I Hate the Term “Date Rape” and Other Rape Qualifiers

ElfityFeminism8 Comments

olivemylove

[TRIGGER WARNING for rape and graphic discussion of rape.]

I hate the term “date rape.” I hate “acquaintance rape” and “partner rape” and “spousal rape” and “prison rape.” Why? Because rape is rape, and descriptors do nothing but soften the term.

Someone holding up a homemade poster that reads "Rape is rape."Everyone here knows by now that I don’t believe in sugarcoating nasty things. Sugarcoating is a tactic of the patriarchy to make us think that it really isn’t that bad. After all, it was just partner rape! It wasn’t, you know, that kind of rape. The kind of rape that perpetuates rape myths, brought to us on a weekly basis by shows like Law & Order: SVU and Criminal Minds. The kind of rape where a man in a mask pulls you into a van at knifepoint. The kind of rape that keeps us from assigning responsibility to the many rapists who walk among us, the sort of guys who just wouldn’t do that.

Two-thirds of rape victims (and as I say in my presentations on the subject, I say victims because I don’t know who survived and who didn’t) know their rapist. It’s no secret to the feminist community that rapists aren’t usually the creatures of rape myths, but friends, partners, family members, the guy who lives above you and waves hello in the hallways. And they wonder why we’re cautious, suspicious even. Given that most rape is committed by someone the victim knows, we could really call most rape acquaintance rape. I suppose it is handy to be able to separate an ugly thing like sexual assault from the possibility that someone we know is a rapist. It makes us feel better, but it doesn’t make us any safer. It is absolutely a tool of the patriarchy to amplify this language that makes us feel more removed.

And then there’s the fact that this language is, upon analysis, inherently victim blaming. Maybe she shouldn’t have gone out on a date with that guy. Maybe she’s just making bad choices. If he hadn’t done something illegal and gotten himself thrown into prison in the first place, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s her wifely duty to have sex. She/he owes it to him/her. These words are blaming words because they create a context around an act that is inexcusable regardless of context. They drive our minds to invent the actual scenario. They qualify rape, which is something that can never be qualified.

We’ve heard these terms so often that they’re stuck in our vocabulary. It’s easy to say “date rape” when what we really mean is that someone was drugged at a party and then raped, because that is the common cultural definition for that situation. We need to stop using these qualifiers and stop relying on these words to cushion the blow of a harsh word. It’s a harsh word for a reason; rape is a harsh crime. People need to stop thinking of these qualified rapes as being somehow less important or less serious or less worthy of belief and attention, and the first step to that is removing those qualifying words.

So I’m asking you to stop using these terms. Call it what it is. Don’t sugarcoat anything, because rape is not something that deserves to be sugarcoated. A simple sentence such as, “She was raped by her partner,” can take the place of “partner rape.” Saying that, “They were raped at John’s house after going out with him and some of his friends,” can replace the term “date rape.” It may seem like a small thing, almost silly, but words have powerful meanings, and the more we hear them, the more we internalize them.

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Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.
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ElfityI Hate the Term “Date Rape” and Other Rape Qualifiers

8 Comments on “I Hate the Term “Date Rape” and Other Rape Qualifiers”

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  1. Avatar of Brenda
    Brenda

    What I find interesting is I’ve been raped three times; twice by people I knew, once by a stranger, an armed robber. The one that most would claim to be the most heinous – the only ‘real’ rape – was the easiest to deal with.

    And I’m just as guilty of bad word choices as the rest. Also guilty of trying to down play the first two, to convince myself they weren’t ‘that bad’ because they didn’t involve guns or terrible violence, that I was overreacting to each incident.

    1. Avatar of Elexis Marie
      Elexis Marie

      This is so horribly true. My husband raped me repeatedly during our marriage. It left me feeling dirty all the time, probably because my Christian upbringing taught me that a woman cannot deny her husband use of her body and I simply continued to submit to it. (Sidenote: I later had this clarified by a “new school” pastor that the Biblical section in question is actually cautioning women against using sex as a weapon, and forbids men from forcing themselves on their wives.) My husband – not a Christian – used this passage against me time and again. When we split, I went so far as to continue to have sex with him so it would be on “my terms.”

      Sadly, none of this really sunk in until I was almost sexually assaulted. The next morning, I did some soul searching and realized I was living out my life in the role my ex had groomed me to. It wasn’t “my fault” but I was seeking out the kind of interactions I had with him, resulting in much of the same. But of all the things that have happened to me, those incidents with my husband are the most hurtful. He was supposed to love, honor and cherish me, and instead he used me forcibly for his own purposes.

      1. Avatar of Brenda
        Brenda

        I absolutely get that. When someone you love is the one hurting you it’s too easy to excuse it, or take the blame yourself. They know it, too, and all too often use it to help keep the abuse happening.

        *hugs*

  2. Avatar of [M] freckle
    [M] freckle

    Somehow this reminds me of Animal Farm: “We are all equal, but some of us more than others”. “It’s all rape, but some are more rape-y than others.”

    We wouldn’t even have to need to use a sentence. The word should be enough.

  3. Avatar of Juniper
    Juniper

    This is really interesting and am sure that my views will change as I have time to think about it. While reading, I kept thinking about how abuse is talked about (domestic, childhood, etc) and that I think at times, having those additional terms can be helpful because it provides context without having to provide detail. I’m not sure if that makes sense or not, but certainly, you’ve given me a lot to think about!

    1. Avatar of Elfity
      Elfity

      I haven’t given the descriptors for violence much thought, actually. I do believe that terms like “domestic violence” automatically bring up sexist thoughts, but there are so many different types of violence and different levels of violence that they might be necessary, at least as far as media reporting goes. With rape, it’s rape no matter what. It’s always sexual assault without consent, and so rape can typically be used by itself without the qualifiers. Violence needs the bit of detail provided by a descriptor because the range is so huge.
      You definitely gave me some food for thought as well!

      1. Avatar of Juniper
        Juniper

        I think that’s the critical difference: rape is rape, where as violence can be many things. Yes! Must give this more thought!

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