being traumatized by the assault.

Let’s unpack this idea for a moment with a few questions to get the mind spinning. Operative questions are:

1- Whose perspective do we respect in how we refer to these crimes?

2- What other crimes do we describe from the perpetrator perspective?

Is Criminal Damage To Property what it is to the person who spray-painted a school or does that person think they’re getting a little thrill as they create art and what was the big deal? This crime is named in a way that immediately validates the person who owns the property, isn’t it? Why is the body different in the case of so-called sex crimes?

It sounds wrong to think of that spray-paint crime as art. I’d like us to look at sexual assault crimes the same way.

Descriptions need to use different words – penetration crimes, body violation crimes, physical invasion crimes….something else – not slanted to the perpetrator perspective so survivors have a better chance of being seen on neutral ground from the beginning.

If sex involves consent in the fact that – no means no – then when there is not a yes…it’s not sex. This has been an idea that has taken time – years, in fact – to take hold – this clarity that no means no. It’s now a boundary crossing that’s against the law. It’s now a physical violation of a different kind. Think of even the youngest kids dealing with these body violations. Using the word sex implies some level of control, awareness, and consent in how we talk about the meaning of that very word.

If you’re brutalized, but know reporting the crime means it’ll get labeled with the word sex – in some way – the implication of consent can now come into the discussion. You can feel scolded as if you are a child all because we haven’t legitimized the place where a survivor stands from the start.

It hands the victim, who in the vast majority of cases is a female, responsibility for behavior of men – who control the vast majority of these crimes through their actions. To expect women to anticipate the activities of others to that extent is anxiety-provoking among other things, because you can’t control the actions of other people. It’s bizarre to me that this idea is legitimized in any way at all.

It’s not an issue of men are bad and women are angels. I do not think that AT ALL. Everyone has potential to be anything. Please don’t get sidetracked by gender divides. However, we have to look at this from the standpoint of who are more often perpetrators and victims in these crimes to change status quo. Make no mistake – there are plenty of thoughtful respectful men and plenty of destructive opportunistic women, as well. This is not at all about gender bashing. I cannot drive home that point enough. This shift in thinking has the potential to help ANY victim of these crimes.

It’s also insulting when this becomes a political issue. Why are human dignity and human decency anything but who we are as a collective group of civil people? This is way bigger than a political party.

3- How many other crimes do we look at from the angle of the accused and then require the victim to legally prove what was cast on them wasn’t what the law calls it – from the git go?

If I’m going through trauma and grieving loss after rape – how inhumane is it as a society to then slap a label on the crime in which the alleged perpetrator’s perspective is actually getting some kind of immediate respect for accuracy over mine as a victim?

We know more about all kinds of topics as we learn and grow with time as a society. There’s increasing clarity here we can no longer ignore. I felt this way instinctively at 21 without having the words to express it after it happened to me leaving me confused, ashamed, disillusioned, and frustrated. I have only felt more certain in years since observing the subject from different vantage points as a grown woman, professional, college instructor, journalist, mom, etc.

4- Does anyone else see the need for change with this very specific shift that could set an entirely different tone in how we proceed on this topic?

On a daily basis, it impacts and devastates people afraid to talk about it for fear from the initial moments it’ll be assumed they asked for it or enjoyed it when it was forced on them knowing justice is often elusive anyway.

I. Believe. You. … EVEN IF – the crime sets up the situation so others who don’t choose to look more deeply – assume what you say happened – did NOT.

It sounds like being tossed in some rigged carnival game as I type this, doesn’t it? It looks seemingly fair, but it actually isn’t from the very beginning. After that carnival game, you end up broke, disillusioned, frustrated, and even embarrassed.

That is not a set up for good mental health or a supportive environment that sees human dignity as a primary tenet of a caring clued-in society.

We are talking about a type of legally-sanctioned entitlement. We can change this.