Many of my therapy clients have been people struggling with non-consensual sexual experiences. Even people who come to me with different types of issues (anxiety, depression, grief) frequently describe difficult sexual experiences in which consent was absent or unclear. One of the most common things I hear about is women who have ended up having sexual experiences with someone in whom they had a romantic or sexual interest, but with whom they were not ready to have sex. Often they are unclear about whether they actually consented. They may not have fought back, or yelled "no". As a result, they often they feel that they must have consented. And yet, they did not enjoy the sex, or want it to happen, and they feel scared and violated afterwards. We often talk about whether that experience was rape.Read More
It is always a treat to see society is moving in a positive, helpful direction in terms of handling sexual assault. So I am pleased to report that the US Justice Department recently expanded its official definition of rape to be, "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." This replaces the laughably (if one can stomach laughing about such things) archaic previous definition of rape, “The carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”
Thank you Justice Department for recognizing both that men can and are raped, and that physical force is not necessary to rape someone. The key is lack of consent, and it just doesn’t matter who isn’t consenting, or what allows the perpetrator (force, drugs, threats, etc.) to get around their consent.
One of the major reasons for updating this definition is reportedly to make the FBI’s annual compilation of crime statistics more accurately reflect the scope and volume of crimes of sexual violence in the US. I’ll be glad to see that happen as well. Although, even more than that, I’ll be glad to see so many male survivors of sexual violence have their experiences validated.
Those of us who have worked closely with rape survivors for any length of time have long recognized the existence of male rape. It’s high time that our government officially acknowledges the breadth of experiences that constitute rape.
Peg Shippert is a psychotherapist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado. She has a deep passion for working with survivors of sexual violence.