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Rape is the most extreme form of sexual assault, involving non-consensual sexual acts.[1] The laws on, and attitudes to, rape vary widely from culture to culture. In developed societies, the act of rape is usually considered a heinous criminal offense; in others, it is considered an offense only insofar as the rapist has violated another man's property.

A 2011 study by the Center for Disease Control estimated that 18% of women in the United States have experienced some form of rape in their lifetime, with 12% forcibly raped, 5% experiencing an unsuccessful attempt at forcible rape, and 8% at some point having sex while intoxicated, this being defined as "rape" for the purposes of the study. Moreover, half of the rapes reported in the study were committed by current or former intimate partners.[2]


Legal classifications of rape

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Most western countries have several legal classifications of rape, each of which may have different legal outcomes.

Violent or forced rape

Violent or forced rapes are those which generally result in some injury, and which happen under acts of violence or physical control. A few states in the US, a handful of countries in Western civilization, and most Middle Eastern, African, and Asian countries make legal distinctions between rapes that happen when force or violence is involved, and other types of rape, including ones where the threats are psychological or emotional.

Non-consensual, non-violent rape

This is a description to include "all sex that is not physically violent, but still coerced." This includes threats of future harm, threats to children or loved ones, threats to stop financial support (as one might see in a marriage), or threats to withdraw emotional support (a kind of addictive control found in abusive relationships). Spousal rape usually falls into this category. In most Western countries, these two types of rape are legally identical. But many if not most of the rest of the world's laws still allow for rape within a marriage.[3][4]

Impaired consent

Impaired consent laws make it illegal for anyone who has been drinking to legally give consent to sex. This is one of the trickiest laws to litigate, if the drug of choice is alcohol or pot, because they are such normal methods of safe coercion, of "getting to know you" and "having a good time" that the legal line between "fun" and "rape" is nearly impossible to draw. However, if the victim is quite literally passed out or has taken "date-rape" drugs such as GHC, it is fairly easy to see how the victim was unable to give her informed consent to the sexual act.

Statutory rape

Rape as defined by statute/law. In this case, it does not matter of the victim gives consent. The state has defined a particular class (almost always a class based on age) as being legally unable to give consent. So, if a 14 year old girl has sex with her teacher, regardless of how she feels about it, it is legally rape. The danger to this type of law is that there are cases where two kids who are legally able to have sex one day could violate the law the day after one of their 18th birthdays. Most states have some form of "Romeo Law" which allows teens within a particular age range to be exempted from the statute. Other statutory classes include those who are mentally retarded, and some cases of people with mental illness.

Children under 14

The rape of children under 14 (or there abouts) is generally handled differently from the rape of adult victims; the rapist charged under various statutes of child molestation. While a charge of rape will generally be included, the molestation charge alone generally carries a harsher punishment than the charge of rape.

Ways to classify rape

Beyond the legal definitions, society tends to classify rape by the situation in which it occurred.

Acquaintance rape/date rape

This refers to rape committed by someone known to the victim. It is often difficult to convict anyone of this sort of rape, as in such a situation it is much harder to prove that any sex was non-consensual. There is also the additional problem that many people tend to blame the victim for such rapes, making it more difficult for the victim to press charges. However, despite any difficulty with evidence, the law makes no distinction even if the girl intended to go all the way, said she would go all the way, then said "no" at the last moment. Rape is rape.

Domestic rape

Marital or domestic rapes are those that happen within established partnerships. They often do not involve physical violence, but instead threats of violence, as well as emotional threats, threats to withdraw financial support, and even threats to children (especially step-children). Statistics from the United Kingdom suggest that marital rape is the most common type of rape.[5]

Domestic rape is the most commonly experienced rape in the male gay community.[6] Unfortunately, this is often overlooked or downplayed in Western society because the rape is usually seen as a crime against women.

On the other side of the spectrum, wingnuts like Phyllis Schlafly overlook marital rape, brushing it off as the result of a dereliction of "duty" on the wife's part.

Gang rape

"Gang rape" is a general term for a rape in which many people assault one victim. Recent surveys are showing that such rapes are increasing in the American academic community,[7][8] especially in situations where there is excessive drinking by the perpetrators and victim.

Gang rape is also associated with real gangs; some gang initiation rituals involve a gang-bang, which is quite often carried out non-consensually, and gang rape can also be used as a form of humiliation and punishment.

Prison rape

Prison rape, although mostly committed by men against men, does not usually imply that the perpetrators are gay; it is not generally done for erotic purposes, but instead to punish, terrorize, or humiliate the victim. In US prisons, it has reached near epidemic levels.[9]

War rape

The act of raping victims in a war is often an act of attempted humiliation for the entire captured society. Raping your defeated victims also acts to intimidate others who may wish to challenge you. War rape is outlawed as a war crime in modern international law.[10]

Rape and contemporary US politics

Rape and the Tea Party

With the election of Tea Party candidates to local, state and federal government posts in 2009 and 2010, the U.S. right wing have not only redoubled their efforts to do an end-run around Roe v. Wade with more stringent anti-abortion legislation, but have also brought rape laws into their sights.

  • In 2010, when attempting to counter President Obama's health care plan, the Republican-controlled Congress attempted to adjust the criteria under which the federal government will pay for an abortion. The Hyde Amendment originally banned all federal funding except in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother's life; the new language would narrowed the exception to women impregnated by "forcible rape." Hence, anyone who did not resist their rapist during the act — e.g., women who had been drugged, girls who had been molested by their relatives, underage girls who said "yes" even though they were not able to give legal consent — could not have had an abortion paid for through Medicaid. The Republicans backed down on this after much controversy was raised about it.[11]
  • An older law in Kansas, still on the books, uses statutory rape to punish gay youth by setting the age of consent differently for homosexual and heterosexual sex: 18 and 14 respectively. The law was upheld even after Lawrence v. Texas said it was unconstitutional to ban homosexual sex, since it was still a state's right to set the age of consent. It would appear that according to the Kansas legislators, gay youth between the ages of 14 and 18 have some sort of mental defect not shared by their straight peers.[12]
  • As perhaps the sickest example of right-wingers' attitudes toward rape, starting in 2010, various anti-abortion groups collaborated on a "Conceived in Rape" propaganda campaign. This involves highlighting people — men, women, and the ubiquitous cute little children — who are alive "thanks to" rape; the purpose of the campaigns being to guilt-trip pregnant rape victims into carrying their children to term.[13] Of course, this campaign conveniently ignores that there is also a very long list of people who are now dead "thanks to" rape — who killed themselves out of shame, fear, or the aggravation of clinical depression.

Rape and the Occupy Movement

There have been several occurrences of rape at encampments associated with the Occupy Movement, prompting some female protesters to construct safe zones. [14][15] Opponents of the Occupy movement, completely ignoring the fact that any large semi-anarchic encampment with few barriers to entry will draw at least one or two bad apples, promptly used these occurrences to tar the entire movement.[16] [17]

Rape and rock music

Sometimes, at big rock concerts (particularly at heavy metal gigs) when people have been drinking alcohol there have been rapes.

Historical view of "rape" within various religions

Torah/the Christian "Old Testament"

According to Torah and oral tradition from ancient Israel, a woman was the property of her father, then her husband. Her husband had the specific added right to the use of her body. There is nothing in the Torah that would prohibit a man from having sex when he wished. In other words, there was no such thing as spousal rape. The Jewish commentary does address the fact that a woman has a right to leave a husband who is beating her, and the husband has an obligation to help his woman enjoy sex, but those are not truly prohibitions against rape.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 specifically addresses "stranger rape". For a woman to be considered raped, she must call out and others must have heard her. If she is too frightened to make a noise, well, too bad for her. A woman who has been raped may be put to death if she is married, and must marry her rapist if she is not. [18] Then may must pay the father some money, but understand, no crime has been committed against the woman. It is the father (or husband's) property that has been damaged, at least in the "legal" biblical sense.

Judaism and the Talmud

According to the Talmud: "A man is forbidden to compel his wife to have marital relations…Rabbi Joshua ben Levi similarly stated: Whosoever compels his wife to have marital relations will have unworthy children."[19] Interestingly, there is no explicit instructions about the wife not being allowed to compel the husband—in fact, the Talmud instructs that it is a man's duty to please his wife, and to not do so is a sin, though this has no context in regard to force. The same section of the Talmud as the above quote refers to "coaxing", as would a "rooster", as opposed to taking.

Historical vs. modern views of rape

The historical view of rape in the West was one of a sharp contrast between the somewhat anti-sex views taken by the Christian church — the primary determinant of official policy on the question — and more informal, private cultural attitudes. These, taken together, lead many people, specifically men, to believe that they have license to perform acts of rape. Some of these attitudes are:

  • The long-standing literary trope that women need to be swept off their feet and physically compelled to like a man. From the mythic tale of the Rape of the Sabine Women right down to the silly equation betwen "No! Don't! Stop!" and "No, don't stop!", men in Western society have been taught that they must really put the pressure on a woman in order to get her to say "yes" to sex. A few of our beloved fairy tales even suggest that the man raped the woman to wake her, or bring her into his control.
  • The somewhat related idea that "no means yes." Girls have been stereotyped as coy, leading men to believe that when they say "no," they are actually saying "yes," but are either playing games or are just too shy to say so.
  • The old religious and/or medical myth that it is abnormal for women to enjoy sex, with those that do like it being labeled as sluts. This makes men believe that they might have to force sex on the women who do not enjoy it, and in the case of the sluts who do enjoy it, obviously "no means yes."

All of these positions have made the communication between potential sexual partners a highly ambiguous matter, very much subject to interpretation, and if the potential partners interpret interactions differently, it may lead to a "he said, she said" situation, one claiming it was rape, the other that it was not.

Some other lingering attitudes about women and rape that still contribute to the problem today are:

  • Plain old-fashioned male chauvinism. Men used to own women as property according to the law (especially in marriage), leading to the idea that men are superior to women and that their needs matter more.
  • A somewhat lackadaisical treatment of rape by the legal system in comparison to some other crimes; for example, in Colorado, a first-time conviction for possession of a Schedule I drug will get the convict 4-12 years imprisonment, while a conviction for rape carries only 3-6 years. This does not exactly make it look as though the massive suffering experienced by rape victims is taken seriously by the law.
  • Police officers are frequently charged with not caring about rape victims, treating them as second class, or blaming them for the rape. While this is changing in most places, including the development of special units throughout Europe and North America, there are still lingering attitudes that cause many rape victims not to report the crime.

Evolutionary view of rape

Counter to the traditional sociologist model of rape being predominately driven by power and dominance needs, some evolutionary scientist have pointed out that rape is a sexual act and as such could have been under selective pressure in our evolutionary past. The primary architects of this view are Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer. In support of this view point Thornhill and Palmer have written:

"Consider the following facts:

  • Most rape victims are women of childbearing age
  • In many cultures rape is treated as a crime against the victim's husband
  • Rape victims suffer less emotional distress when they are subjected to more violence
  • Rape takes place not only among human beings but also in a variety of other animal species
  • Married women and women of childbearing age experience more psychological distress after a rape than do girls, single women or women who are past menopause." [20]

The observations that perpetrators focus in on certain traits and queues related to child bearing is presented as evidence that the psychology of committing rape was under evolutionary pressure. In addition, Thornhill and Palmer propose that the degree of "distress measures" in victims correlate with the largest risks associated with rape during evolutionary periods. Such as risk of pregnancy, and the risk of losing social support. This is where the signs of violence come into play in their theory. They argue that a woman who shows no signs of violence is more likely to suffer social consequences from the rape as people are more likely to question whether it was rape.

While Thornhill and Palmer have published their hypothesis and experimental data in multiple journal articles the most notorious work was the book they published A Natural History of Rape. The book and the research has been criticized as having poor data analysis and shoddy methodology.[21][22]

Thornhill and Palmer have responded to their critics several times calling their arguments straw men. [23]


  1. Most western countries do not legally distinguish between intercourse and other sexual acts in their rape laws, though a few US States do make such distinctions
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey
  3. Amnesty International address on the status of women
  4. paper discussion various responses to international laws
  5. [1]
  6. http://www.aardvarc.org/dv/gay.shtml, and book cite for the article: Ratner and Johnson (2003) Non consensual sex by men who have sex with men.'
  7. [2]
  8. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124001493
  9. [3]
  10. [4]
  11. [5]
  12. February 2000, Matthew Limon Case.[6]
  13. http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2011/06/02/what-aboutconceived-rape-tour
  14. Occupy Wall Street statement on sexual assault
  15. "Occupy Rape Culture".
  16. [7]
  17. [8]
  18. http://answering-islam.net/Shamoun/ot_and_rape.htm, this author is attempting to make the argument that Deuteronomy is actually simply about having sex with an unmarried woman. If that is the case, then rape is not even discussed by the Old Testament, which would not be totally out of bounds, since women's rights were very limited in the ancient near east
  19. [9]
  20. Thornhill, Palmer. 2000. Why men rape. Sciences.
  21. Jerry Coyne and Andrew A. Berry. Rape As An Adaptation. Nature, Vol. 404, on March 9, 2000. See also further commentary from Coyne on Why Evolution Is True.
  22. Elisabeth A. Lloyd. Science Gone Astray: Evolution and Rape. Michigan Law Review, vol. 99, no. 6, 2001, pp. 1536-1559
  23. Straw men and fairy tales: Evaluating reactions to A Natural History of Rape. Journal of Sex Research, Vol 40, 2003.
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