Thursday, June 23, 2011

Politics of Rape

I remember having a conversation with my University roommate once about rape. I don’t remember the details at this point, but somehow through the course of the conversation I know that I made the ridiculous statement that “you can’t be raped!” to my male roommate. He was taken aback, and only had to say “uh, yes I can” to make me realize my stupidity. Despite being a staunch feminist and growing up with a “No means NO” poster in my playroom at home (thanks mom) there were some serious gaps in my knowledge and understanding of rape and sexual assault.

I know I am not the only one who has had this type of misunderstanding. Unfortunately, not everyone is as quick to rethink their definition of rape as I was. Over at the Ms. Magazine blog, there is a campaign going on to change the FBI’s 82-year old definition rape which states that “forcible rape” is “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will”. Such a narrow definition means that many victims and survivors are not included on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR). The statistics of this report have a direct effect on funding and resources for sexual assault crime investigation.

Here in Canada the Criminal Code criminalizes sexual assault, and defines that as any sexual contact with another person without that person’s consent. While our system of course is not perfect, at least it offers victims a vehicle by which to press charges if they want to. And at least they know that they “count”.

I had my own experience of sexual assault, and it took me a long time to realize that’s what it was. For a long time I had bad feelings whenever I couldn’t push back the memory, was triggered all the time and didn’t know how to deal with it. Naming what happened to me was a huge help to coping and taking back power over my own situation. It helps when society doesn’t dismiss what happened to you either.

Even though it’s not my country, I’ve already signed the Ms. petition at and urge you to do the same.

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