Rape

I have written in the past about the tremendous influence Nirvana has had on my life. From an early age, the music just struck me. But maybe even more striking was Kurt Cobain. The man had more than his fair share of problems, but it is undeniable how striking his mind was. As much as I ate up the band’s albums, I was eating up the thoughts and musings of the front man. From a quick rejection of macho attitudes to the embracing of equal rights for gays, he had a big impact on me.

But one of the biggest areas where he got me thinking was the act of rape. He wrote a number of songs on the subject, including Polly and Rape Me, and his detestation of the act manifested itself within me. Not that I needed a cultural icon to make me aware that rape was a terrible thing, but I grew up in a middle-class environment, fortunately free from sexual abuse. It was never anything more than an abstract concept to me; Cobain helped drive home just how disgusting it was.

One of the things, though, I think when I hear “rape” is a very specific act. I define it as forced penetration. This generally means the entering of a penis into an orifice, but it could be hands or any object. Whatever the specifics, if something is entering another person’s body against that person’s will – perhaps some semantic quibbles aside – it is rape.

What this means, though, is that there are some awful things I don’t define as rape. Fondling, exposure, unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature, they’re all awful, but they aren’t rape. Call them sexual molestation, sexual assault, or some other term, but I simply don’t define them as rape. Part is simply the connotations which come to mind for me, but most of this has to do with the fact that penetration is one of the biggest violations of a person I can imagine. It’s on a level all its own.

So that brings me to a recent CDC report. This is how news organizations are portraying it:

About 20% of women are raped at some point in their lifetime and in most cases the attacker is someone the woman knows, according to a new survey on sexual violence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That is accurate to how the report is written. Here is one excerpt:

Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.

The issue here – and I don’t think I’m alone – is that included in these numbers is “attempted forced penetration” and “alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration”. The latter is something I would likely almost always define as rape, but the former is not. That doesn’t mean it isn’t awful, or that it doesn’t point to the exact same awful problem. It is and it does. But it isn’t rape. Calling it so is for the sake of bringing attention to the issue. Of course, that in and of itself is a good thing, but I fear it is not without consequences.

I know a lot of people reading this will be tempted to draw accusations of rape-apology and other untrue things, but I think my objection here is well-grounded: If we start using “rape” in a way which does not reflect what people think when they hear the term, we begin to undermine its impact. That seems like the worst thing in the world to me.

If we’re talking 15% or 10% or 5%, we still have some pretty terrible figures. And if we condense the numbers as the CDC as done, that’s fine. Let’s just be specific: “Nearly 20% of women have been raped or had rape attempted against them in their lives.” I think the figure is just as powerful, but also accurate. That’s important. I don’t want to give people any reason to question such a horrific experience on the grounds that the numbers have been misrepresented.

Semi-update: I have seen other figures which have included molestation and other forms of sexual abuse. I wanted to include those in this post, but they aren’t the easiest thing to find, especially when I don’t know the specific report in which they appeared.

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Ohio abortion bill on hold

Anti-abortion advocates have caused the “heartbeat” bill in Ohio to be put on hold:

Fear of expensive legal battles over the law may have prompted a wave of amendments by Senate backers to the bill. But the wording of the bill has split anti-abortion backers.

“Supporters of the bill delivered more than 20 amendments on Wednesday, asking us to make changes after months of deliberation in both the House and Senate,” Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, said in a statement.

“These eleventh hour revisions only serve to create more uncertainty about a very contentious issue. We’ve now heard hours of testimony that indicate a sharp disagreement within the pro-life community over the direction of this bill, and I believe our members need additional time to weigh the arguments. Therefore, I have asked the committee chairman to suspend hearings on the bill,” Niehaus said.

Basically, they’re afraid the Supreme Court will rule against them. It’s funny because the whole strategy of the anti-abortionists for the past 10-15 years has been to push the boundary of Roe v Wade, even flagrantly ignoring it, in order to force a SC showdown.

At any rate, I’m glad to see this has been set aside from now. The entire premise was just silly. A heartbeat does not somehow convey special importance onto a fetus. In fact, it is a whole confluence of factors which contribute to what we define as being important in humans. It cannot possibly be clear when it is that enough of those factors have come together in order for us to draw a line; the best we can do is seek a reasonable point during pregnancy (a point which we laden with necessary exceptions). I think Roe v Wade actually found that point.