Defining Rape and Sexual Assault

President Barack Obama has proclaimed April “National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month”.  There’s no doubt that this is in response to the fact that rape has been ALL over the news recently. (And rightly so.)   But when I wrote about Rape Culture, too many blog hits came from people who didn’t fully understand what constitutes rape.  Ensuring that everyone has a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the definitions of rape and sexual assault is the beginning of the end of rape culture.
Robin Shapiro, M.S.W., L.I.C.S.W. been working with survivors of rape and sexual assault for over 21 years, and defines rape and sexual assault as follows:

Rape: The sexual use, involving penile, digital (fingers) or objects on a woman’s, man’s or child’s body without that person’s consent, with forced consent (threats) or if that person cannot conset due to age, mental disability, state of drunkeness or druggedness, or relative social position to the rapist (employee, slave, patient, lower rank, parishoner, etc.)

Rape can include penis in vagina, anus, or mouth, or forced masturbation. It can include objects. It can include rubbing genitals on a person with clothes in between. Women can, but rarely do, rape people by forcing them to touch or otherwise sexually interact. People of any age can be raped. People in an otherwise consensual sexual relationship can be raped, if they say “no” or are asleep or passed out, and their partner is sexual with them without their consent.

Sexual Assault: Unsolicited, unwanted touching, grabbing, or other sexualized physical utilization of another person. All rape is sexual assault. Not all sexual assault is rape.

Molestation: See Sexual Assault. Often used when describing either the Sexual Assault or Rape of children. I wish this word would go away. I’d prefer “Child Rapist” to “Child Molester” since it’s the true definition of what happened.

Effects of Rape and Sexual Assault: It depends on what happened, by whom, and to whom.

Adults who are raped by strangers tend to experience full-blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No matter the circumstance, they tend to feel dirty, culpable, and ashamed. It ruins, at least for a while, their healthy sex lives, their sense of safety and trust in the world, and their image of an autonomous, safe self. If the adults had a history of childhood sexual abuse, the new rape often brings forth the same feelings, ego states, and flashbacks of the earlier time. Sexual situations with beloved partners can bring up flashbacks of the rape. Men who are raped can have a sense of loss of maleness and a whole other level of loss of self.

Children who are raped by strangers tend to experience all of the above including a pervasive sense of “badness”, and without treatment may carry that sense of shame and fear of sexual situations to adulthood

Date rape: Rape by someone in dating situation, when the victim has said no or cannot show consent, brings another layer of self-blame, lack of trust, questioning of “fault”, and social complications. (“I shouldn’t have worn a short skirt; drunk so much; gone out with someone I didn’t know well; etc.”) along with PTSD.

Rape of a child or teenager by a parent, coach, teacher, older sibling, uncle, step-parent: Kids can’t give consent, even if it’s “friendly”, it’s rape. The worst thing I often hear is “It’s (being an object of sex) what I’m for.” Child rape by a person on whom the child relies for protection creates huge issues of identity, safety, goodness, worth, and sexuality.  Some kids, after chronic sexual abuse/rape, become prostitutes. 75 – 95% or prostitutes were sexually abused as children. (WomensLaw)

Many have flashbacks for the rest of their lives, unless treated. Many are not believed by their families. (The response of the family and/or institution in which the abuse occurred is strongly correlated with healing, or not, after the rape.) Kids who are raped tend to freeze, then go limp during the act. Afterwards, any sexual threat or even solicitation can bring the same passive, obedient response, making further exploitation more likely. Some re-enact their role with sexual acting out, a warped attempt of mastery of the situation. Most, but not all, people involved in sadomasochist “scenes” were sexually abused/raped as children. Child rape by trusted adults is a factor in most serious dissociative and Borderline Personality Disorder diagnoses.

Complicating factors:

Not all rape is violent or actively coercive. When attachment bonds are used to manipulate kids or adults into sexual activity it confuses the issue of desire, identity, and fault.

People can be physically aroused and even orgasm during a rape — by the mechanics of the act. It still doesn’t mean they wanted it. This is a huge issue in therapy.

Treatment: Many psychotherapies are helpful with rape and sexual assault survivors. My favorites are EMDR, Somatic Therapies, and, with victims of child rape and long-term abuse, Ego State Therapies. With permission, my favorite phone message from a client, after 3 sessions of EMDR for childhood sexual abuse: “Robin, I just called to tell you that I had sex with my husband today and it was great. After 12 years of marriage, this was the first time we made love and my grandfather wasn’t in the room! Thank you!”
Politics: Women who are ovulating can get pregnant from rape. It’s a fact. “Legitimate Rape” appears to mean a violent rape by a stranger, and is only one kind of rape.

( Taken, with permission from  Robin Shapiro, from Trauma & Attachment Therapy.)

Robin Shapiro is an EMDRIA-approved consultant, offering consultation to psychotherapists on the gamut of psychotherapy issues including trauma, attachment, endogenous disorders, and counter transference issues. Robin offers psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and groups, and specialized training in treatment of adults with stress and anxiety; depression; women’s and men’s issues; shame; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, complex trauma, attachment deficits; sexual dysfunction; sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Click here to go to RAINN and Get Help Now.

Click on the links to reach The Double Parent on facebook and Twitter.

Robin’s books:

robintrauma EMDR1emdr2

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14 thoughts on “Defining Rape and Sexual Assault

  1. […] Here is the definition or rape and sexual assault. […]

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  2. Anne Wilson says:

    Excellent article on the American definitions of rape and sexual assault.It is important to acknowledge that these definitions are not used globally.
    I don’t see much in here about anger and fighting back; these are also important factors in recovery.
    I am not sure why you gave the oppressive, misogynist, political term “legitimate rape” any air time at all. Once you did give it the legitimacy of talking about it I do wish you had taken the opportunity of shutting that whole thing about legitimate rape down.
    Thanks for writing a timely piece.

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  3. A B Dellinger says:

    I agree with Anne. Timely, but missed opportunity to define rape as “rape”. Qualifiers that lessen the impact or can be used to blame the rape survivor perpetuate the idea that some rapes are ‘not that bad’ or ‘could have been avoided’ or ‘could not have happened that way because of how the survivor or the survivor’s mind/body responded’.

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  4. Irene Willard says:

    I agree with Anne about legitimizing that dumb Republican political remarks about “legitimate rape.” Sadly, many people believe that garbage! They do not understand that Rape in any form of non consensual or in the case of children even consensual sexual penetration is 100% Rape and should be punished much more severely than it ever is in the United States.
    As far as globally, we can not force other countries to believe as we do. They need to fight their own battles for getting attitudes and laws in their countries changed. I fight everyday to change our countries idiotic thinking and laws about what Rape is!

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  5. I discussed “legitimate rape” because it was the impetus for writing my blog post.

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  6. Andi Fastweg says:

    Definitely! A word like “legitimate” should never be followed by the word “rape”! Ever!

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  7. Andi Fastweg says:

    I did not see anywhere in the article an explanation of what “EMDR” is. Interesting technique. Here is a Wikepedi artcle about it:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_and_reprocessing

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  8. Andi Fastweg says:

    Yes, Robin, but, please, imagine an article about the horrors of the Shoa (the Jewish Holocaust) that mentions the “Protocols of Zion”?

    Why mention the “Protocols of Zion”, at all??? It is a fake, used by certain people to soften the Shoa, why even mention it?

    Just a question, and thanks for the article: all in all very good and informative.

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  9. Also, not mentioning “legitimate rape” does NOT make people stop thinking it’s the only form of rape. Law and Order SVU did a whole episode entitled “Legitimate Rape” – it’s still on people’s minds. We need to get the word out and that’s why I felt the need to post this blog entry – too many people fail to fully understand the definitions of rape and sexual assault. I was getting hits on my blog with questions like “is it still rape if you’re asleep?”

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  10. Not mentioning “legitimate rape” does NOT make people stop thinking it’s the only definition of rape. Two weeks ago, Law and Order SVU did a whole episode entitled “Legitimate Rape” – it’s still on people’s minds. We need to get the word out and that’s why I felt the need to post this blog entry – too many people fail to fully understand the definitions of rape and sexual assault. I was getting hits on my blog with questions like “is it still rape if you’re asleep?”

    Like

  11. Not mentioning “legitimate rape” does NOT make people stop thinking it’s the only definition of rape. Two weeks ago, Law and Order SVU did a whole episode entitled “Legitimate Rape” – it’s still on people’s minds. We need to get the word out and that’s why I felt the need to post this blog entry – too many people fail to fully understand the definitions of rape and sexual assault. I was getting hits on my blog with questions like “is it still rape if you’re asleep?”

    Like

  12. Thanks, Robin. I think it’s important that people fully understand that “legitimated rape” is NOT the full definition of rape. We certainly can’t do that by NOT talking about it.

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  13. […] they don’t want to. Um, there’s a word for having sex when you don’t want to – rape! More specifially, marital […]

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