By Cara Lynch, HAVEN therapist
As many of you may know, April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Maybe you have seen an inordinate amount of teal ribbons lately or posters tacked up all around town for local Take Back the Night rallies. Maybe more than one person has approached you with frightening yet true statistics that say 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States have experienced an attempted or completed rape and nearly two-thirds of rapists know their victims (unless the victim is a minor, in which case that number jumps up to 93%). Or maybe you have just randomly stumbled across this blog and I am the first person to tell you that April holds any significance other than its famous “showers that bring May flowers.”
Whatever has brought you to this blog in this moment in time, I am glad you are here. However, in the essence of full disclosure, I should tell you that I have no intention of defining sexual assault for you today or telling you how many women and men and children were raped in 2010 or teaching you how to spot a rapist just by looking at him or her (hint: you can’t.) No, instead I want to focus on something new, something different this April – Let’s have a conversation about what is NOT rape.
Slang and vernacular language in the United States are constantly evolving. A particularly distressing part of this evolution has been the use of the word “rape” to describe things and events that are in fact not rape at all. For example, I will even admit to sometimes lamenting in my younger, less-informed days, “that test just raped me”, by which I meant, “man, that test was really hard! I might have totally failed it!”
Some of you may be familiar with this practice, some of you may have no idea what I am talking about, but fear not – I have compiled a list (that unfortunately is not an exclusive or finite one) for the ease and convenience of this discussion. So let’s get started:
- Taxes are NOT rape. Laws you do not like are NOT rape.Legislation you disagree with is NOT rape.
Hard tests are NOT rape.
A bad grade (even if you think it is unfair) is NOT rape.
High gas prices are NOT rape.
High credit card fees are NOT rape.
Expensive phone bills (or any kinds of bills) are NOT rape.
Being fired or laid-off is NOT rape.
Being yelled at by your boss is NOT rape.
Being criticized or even insulted is NOT rape.
Proving something right or wrong is NOT rape.
Bad publicity or even slandering someone in the media is NOT rape.
Not getting something you want is NOT rape.
Losing at a sports game is NOT rape.
Losing at a video game is NOT rape.
Having your NCAA Tournament bracket busted is NOT rape.
A routine, consented-to prostate exam is NOT rape.
Pollution or other non-environmentally conscious practices are NOT rape.
Natural disasters are NOT rape.
Gentrification is NOT rape.
“Illegal” immigration is NOT rape.
None of these things is rape. Let me repeat that for clarity and truth – None of these things is rape. You may not like the price of gas right now (I know I don’t), but your feelings about high gas prices are not the same as what someone goes through after another person has violated their physical, emotional, and sexual boundaries. The tsunami and earthquake that recently devastated Japan is an utter tragedy, but it is not the same thing as engaging in any kind of sexual act with someone without their expressed (and enthusiastic!) consent. Both are bad things, but one does not equal the other.
Now I am sure there is someone somewhere who will be quick to argue, “no, I’m not talking about that kind of rape; I’m just using the alternative definition of the word.” And yes, it is true that depending on which dictionary you use, “rape” may also be defined very broadly as “to seize and take away by force”. Let’s be honest, though – nobody uses the word “rape” in that sense. And nobody perceives the meaning of the word “rape” in that sense either. It is the same thing as people who insist that the word “gay” also means “happy” when they are called out for using the word in a derogatory way or as a synonym for “uncool” or “stupid”. Yes, it is true that this alternative definition exists, but nobody uses it. Period. To suggest otherwise is simply being deliberately obtuse.
The fact of the matter is this: rape is rape. And it exists all around us every day. Remember that statistic at the beginning of this post about how 1 in 6 women in the United States have been victims of an attempted or completed rape? What those figures are suggesting is that if you think of six women you know, one of them – statistically speaking – is a sexual violence survivor. So keep that in mind when you decide to make that hilarious joke about being raped by your phone bill. Think about that idea the next time you or someone around you complains that they just got raped on their taxes. Think about what it might feel like as a rape or sexual assault survivor to hear someone have the audacity to compare losing the Superbowl to the hell she or he endured.
You never know who is listening to you or what the life experiences of those around you have been, but it is simply not an excuse to say “oh, I never would have made that rape joke if I’d known that a real person who experienced a real rape was listening.” The English language has more words than most of us know what to do with, so trust me when I say that retiring “rape” from your repertoire of hyperbolic metaphors will not suddenly leave you without any ability to make such metaphors. In the end what I am suggesting is this: Before you jokingly (or truthfully) whine about how Butler totally raped your March Madness bracket, just ask yourself first if what you are about to say is more likely to make a rape/sexual assault survivor feel comfortable or a rapist feel comfortable. If the answer is the latter, just stop. Make the choice not to be one more person that makes this world a safe place for rapists.