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“”Well, if rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it.
|—A particularly repulsive rape apologist quote from former GOP candidate Robert 'RJ' Regan.|
Rape apology (or Rape apologia) is an umbrella term for any arguments suggesting that rape is infrequent, misreported, over-reported, not that big a deal, or excusable in some circumstances, such as marital rape, corrective rape, or if the victim was "provocatively dressed".
"Apology" here means "defense", as in "Christian apologetics", and not a statement expressing regret (in fact, rape apology is the opposite of expressing regret for rape).
It is also worth noting that — obviously — people of any gender can be the victims of rape, and likewise people of any gender can be the culprit or aggressor.
Rape apologist arguments
There are a slew of rape apologist arguments, all of which are hopelessly flawed.
Rape apologists frequently refer only to "forcible" rape when condemning rape or proposing legislation relating to rapes and their consequences. Forcible rape explicitly excludes statutory rape, which is the only legitimate reason that the term "forcible rape" even exists. Forcible rape implicitly excludes rapes committed with the victim under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, along with many marital rapes and those committed by people the victim knew, because those rapes are apparently less rape-y than the stranger-in-an-alley scenario, which is statistically less common.
On the same day as a host of American Republicans were shoving their feet in their mouths, UK MP George Galloway added his own take on rape, specifically referencing Julian Assange's sexual assault charges. Apparently it's not rape if they're asleep: "This is something which can happen, you know. I mean, not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion." Oi.
They asked for it!
The victim can be alleged to be either a promiscuous whore who dressed like a slut or, more generally, put themself in a dangerous situation. If young, they could also be a temptress and manipulative Lolita who was dressing, looking, and behaving older than their chronological age: just ask some judges in Montana, lawyers in Texas, Men's Rights Activists, or Polanski supporters.
"No" means "yes"
Unlike some of the arguments covered above, you're unlikely to hear this one espoused openly by politicians and public figures. Nevertheless, the old chestnut that people (especially women) sometimes say "no" when they really mean "yes" remains very common.
This trope suggests that a person who rejects sexual advances, or says they're not ready for sex with their new partner yet, is just playing hard to get — or even if they say "no" and mean it, their partner might still be able to change their mind. At worst, some misogynists feel entitled to assume without evidence that a woman is harboring a secret rape fantasy, or even believe that they somehow "deserve it". This often goes hand in hand with other aspects of blaming the victim, such as focusing on where the victim was, how they were behaving, and what they were wearing.
Like the dubious strategies of the pick-up artist subculture, and the MRA furor over "creep shaming", the "no means yes" trope, whether applied to rape, stalking, or other predatory behaviour, encourages the misogynist attitude that if a guy wants to get laid, he has to be persistent and not take "no" for an answer.
"Token resistance" or "LMR" ("Last Minute Resistance") is sometimes used as a code word for "no means yes", since it sounds less like a justification for rape. But don't be deceived; they mean the same exact thing.
Although in a heavily "softened" version, the "No means Yes"/"Don't take no for an answer" attitude is also a principle in many standard romantic movies, in that men are almost always the "active part" in building a romance. Women often aren't particularly attracted to the man at first, but due to his persistence in arranging a date or something similar, she "gives in" and a romance starts. Obviously, it's a long way from this to rape, but the point was that men are "supposed" to be persistent in their courtship/relationship with women. Similar to the trope "If he really loves you, nothing can stop him from you". Possibly more influential to the MRA perspective is the behavior displayed by fictional action movie characters ("a real man's man"), like James Bond or Rooster Cogburn, where sheer charisma (along with forced detainment and maybe a backhand slap or two) are enough to overcome any resistance. While fictional movies are vaguely real-world based, basing the real world on fictional movies (most often also made by men) isn't nearly as good of an idea as MRAs and PUAs like to believe.
Predictably, there is an overlap between rape apologists and those who oppose reproductive rights for women and those who feel that marriage equals ownership. One example is Phyllis Schlafly's comment that "by getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don't think you can call it rape."
Similarly, the website "For Every Mom" holds the article "She Only Said 'Yes' Once":
Before that moment, the answer had always been, “No,” – “no” in my heart and “no” in hers. “No” in parked cars, in movie theatres, in empty living rooms – “no” to all of those emotions and desires that threaten to sweep away young people in love. The answer had always been, “No.” Not anymore. On, July 28th, 2001, the answer we gave each other before God and everyone was: “Yes.” “Yes,” until the day that we die. Yes, I could kiss her. Yes, I could sleep with her. Yes, I could steal glances of her in the shower because I think she looks great even after 5 kids. She said, “Yes,” to me, forever. I wasn’t asking for a one night stand or permission to touch her after a party. I was asking for forever, and that’s what she gave me. That’s what I gave her. She has never had to say it again. She said “yes” only once. She meant it to last. I meant it to last. It has lasted fourteen years. It will remain in effect until death parts us.
To argue that marrying someone is the same as saying, "Yes, you can fuck me whenever" is ridiculous. Merely because two persons desire to spend their lives together, does not mean that they consent to anything that the other partner wants to do. This is part of the whole "confusing romance with sex" thing that the right does on issues such as homosexuality, e.g., where they try to use prison rape as evidence that being gay is a choice.
Rape as "unwanted sex"
Another way to trivialise — and implicitly normalise — rape is to recharacterise it merely in terms of "unwanted sex" or "surprise sex" or similar euphemistic terms which take the emphasis off uncomfortable words like "rape" or "assault", and remind the reader or listener that, "hey, it's just sex, right?"
A typical example of this comes from a rant (directed against rape victims) by TJ "TheAmazingAtheist" Kincaid, in his self-published e-book. Within the space of a few lines, Kincaid used the phrases "someone fucked you when you didn't want to be fucked", "a woman who gets dick when she doesn't want it", and "a single violation of your personal space". The message is pretty clear: rape's not such a big deal; just something you weren't expecting, but you should just put up with it and get it over with. (You'd think that his own use of "violation" would be a clue right there, but apparently not.)
Others have said so more explicitly. In 2008, Nick Erikse, a London political candidate for the bigoted British National Party, was revealed as the author of misogynist blogs in which he had stated quite openly (albeit under a pseudonym) that he did not see rape as a serious crime or something to be condemned. Among his comments were:
Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal. To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that forcefeeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence. A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched.[note 1]
The car argument
Rape apologists have started using an argument with various pictures of children crossing a road, and the text "Teaching children to look around when they cross the road is victim blaming. Tell the car driver not to hit them". This became memetic on the internet due to its "brilliance".
First, this is a false equivalency. Rape is committed with intent or gross negligence. A person raping another person is consciously making the decision to commit a criminal act upon another person; there's always an element of neglecting to obtain appropriate consent or ignoring protests against escalating to/continuing sexual acts. There is often some degree of premeditation involved, too, whether it's done immediately before committing the act or during a period of planning leading up to the assault. On the other hand, it is assumed that a car driver never intends to hit a pedestrian. There is no intent of committing a violent act and no premeditation.[note 2] Presenting the statements as congruent, "Tell the car driver not to hit them," and perhaps, "Tell the person not to rape," glosses over that one act of violence is unintentionally committed while the other is more intentionally committed. Another thing to consider is that no person, child or not, would consider consenting to being hit by a car because there's no desirable outcome from being hit by a car.[note 3] Sex for most humans, however, is a generally desirable and central human function (and thus can facilitate intent to rape). As is the case with many memes of this nature, there is incongruity between the things being compared which is necessarily overlooked to reach the desired (and faulty) conclusion.
We also already tell car drivers with road signs that kids may be on the road around schools and playgrounds, and we teach them this when they get their license. We also teach them to stop at crossing paths. Also, there's a big difference between roads and bars; roads exist primarily for car traffic, and only second for crossing them, whereas bars (and dark streets, or the whole world) don't exist solely for men to have sex with women. Mixed with poor conceptions about consent due lack of sex education, guys may think it's okay to have sex with women if they're passed out or can't say no, which is an actual problem.
While there are cases in which one partner has sex for reasons beyond their control (such as if one is diagnosed with Sleep sex), similarly to how drivers might be unable to avoid hitting a pedestrian for reasons of inertia, friction, and reaction time, in both cases, the mistake could have been easily avoided if he was already focused prior to the accident. In both cases, it is still a crime.
Underreported rape versus false rape accusations
Rape apologists frequently accuse women of misreporting rape, or "crying rape" to get what they want (like an abortion).
(Note that rape apologists typically speak only of the malevolent extreme of a woman who intentionally files a rape complaint that she knows to be false, because of course women have no faith but bad faith. The possibility that many complaints might be well-founded and sincere but difficult or impossible to prosecute successfully, or that false rape claims may be much more likely to be born of clinical delusion than conscious malice, is swept under the rug. And the tendency is to interpret every legal outcome other than a sex-offence conviction as proof that the original complaint was knowingly false.) This also neglects cases where no one doubts a rape occurred, but due to it being by a stranger, the victim makes a mistaken identification of the attacker. While false against the accused, there is a clear difference between this and making up a rape.
Accusations of rape against partners or other acquaintances are sometimes disbelieved by others and perceived as a spiteful reaction to some other grievance. It is true that the "listen and believe" movement comes close to demanding the abandonment of innocent until proven guilty, people like Treva Throneberry do exist, and genuine false accusations have an extraordinarily damaging impact on the falsely accused (c.f. Brian Banks and the Duke lacrosse case). The now-rescinded Rolling Stone story on an alleged rape at the University of Virginia, titled A Rape on Campus, turned out to be based on a fabrication in a manner that would have been exposed sooner, had best practices for investigative journalism been followed.
However, just as there on one hand are false rape allegations, all of which are unacceptable, a much bigger problem continues to be the many committed rapes that are never brought to trial. The Toronto Police Department records show that the majority of rape accusations do not result in convictions. In about 20% of their investigations, the accusation was evaluated as "groundless". Between the groundless accusations and the convictions, the remainder of cases are those resulting in acquittal and cases dropped due to problems with evidence, legal matters, or witnesses, showing that not every rape case brought to trial turns out to hold up legally. However, the mechanism for determining how many rapes go completely unreported is not how well the minority of rape cases that do make it to trial fare legally. The truth is that the vast amount of rapes that do occur - and many do - go unreported. And the estimates can be truly disturbing:
“”Out of every 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.
|—Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network|
There is still an enormous amount of stigma typically associated with people who come forward as victims, which reflects very poorly on our society. The debate about the frequency of false rape accusations is largely a non sequitur in the discussion about how many unreported rapes there are, since both false accusations of innocent people and guilty people going free because of victim reluctance to come forward are unacceptable results.
Also, occasional false accusations do not mean that people shouldn't try to investigate and prevent actual instances of rape — just like the false treason conviction of French army captain Alfred Dreyfus doesn't mean that armies shouldn't try to root out actual spies.
Anti-abortionists against rape exemptions
Even in places where abortion is outlawed, there are often exceptions for the cases when a pregnancy is the result of rape or (presumably non-consensual) incest. Since die-hard anti-abortionists view that as a "loophole", there have been numerous attempts to close it. Among arguments in that line, a rather vile (and biologically baseless) one is that "real rape" can't result in pregnancy, i.e. if a women gets pregnant then she was at least partly consenting to intercourse and cannot have been forcibly raped. This is perhaps one of the non-internet examples of Skarka's Law.
Of course, this is not true — in fact, some studies have shown that rape is more likely to result in conception than ordinary sexual acts.
A recent example of a politician using that argument in all seriousness was the 2012 fuck-up of Todd Akin (R-MO, big surprise), who stated that "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down". This resulted in him losing what had previously been seen as a completely safe Senate seat.
- Stephen Freind (R-PA), in 1988, stated that conception only takes place in "one in millions and millions and millions" of rapes, because rape causes women to "secrete a certain secretion, that kills sperm."
- Henry Aldridge (R-NC), in 1995, stated "The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don't flow, the body functions don't work and they don't get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever." One has to wonder what "medical authorities" he was citing and if any of them actually have a PHD.
- Steven King (R-IA) in August 2012 stated that he’d never heard of a child getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest. He'd never heard of Lina Medina, apparently.
- Trent Franks (R-AZ), June 2013 (as if nobody remembers the 2012 elections): "incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low."
- Texas State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker), June 2013: "In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out." (Seems she never asked anyone in law enforcement what exactly a rape kit is or does.)
In August 2012, Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefish originally condemned Akin's comments (stating quite clearly that "rape is rape") until she was reminded that fellow Wisconsin Republican (and then-current Vice Presidential candidate) Paul Ryan co-sponsored a US House bill with Akin that would have limited Federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape recategorized by the bill as "forcible" or incest. Kleefish then backpedaled and invoked the possibility of "more forcible rape", a semantic distinction that may not mean very much to rape victims.
But it could have been Einstein!
In further Republican minimization of rape, Mike Huckabee said as a response to Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" gaffe, "Some extraordinary people have come from forcible rape," including the gospel singer, Ethel Waters (who was obviously well adjusted — married at age 13, divorced shortly after, and was not the product of forcible rape, but rather apparently Republican-Approved™ Statutory Rape) and this other guy you've never heard of, but who was equally well adjusted — with him violently assaulting the non-forceable rapist who blessed his mother with his life (ungrateful!). He doesn't mention the extraordinary courage necessary to raise a child of rape, or the extraordinary strength of any woman dealing with rape and pregnancy, no matter what she chooses to do. Guess the survivors are not all that extraordinary. Indeed, the very argument seems to mimic the same attitude conveyed in the Great Beethoven fallacy.
This argument can also easily be reversed. Perhaps the child could be the next Einstein, but they are at least as likely to be the next Ted Bundy or Hitler.
Similarly, 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has stated that rape is another means of conception, and therefore not all bad… though that assertion only seems to apply to fertile women, and not female children, males of any age or legal status, or post-menopausal women who get raped, or incidents where the perpetrator is female or an infertile male, in cases of forced sodomy, or when the perpetrator used a condom.
The "God's Will" rationale
In October 2012, Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock stepped in the subject of rape hard and deep during a televised debate (for the Senate seat formerly held by Richard Lugar, who was defeated by Tea Party favorite Mourdock in the GOP primary) when he said that pregnancy caused by rape is "something God intended to happen" and that "life is a gift from God". There's no word on how actual rape victims feel about such a "gift" as of yet.
Mourdock faced immediate backlash from Democrats for his comments, satire from The Onion, and mixed stances of support and uncommitted opinions from Republicans, including Mitt Romney, whose only endorsement during the 2012 election season (to date) was for Mourdock.
Men as victims of rape
The recognition of male victims of rape has noticeably lagged behind recognition of female victims.
Because many societies believe that men desire sex all the time and because they consider men to be the aggressors within society, reports of male rape are rarely taken seriously, especially if a woman was the rapist. However, everyone knows that the body and mind are not always in agreement. More compellingly, if alcohol, drugs, or sleep remove the legal ability of a woman to give consent, wouldn't it be exactly the same for men? It seems this idea is difficult for a lot of people to grasp.
This kind of bias can be seen, for example, in Japanese law, where "sexual assault" refers to cases when men are the victim (by women or men) and "rape" only applies to men-on-women rape. Traditionally, rape was defined in Anglo-American law as men-on-women only (this remained the US government's official definition before the 2010s), making it legally impossible to rape men. Indian law also states that only men are capable of committing rape.
As for male-on-male rape, since many of these rapes are perpetrated by and against gay men, there is a strong tone of victim-blaming by the authorities, both for being raped, and simply being gay. Particularly disturbing is that, in some parts of the world, men who attempt to report being raped by another man will suddenly find themselves arrested because their report was interpreted as an admission that they violated local anti-sodomy statutes, which can result in anything from fines, to prison, to execution.
Attempts to determine how many men are raped are, at best, wild estimates grounded on the assumption that men who have been raped are even more reluctant to report their experiences than women are. There are few if any quality studies that look at the issue of male rape, in or out of prison, but it is clearly a real issue that needs to be addressed.
A further concern regarding male rape is rape within the US prison system. Though it isn't as common as many believe, it is a problem. Laws like the Prison Rape Elimination Act made a major dent in the prison rape rate.
One possible reason for this is the ingrained belief that prisoners, being criminals, somehow deserve it. This is especially true of sex offenders, given the apparently widespread view that these people deserve to be punished violently. As an example of this culture of rape as punishment, when former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of multiple child molestation offenses, dozens, possibly hundreds, of social media users responded with jibes which predicted — or even advocated — Sandusky being raped in prison showers. Threats of prison rape are common in many cop shows as well, used as a means to gain cooperation of suspects or just perceived as their comeuppance.
As sports writer Barry Petchesky pointed out, these rape jokes are "just giving more power to the taboo that kept Sandusky's crimes against young boys from coming to light for so long". And one might wonder about a society that permits rape to happen, however much the victims can be said to deserve it.
An important difficulty with the view that "prisoners, being criminals, somehow deserve it" is that it holds that being raped in prison is part of the legitimate punishment for certain kinds of crime, or even criminality in general. That is, it holds that judges may legitimately impose a sentence of being raped as a penalty for crime. This view is repugnant, and in the USA at variance to the "cruel and unusual punishments" clause in the Bill of Rights. On top of which, the judge is sentencing people to prison: the prison time is supposed to be the punishment, not abuse given on top of prison time. That would make "prison rape as a form of punishment" an extra-judicial form of punishment, which is a violation of our rule of law.
Another point to consider is that even if you don't care about what happens to criminals, most people who go to prison are released back into society. Prison rape causes a significant amount of stress and the psychological scars can hamper a person's ability to fit in with society once released, which doesn't help recidivism rates. Then there's the issue of diseases, as a rapist might not be polite enough to use a condom, which can spread from prison rape victims to the general population. Further, prisoners that are raped have usually been those weaker. It has nothing to do with "deserves", but only who is more powerful. Thus, even by that standard, those who some might think "deserve it more" are less likely to be "punished" in that way. A rapist in prison is one very logical candidate, as other inmates become the only available target (regardless of whatever preference they might have otherwise).
- Blaming the victim
- Child sexual abuse, for examples of pedophile apologetics, such as NAMBLA
- Creep shaming
- Rape culture
- Bestiality, for examples of bestiality apologetics
- This, of course, ignores possible more-than-inconvient consequences of unwanted sex beyond the violation of boundaries itself, such as STDs and unwanted pregnancy.
- Yes, it is feasible that somebody could intentionally hit someone with a car if they intend to murder them for some reason, but there are more inconspicuous ways to do that.
- Well, there is the possibility of financial gain via filing an insurance claim or lawsuit, but that tends to be offset by the injuries sustained from being hit by a fucking car, and both insurance agencies and courts of law tend to take a dim view of people getting themselves hit by cars on purpose for the sake of making money.
- Evidently, these people never read the part of the Bible where Lot's daughters literally rape him in order to get pregnant.
- Mariana Alfaro, Michigan GOP candidate says he tells daughters to ‘lie back and enjoy it’ if rape is inevitable. The Washington Post, 8 March 2022.
- Guardian article
- Feminspire article
- Slate article
- Slate article
- See e.g. Top 10 Best Pua Movies Of All Time
- Kyle Mantyla. Schlafly: Married Women Can’t Be Raped By Husbands. Right Wing Watch. 2007 March 29.
- Scumbag: Musings of a Subhuman, page 90. See our TheAmazingAtheist article for more on this quote.
- The F-Word Blog, "London Assembly candidate - rape 'no big deal'", 1 April 2008.
- Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett and Linda Regan. A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases. Home Office Research Studies (UK). 2005 February.
- American Medical Association (1995) Sexual Assault in America.
- Without consent. H M Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. 2007 January.
- http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/08/steve-king-statutory-rape.php?ref=fpnewsfee ...and, well, if you define "child" as someone who hasn't reached puberty yet, that shouldn't be too surprising.
- This is not what a rape kit is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_kit
- Akin Bad: Paul Ryan’s ‘Forcible Rape’ Bill Co-Sponsor Drags Him Into Daylight, Mediaite
- [Gawker.com: archive.is, web.archive.org Wisconsin Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch: Some Rapes Are More Equal Than Others,] Gawker
- Extraordinary people come from rape".
- Yes, he actually said it.
- Mourdock: God Intended Rape Babies, Dispatches from the Culture Wars
- Republican Senate Candidate: Conception From Rape ‘Is Something That God Intended’, Talking Points Memo
- God Distances Self From Christian Right, TheOnion.com
- Mitt Romney chokes on Richard Mourdock's rape comment, LATimes.com
- "Anyone Heard Any Good Jerry Sandusky Prison Rape Jokes?", Barry Petchesky, Deadspin.