I’m not sure if I’m going to hit the publish button on this for two reasons. Firstly, last month I attacked the word feminism and one skewered definition of it, while stating clearly that I’m the biggest flag waver of equality in all forms. Secondly, writing about rape in a blurred shade is about as easy as succeeding the first time at a wire loop game.
Today, George Galloway MP (you might remember him from the famous vs. Senate clip) caused quite a stir by saying that the allegations of rape levelled against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange are more a case of “bad sexual etiquette.” I don’t really agree with him here, because, let’s examine two things:
The Dictionary.com definition of rape makes it abundantly clear that force is a key part of rape. The word comes up a lot in the nine variations.
“Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.
“It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘do you mind if I do it again?’
“It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.”
I hate to say (not that I have any clue what really happened between Assange and his two accusers) that he makes some interesting point about severity. What was described doesn’t sound like a rape scene commonly dramatised on film or TV. That doesn’t mean that any gradient of rape is any less worse than another on the general principle, but, for example, if you’re pestering your girlfriend – or boyfriend for that matter – and you go a little bit too far despite moderate protest, are you raping your partner or showing intent? I’m not going to get too far into severity because another politician (Ken Clarke) got into trouble when talking about that last year, but he did find support from sympathetic women.
I think we do need a broader definition of rape because a few lines as a definition means it can be bended as easily as a vague line in a holy text. One thing that I think that gets ignored is that the accusation of rape, particularly against a man, is one of the gravest marks that can stain someone’s life. If someone is innocent (or let’s say is not a complete stranger or a violent partner) that false or grotesque accusation of rape is, ironically, a reverse rape of character.
When in 2000 the singer Paul Weller was in the headlines for a rape allegation in which he was subsequently exonerated, during that period enough people would’ve wanted him to spit on him just because he was accused. A lot of people probably couldn’t help that as the media-stirred possibility that he could’ve committed rape (and surely some of that stain lingers, whether true or not) is enough to make the gut turn. But just imagine if your really innocent father, brother, husband, lover, etc. friend were accused of either a one-time really-minor lapse of judgement or nothing at all. You wouldn’t like it. I wouldn’t like it if even the accusation were labelled upon any woman and the story required more fleshing.
Of course, a lot of people say that the true case concerning Assange lies in his whistle-blowing through Wikileaks. That may well be true, but it’s certain that he’s harmed some peoples’ assumption of him by ducking and diving more than necessary. If Assange did commit a grievous offence, the full weight of the law on him. If however, he did conduct “bad sexual etiquette”, then yes, I kind of agree with Galloway that this defames the commonly-held definition of rape. I don’t want to see rape bandied about as a tool against people in order to harm reputation for no reason. The more accusations that are made of rapes that shouldn’t go to trial, I think that seriously undermines things for women who make very legitimate, very clear claims of rape.
I hope I tackled this sensitively. The only thing I’ll add is that if I wanted to, by current definition (#2 by Dictionary.com), I could take my girlfriend to court for enthusiastic insistence when I’ve been tired.