The Semantics of Rape

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Here is the definition of rape from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

Noun: the crime, typically committed by a man, of forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with him without their consent and against their will, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them: he denied two charges of attempted rape | he had committed at least two rapes.

Verb: (if a man) to force another person to have sexual intercourse with him without their consent and against their will, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them: the woman was raped at knifepoint.

Notice how that word “force” is used in both definitions of the word rape? Paul Ryan and those who wrote legislation with him apparently didn’t and somehow felt that they needed to redundantly modify rape with the word “forcible”. This is both insensitive and stupid.

Have you heard how water is powerfully wet? Or that mud is dirty? How about fatal murder or hot arson? You get my point. Aside from being poor English, this kind of language seeks to diminish women’s (and men’s) experience that rape is a form of violence that causes intense suffering over a long period of time. It suggests that there is a kindler, gentler rape that is somehow not forcible, perhaps even enjoyable as one Texan Republican gubernatorial nominee recently suggested.

By using the inflammatory words “legitimate rape” Republican nominee Todd Akin and others suggested to the American public that there is a form of rape that is OK. This is a powerful form of double speak, a sophisticated hypnotic suggestion to the audience that both suggests that rapes could maybe be OK in some circumstances while holding women responsible for proving the severity of rape to begin with and making them doubt themselves with the ridiculous suggestion that if they become pregnant it wasn’t a “real” rape.

In reality, rape is a terrible thing to come to terms with. The mind naturally wants to deny that it even happened. As I say in The Trauma Tool Kit: “the mind swerves away from trauma like a car careening around a deep, dark puddle…avoidance is nobody’s fault but is the very nature of trauma itself.” 

Either through deep cynicism or ignorance those who minimize rape (for some reason they are mostly male Republican candidates for office) are siding with the part of the brain that does not want to acknowledge the severity of this trauma. They want to keep the public in denial. Some want to legitimize their own or others’ bad behavior.

This is extreme dysfunction, folks. In order to heal society we need to call out every type of trauma for healing and expose it to the healthy light of day, not shove it back in the closet where it festers and stinks up the place. Every victim needs to be acknowledged and given access to healing. Every perpetrator needs to be brought to justice. If our candidates cannot speak truth and bring healing, then they do not deserve to hold a microphone, much less hold office.

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