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Education in America

The Unintentional Rapist

I’m actually a little bit nervous about what I have to say in this blog post, but at the same time, I feel like it needs to be said. OK, so, here we go…

I think there are a lot of rapists out there in the world, right now, who honestly don’t realize they are rapists. Good people. People who, if asked, would emphatically swear that they would never rape someone, never commit sexual assault, and yet, they have. They’ve done it, and it’s our fault, as a society, for allowing so many young men and women to grow up without an understanding of consent.

Now, I am not saying that the people who are raped or sexually assaulted by an “unintentional rapist” are any less the victims of a terrible crime. I’m just saying that these unintentional rapists are also victims in their own way; in this case, they are victims of ignorance.

We don’t teach people that persistence and unrelenting “seduction” can lead you to become a rapist when the target of your attempts breaks down and agrees to hook up/have sex/whatever simply for the sake of getting you to leave them alone. Or because they are afraid of what might happen if you don’t.

We don’t teach people that, if you’re having sex with someone and they start to feel hurt or scared or they need to stop for WHATEVER reason, not stopping makes you a rapist. No, it doesn’t matter that you are turned on and it’s hard to just stop short. Masturbate if you have to, but if you ignore your partner or shame them into continuing, you are a rapist.

We don’t teach people that men can be raped by women, that an erection does not always indicate arousal, and, even if it does, arousal does not always imply consent.

We don’t teach people that silence from their partner does not mean that they are consenting to go further and further; in fact, that silence could be silence borne of shock or shame or fear… but they will suffer in silence because we don’t teach people to ask their partner if it is okay to continue.

We don’t teach people that consenting to sex once does not mean that every future sex act is okay, that pressuring your significant other or spouse into sex is still rape if they don’t want it.

Most people know from experience, from pop-culture, that these situations don’t always hurt someone.

Puck got Quinn drunk on Glee before having sex with her, but few outside of this feminist blogging bubble ever called it rape. Persistent lovers chase their one true love in movies all the time, never giving up until they “win her over in the end.” Characters in TV and film almost never ask their partner for consent before engaging in sex.

Sometimes real life follows the media, and everything goes just fine in the end. Sometimes a person is raped and another person becomes a rapist simply because they didn’t know any better.

How many rapes could be prevented if we just taught consent BETTER? How many people would be saved from the terrible feelings and thoughts that come along with rape? How many perfectly good and moral people wouldn’t have to become rapists if we simply took the time to teach people to check in with one another and truly respect the wishes of their partner? Most importantly, what are we going to do to stop being silent bystanders to a slew of unintentional assaults?

Let’s talk about it…

17 replies on “The Unintentional Rapist”

I am a woman. I did not have very good sexual ethics, a few years ago. Men and women are told that men want sex all the time! Right? They will do anything for sex! I was never aiming to hurt anyone, but I know I did. I have a high sex drive (not an excuse), and didn’t match very well with my ex-husband. I would push for sex that he didn’t really want, and get upset and angry if he wasn’t interested. Or touch him when he didn’t want me to. I felt frustrated, and also felt it was my fault for not being attractive enough for him to want more sex. Also, he’s my husband, shouldn’t he want to make me happy? I loved him, but I was a shitty partner sometimes. I wasn’t an evil monster, just a stupid person who truly had no real understanding of consent; I could not say no either, I would say yes because I felt I had an obligation.

Our society really doesn’t teach bodily autonomy and anything more complex than “no means no”. You grow up being tickled or touched by adults or friends, or tickling and touching others. And as much as you didn’t want it, there was no concept that friends or family shouldn’t be touching you without your consent.

At least, I never understood that for myself or others. I was never taught about this.

I don’t know how he looks back on the way I treated him at times, but I know how I see it, and it fills me with shame. And I still have difficulty saying no, myself; even though I have changed towards my partners. Even though I understand consent, now, and have embraced enthusiastic consent and talking and not pushing people into things they are uncomfortable with!

Anyway, sorry that was long, but I hope my story can be useful as an illustration of what Jill’s talking about here. Our culture is screwed up. Feminism has helped me learn that I needed fixing.

I usually don’t talk about this – but your post brought it to the surface.
Ten years ago I was in a long-term relationship with a guy that MANIPULATED me into having sex with him. All.the.time.

He would grope me in public, badger me, call me cold, try repeatedly to get in my pants even after I said No. He acted as if I was his personal sex toy, instead of his fiance. My self esteem was never very high. Especially back then, so I didn’t put my foot down, I didn’t leave. I was afraid, afraid that if I actually stood up for myself that he would leave – and take his “love” with him. Yes, I thought that no one else could ever possibly love me.

But then he had beat me down to my lowest on a mental level, so of course I would think that. I was ashamed, I felt dirty, I felt USED. It got to a point when the only time I could want sex is when I was on a mind altering substance.

Honestly, I believe that people who do this kind of thing KNOW what they are doing. I think that they are the kind of people that are selfish and will manipulate others to get what they want. And I think, that while education of everyone is a good idea as to “what not to do” I would say that we should do a better job in educating our children against becoming victims.

Teach them to love themselves first – that they are worth more. That they are not possessions. That they deserve to be treated with RESPECT.

I think that is the only way we can truly stop this from happening.

I agree, if only because this kind of unintentional rape is the only experience with sex I’ve ever had. I said no, but ended up giving up and becoming an active participant because it was simply easier and I felt it was my only option. Hell, I felt I should be grateful to the guy (low self-esteem ahoy). I do not think the guy felt he did anything wrong whatsoever.

I was 20. I’m now 24. I avoid relationships because I don’t know how to say, “I’m not a virgin, but have never really had sex.” A few months afterward I started on my path to severely disordered eating, because I felt so out of control and disgusted with myself. I cry every time I go to a gyno appointment, because the one I went to after it happened told me that I should “be more careful about these kind of mistakes”. And yet the incident was still not rape, because I relented.

I think both the way we teach consent and the way we define rape need to be re-examined. But I doubt they ever will be.

I agree that a better understanding of consent should be taught.

I disagree that many of these rapists are unintentional. They would never use the word rape but they have a knowledge that if you ignore or bulldoze through a certain amount of “no”s or “leave me alone”s they will eventually get what they want and are unbothered by the target’s feelings or fears. The target putting up verbal barriers to access to her body is a nuisance in the “unintentional ” rapist getting what he wants. Mr Unintentional is aware there is no consent but he’s searching for an opportunity to get around that.
If you repeatedly ask the same question until you get the answer you want you don’t care about consent.

I agree that the Unintentionalist is aware that by pressing the issue, he is likely to get what he wants at some point, possibly by wearing her down, but I don’t think these people recognize this as rape. My theory is based on this experience: I was raped, as I consider it, now, after many years, by an inebriated person who started undressing me. I said “no,” said I needed to go, and said I did not want to have sex with him. He begged and pleaded while continuing to take off my pants. Why didn’t I fight? I ask myself that almost every day. I felt paralyzed and powerless. I did not understand what was happening. I let him move me around, all I could do was say no. That obviously should have been enough. I did not consent to what he did to me. And when I drove home, I felt numb. It took about 3 years to acknowledge what had happened.

Fast forward to a relationship full of verbal abuse and manipulation. I was just coming to terms with what had happened three years prior and in a moment of outburst, when he touched my privates in public, I had a flashback to my “no” not being heard. This resulted in an extremely painful conversation wherein I tried to tell him I did not want to talk about it, and him emotionally manipulating me into telling him. When I did, he called it rape.

That did not stop him from badgering me for sex for two weeks, every time we were together, when I was stressed and anxious and not even liking sex with him in the first place, and I constantly denied him. One night, the last night we were together, he actually said “If you have sex with me now, I will leave you alone.” So I did. And I had a yeast infection from antibiotics and was recovering from bronchitis and I cried because it hurt and I did not. Want. To do it. Afterward, I drove home and broke up with him the very next time I saw him.

Why was it rape when someone else did it and not when he did? I don’t know, but I think it was because he felt I owed it to him, as his girlfriend. He hadn’t raped me – he had convinced me, bargained with me, to do what I was supposed to do. I think the Unintentionalist thinks that by getting around the pesky consent issue by being persistent enough, they aren’t raping anyone. It’s like a loophole.

We seriously need to reconsider the way our society deals with rape and the way we teach boys about respect and the consent problem.

I agree with you… to a point. I think there is a big difference between raping someone and persistently trying to convince them to consent. I think if you lump husbands who pester their wives into having sex and the wife gives in just to shut her husband up in with people who violently rape, you’re doing a disservice to rape victims. I don’t think one wrong is equal to the other and I would hate to see the word “rape” lose its impact.

That said, I would like people outside of the ladyblog world to consider a larger spectrum of sexual assault. Perhaps we need different words to describe things that aren’t necessarily “rape,” but fall into the category of sexual wrongdoing. I think what it comes down to is what the woman (or if the case may be, man) wants to categorize it as. If a woman is talked into sex and feels like it was rape, then it was rape. But if another woman in a similar situation does not feel like she was raped or assaulted I don’t think it’s constructive to make her feel like a victim when she doesn’t believe that she was violated.

Can you define the word “pester”?
Does it mean the husband asks more than once?, more than ten times?, more than four times while pressing into the wife’s back in bed?
Does it mean the wife will face, or is made to feel that she will face emotional coldness for the following week?
Does it mean that she will have to hear for 10 minutes or an hour how cruel and cold she is?, how castrating when he does so much for her?
Is it a few seconds of dissappointment from the husband or a week of him in a sour mood at being denied what he is “owed”?
What’s pestering to one may be harassment to another.
If any or all of those are acceptable between husband and wife then how about between an unmarried couple or roommates? Exes?

Rape itself is an act of violence. It doesn’t get lessened because on another day you freely consented to sex with the same person ignoring consent now.

I know some people define rape as any time that a person is pressured to have sex, but I think it’s dangerous to be so hard-nosed about the definition. I think if the person in question is using intimidation or threats as a means to get “consent” then it definitely is rape (although I’m not sure if that is the correct word in all cases). I do also think that sometimes people give consent because they’re annoyed or want to get their partner off their back. I think there’s a big difference between agreeing to have sex because you’re afraid vs. if you’re simply annoyed. To call the latter “rape” diminishes situations where violence, either psychological or otherwise is involved.

I think when we are that cut and dry about the definition of rape — i.e. it either isn’t or it is — we diminish the impact of the word. There is a spectrum here. And again, I think the definition is up to the person involved and it is not a good idea to label a person a victim if she does not feel like she has been victimized. For example, have I had sex with a partner when I didn’t really feel like it? Sure. Do I feel like he raped me? Absolutely not. Would I call it rape if another person in the exact same situation felt like she’d been raped? Yes, that would be her call.

BTW — I would never say that rape is not possible if a person has been a willing participant in the past. But I do think existing partners sometimes find themselves in situations where they’re being “talked into it” without fear or intimidation and I do not think that necessarily constitutes rape.

I totally hear what you’re saying, but I think it’s important to remember that both situations are part of rape culture. Sex ed (already too rare a commodity) and what we tell young people (and model for them) has to include respecting other people’s agency, including their right to say no to sex, end of story. I think men are raised with a sense of entitlement to sex that our culture reflects back to them as totally justified.

Well, to both of you I have to say that I have been raped this way. My ex would continually “pester” me to the point where I was sobbing, calling me cold and telling me how horrible I made him feel. Maybe it was unintentional, maybe not. But I fail to see how someone driving their partner to tears or even extreme irritation in order to achieve the end goal of getting off is not rape. I know you’re saying that maybe we should just call it something else, but that kind of thinking and the perpetuation of that sort of idea is what keeps so many women silent. It took me years to come to terms with what really happened to me.

We need to call this what it is. I only recently have come out about my rape, and this is the first time I’ve commented about it. I rarely comment at all, really. But to see this thread when I finally am able to read this without being triggered is infuriating, to be honest. It is exactly this sort of reaction that kept me from speaking up for so long. I know that the thinking here is that if I or another survivor classify it as rape, then it is, and that is true to an extent. This hurts, though. What I’m seeing here is what I’ve always feared people are thinking when I disclose. The idea that this can be construed as being maybe consensual makes me feel invalidated, makes me doubt my own rape. I realize that is my issue, but so many will read these comments and doubt themselves. They will feel like maybe they’re just exaggerating if this is how others see it.

I apologize for the length, and I’m not trying to start something. I just needed to point out that this line of thinking is damaging and could keep survivors silent.

First off, thank you for sharing your story. I know it isn’t easy, especially if this is the first time you’ve spoken about it this way.

My personal feelings on this are that every time we qualify rape, every time we find a reason to excuse it or to explain it, or to absolve the rapist, to explain that somehow, in some way, it wasn’t the rapist’s fault, we’re taking a step backwards. We’re likely discouraging victims to come forward. We’re showing people that we don’t take it seriously, that there can be excuses for it.

I have to be honest, when I read this: “I think there are a lot of rapists out there in the world, right now, who honestly don’t realize they are rapists. Good people.” I had to stop reading, and it took me a while to go back and read the rest. Because every time we excuse rapists, saying they didn’t mean to, they’re good people, they just misunderstood the situation, we’re opening the door for rape apologists to victim-blame, to absolve rapists of culpability. And that’s a very slippery slope.

“I think there are a lot of rapists out there in the world, right now, who honestly don’t realize they are rapists. Good people.” I had to stop reading, and it took me a while to go back and read the rest. Because every time we excuse rapists, saying they didn’t mean to, they’re good people, they just misunderstood the situation, we’re opening the door for rape apologists to victim-blame, to absolve rapists of culpability. And that’s a very slippery slope.

I totally see where you are coming from… but I also thing there is danger of the opposite happening. If we don’t acknowledge that “good” people, men and women who people assume could never hurt ANYONE, can be rapists then a hell of a lot of rapists have a much easier time getting away with it.

Not every person who commits rape is a monster (though many are) I do believe that many rapists honestly wouldn’t have commited rape had they just been taught how much potential they had to hurt someone. The longer we let people go on believing that otherwise good people can’t be rapists, the more rapists we are going to have out there getting away with it/not realizing what they have done.

I agree with you 100%. I have had two experiences that took me a long time to acknowledge as rape, one of which I am dealing with in therapy. That one was one of those “whatever it takes you to get me to leave you alone.” But he was my boyfriend and was entitled to it (he told my friends, afterward). Both of those people still contact me like it’s no big deal. Well, one does. The other one, who had been my boyfriend, contacts me like he is obligated to wish me “p.s. happy birthday.” I never know how to handle either one. I just ignore them and go on with therapy. It always killed me, though, how neither of them seemed to even give what happened a second thought. Like it never occurred to them. Some men think that it’s only “rape” if it’s by force, and so do some women. It prevents us from healing.

I just had the “you can rape a man” conversation with my boyfriend, and I like what you said that arousal does not mean consent. How very true.

Yes! I was just having a conversation about this with a friend the other day. I think that this is precisely why moving more from “no means no” (although that was a very important message at that point in time) to “yes means yes” is absolutely crucial. The concept of enthusiastic consent is what we need to be teaching teenagers.

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