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The Delicate Dilemma of Defining Rape

This column appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 21.1, and portions of it appeared in the Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2015, under the title “What do we talk about when we talk about rape?”

Ihave been writing this column for some time without explaining its title, “The Gadfly.” Linguistically speaking, a gadfly is a fly that bites or annoys cattle and other domestic animals, and its human counterpart is “a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands, requests,” and the like. The full dictionary definition would therefore make the word applicable to bullies, thugs, and Internet trolls—company I’d rather not keep! In the usage I learned and intended in this title, “provokes” is the relevant verb: A gadfly bites to wake us up, to prod us out of complacent assumptions, to make us think about what we believe.

In that meaning, I’ve been bitten often myself, so I know how it stings. When I was a young social psychologist and feminist in the 1970s, I never imagined that I would be asked to testify for the defense in a rape case. Rape laws at the time still included the “marital rape exemption,” with rape commonly defined as “an act of sexual intercourse with a female, not one’s wife, against her will and consent.” Men joked about this. “If you can’t rape your wife,” California State Sen. Bob Wilson said to a group of women in 1979, “who can you rape?”

We young feminists were furious about rape jokes, stupid rape theories (women, being naturally masochistic, want to be raped), and misogynist rape laws. Making the nation aware of the prevalence and brutality of rape was an arduous task, so it put me in a state of cognitive dissonance when a female defense attorney asked me to work with her on a case. Her client had been accused of raping a woman he had fired for incompetence.

The plaintiff had ready responses to the defense attorney’s questioning. Why did she wait a month after her dismissal to file charges against him? She was traumatized. Why didn’t she report it at the time to anyone she knew, or go to a doctor? She was ashamed. Why didn’t she have emotional or physical symptoms then or afterward? The absence of symptoms is a symptom of “rape trauma syndrome.” The defense attorney was not squeamish in questioning the plaintiff specifically about what she claimed had happened in her office. The boss had straddled her on her desk chair? But the chair had arms. He forced her out of the chair, with one arm around her neck, and dragged her to the door to lock it? But she was taller and heavier than he. While holding her with that arm around her neck, he then lifted her dress with his other hand and removed her pantyhose?

The courtroom was silent as everyone, male and female, realized what a challenge that would be with a willing woman, let alone a protesting one. The woman next to me said, “Pantyhose are nature’s chastity belt.” The defendant was acquitted.

That defense attorney taught me three important lessons:

  1. Don’t let ideology trump justice—for women who are wrongly disbelieved or for men who are wrongly accused.
  2. Don’t shy away from asking precise questions and defining your terms. And,
  3. Don’t assume that just because you are enraged about an injustice in general that you will be right about a case in particular.

The word rape, after all, is so emotionally charged, evoking not only ugly men in dark alleys but also handsome heroes “taking” the breathless damsel against her will, that it behooves us to try to clarify what “rape” is when we talk about it. The definition has changed radically; today the Justice Department and the FBI have expanded the definition of rape that existed decades ago: it is now defined as forced penetration of any orifice with any part of the body or an object. Yes, husbands can commit rape. So can women. So can a teenager with a broom handle. Prostitutes and porn stars can be and have been raped.

Understandably, therefore, when President Obama held a press conference, announcing the results of research claiming that 19% of all college women will experience actual or attempted rape, that number went viral. Nearly one in five college women! It’s an epidemic! Even a “Viewpoint” column in Journal of the American Medical Association, by two law professors who ought to have known better, mindlessly cited that number.1

The National Crime Victimization Study, a nationally representative study designed to reveal reported and unreported crimes, found that between 1995 and 2011, fewer than one percent of college women said that they had experienced attempted or completed rape.2 Then where did the 19% figure come from? In President Obama’s speech, he cited a 2007 online survey of only two universities in which the researchers had combined rape with “sexual assault”— defined as any unwanted acts such as “forced kissing,” “fondling,” and “rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes.”3 Unwanted fondling can certainly be unpleasant, but it isn’t rape.

Don't Rape (Photo by Richard Potts [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr)

Don’t Rape (Photo by Richard Potts [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr)

Emily Yoffe, a brilliant investigative journalist whose stories for Slate made readers aware of checking whether the desk chair had arms, so to speak, exposed the exaggerated numbers through careful scrutiny.4 She looked into another widely cited prevalence number from the Sexual Victimization of College Women study done in 2000, which claimed that one in four college women will be raped. To get that high number, the researchers not only manipulated their data, they misrepresented it in a way that no reputable scientist should ever consider doing. They found that only 1.7% of the respondents reported having been raped; another 1.1% reported attempted rape. On the assumption that attempted rape is as traumatic as completed rape, the researchers combined those numbers. So now we are at 2.8%. But how did they get from 2.8% to 25%? By projecting possible future experiences. If 2.8% are victims of rape or attempted rape in a 6-month period, they reasoned, that might be about 5% in a year (even though students are off for three months in the summer). And since most students take five years to finish, let’s multiply that 5% by another five. Voilà—25% of all college women will be raped or assaulted in their college career.

Even the researchers, perhaps in a spasm of the scholarly reflex, acknowledged that asserting that one-quarter of college students “might” be raped was not based on actual evidence. Yoffe found this disclaimer in the authors’ footnotes: “These projections are suggestive. To assess accurately the victimization risk for women throughout a college career, longitudinal research following a cohort of female students across time is needed.” And if I have two car accidents in my freshman year, does that mean I’ll have ten by the time I graduate? Isn’t there a chance I might learn something from those accidents and not have another one?

This kind of statistical manipulation seems clear evidence of ideology warping data in its service—an enterprise that does not help the cause of reducing rape and other acts of violence against women (or men). On one level, numbers shouldn’t matter: Rape is ugly, it’s serious, and can have devastating consequences for its victims. But if numbers are being used to generate a national panic or to institute university policies that may cause more harm than good, then we need to assess them as dispassionately as possible—without being accused of being “rape cultured” or supporting perpetrators.

So let’s examine the recent statistical practice of combining rape with unwanted sexual acts. Should young women be encouraged to believe that a clumsy act of fondling or kissing is the same thing, emotionally or physically, as forced penetration? For people who believe that misogyny and sexual violence are widespread and entrenched, the answer is yes: 20% seems like the right number for the percentage of assault victims. Look, they say, at how commonly women are described as hos, bitches, and cunts in our culture. “Slut shaming” has become so ubiquitous that it’s a term in gender studies. The culture today encourages men to feel sexually entitled to take advantage of women who are inebriated, or otherwise unable to consent—look how casually they post videos of themselves doing just that; look at those frat guys chanting “no means yes.”

For others, 1% to 3% feels like a more accurate number, supporting their argument that claims of rape are exaggerated in a political climate that invites women to turn unpleasant or regretted sexual encounters into assault charges. The culture today, they say, encourages women to avoid taking responsibility for their part in sexual encounters. Look at the language we use when we blame men for “getting a woman drunk.” “Getting”? What is she, an empty vessel with no volition as to how much she drinks? Don’t today’s young women, cheerfully claiming their rights to power and autonomy— including the right to get drunk—see that this attitude is a modern incarnation of the old days when women were thought to be the helpless, weaker sex who needed protection from their own lascivious impulses? Protection that would be provided by men— the right gentlemanly men, of course. “Men are always trying to protect me,” the divine Mae West once said. “Can’t imagine what from.”

Our challenge is to accept what is valid in both perspectives. We can vigorously pursue the goals of justice for rape victims and fairness for accused perpetrators. We can understand that many acts of sexual assault are violent and appreciate the subtleties of sexual communication that can create mischief and misery.

The first SlutWalk in Toronto, Ontario, April 3, 2011 (Photo by Anton Bielousov (Own work: Slutwalk (Toronto, ON)) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

The first SlutWalk in Toronto, Ontario, April 3, 2011. (Photo by Anton Bielousov (Own work: Slutwalk (Toronto, ON)) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s the “subtleties,” however, in the gray zone of human interaction, that cause such controversy over what can be done. The vast majority of all reports of rape—about 85%—occur between people who know each other. Some of these encounters are unambiguously coerced, but many are not. And while the goal of getting expressed consent is admirable, it’s not entirely realistic—partly because people often don’t know what they want. Sex researchers repeatedly find that people rarely say directly what they mean at the start of a sexual encounter, and they often don’t mean what they say. They find it difficult to say what they dislike because they don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings. They may think they want intercourse and then change their minds. They may think they don’t want intercourse and change their minds. They are, in short, engaging in what social psychologist Deborah Davis calls a “dance of ambiguity.” It occurs because the intersection between consensual and nonconsensual sex is often not marked with flashing lights and traffic signals that say Slow! Stop! Yield! This is the territory of “he said/she said” and the polarized interpretations that cause such heated debate.

As sexologists know from research and clinical experience, most straight couples, even long-term couples, communicate sexual intentions—including a wish not to have sex—indirectly and ambiguously, through hints, body language, eye contact, “testing the waters,” and mind reading (which is about as accurate as…mind reading). This dance of ambiguity actually has benefits for both partners: Through vagueness and indirection, each party’s ego is protected in case the other says no. Indirection saves a lot of hurt feelings, but also causes problems: The woman really thinks the man should have known to stop, and he really thinks she gave consent.

Davis and her colleagues Guillermo Villalobos and Richard Leo have suggested that the primary reason for the many “he said/she said” reports that make the news is not that one side is lying. Rather, each partner is providing “honest false testimony” about what happened between them.5 That is, both parties believe they are telling the truth, but one or both may be wrong because of the unreliability of memory and perception, and because both are motivated to justify their actions. Because memory is reconstructive in nature, and susceptible to suggestion, and because we distort or rewrite our memories to conform to our views of ourselves, people can “remember” saying things that they only thought about or intended to say at the time. As a result, a woman might falsely remember saying things that she thought about (but did not say) to stop the situation, because she sees herself as an assertive person who would stand up for herself. A man might falsely remember what he did to verify the woman’s consent that he did not do, because he sees himself as a decent guy who would never rape a woman. She’s not necessarily lying; she’s misremembering. He’s not necessarily lying; he’s self-justifying.

By far, the most well-traveled pathway from uncomfortable sexual negotiations to honest false testimony is alcohol.6 For some women, alcohol is the solution to the sex decision: If they are inebriated, they haven’t said “yes,” and if they haven’t explicitly said “yes,” no one can call them a slut. Alcohol, of course, reduces inhibitions and makes “yes,” for both parties, more likely. But it also significantly impairs the cognitive interpretation of the other person’s behavior: men who are drunk are less likely to interpret non-consent messages accurately and women who are drunk convey less emphatic signs of refusal. And alcohol severely impairs both partners’ memory of what actually happened.

If our goal is really to reduce sexual assault of all kinds, therefore, it is not helpful to label all forms of sexual misconduct, including unwanted touches and sloppy kisses, as “rape.” We need to draw distinctions between behavior that is criminal, behavior that is stupid, and behavior that results from the dance of ambiguity. END

  1. Reingold, R.B. and L.O. Gostin. 2015. “Sexual Assaults Among University Students.” Journal of the American Medical Association, August 4.
  2. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2013. See also Breiding, M.J., S. G. Smith, K.C. Basile, M.L. Walters, J. Chen, and M.T. Merrick. 2014. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization“ — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011.
  3. Krebs, C.P., C.H. Lindquist, T.D. Warner, B.S. Fisher, and S.L. Martin. 2007. “The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) Study.” National Criminal Justice Reference Service. December.
  4. Yoffe, E. 2014. “The College Rape Overcorrection.” Slate, December 7.
  5. Davis, D. & Villalobos, J. G. (2014). Language and the Law: Illustrations from Cases of Disputed Sexual Consent. In T. Holtgraves (Ed.), Handbook of Language and Social Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. Davis, D., & Loftus, E. F. (in press). “Remembering Disputed Sexual Encounters: A New Frontier for Witness Memory Research.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (Invited Contribution).
About the Author

Dr. Carol Tavris is a social psychologist and coauthor, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (but not by ME). She writes “The Gadfly” column quarterly in Skeptic magazine.

This article was published on March 29, 2016.


28 responses to “The Delicate Dilemma of Defining Rape”

  1. steve temple says:

    I don’t get much…but I have always let women make the
    first move….

  2. tpoz says:

    I have actually read the book, and it brings forward some terrible realities. What I can’t understand is why do you believe that this article “contradicts” anything written in the book.
    The US justice system, like many others in the world, has many problems, and only by addressing the issue can solutions be found. The justice system is NOT racist or misogynistic per se, but generally broken, and that affects certain groups of people more than others.

    It’s funny why anything in the article, or the comments, makes you believe the opposite.

    I, personally find Mr. Krakauer’s book AND this article (and many other, for that matter), compatible and complimentary.

    Out of curiosity, from my comments, are you presuming that I’m a pro rape, misogynist, right wing, angry, sad, pathetic, white male?
    Because I have to assure you of the opposite… except for the white male, that is.

    One more comment. Why is it, that most of the people who disagree with the above article, have written extreme (unfounded) comments and personal attacks, instead of explaining which part of the article they find erroneous?

    If you’re fighting a cause, please don’t do it a disservice. After the pitchforks are back in the barn, you may be surprised to find everyone here is on the same side… I certainly am.

  3. Lulu says:

    Pathetic pandering to male authority. Legalistic. Op-ed. Read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula for facts. Read Lena Dumham’s Lenny newsletter for another opinion.

    This and that last article by Shermer about what he thinks of college and university policies about race and gender reveals the right-reactionary bent (or maybe just misogynist) of this magazine.
    If you look at the sad comments about being raped in this comments section, not one is male. Some guy writing about what to do with his pants (on or off)–really?
    This used to be about science.
    Now, it’s just angry male rant with a female standing in.

  4. Christina Peterson says:

    I’m surprised to hear that my comment was seen as a nitpicking, ad hominem attack. I also thought I made the “why” of my objection to the article pretty clear. If not, let me try this. Let’s subject the author’s thesis to the “now what” test. Let’s assume for a moment that it’s true that we can never really be sure if a woman has been raped or not … not matter what she says. She may be lying or she may not even know.
    And even if there’s physical evidence, even if the woman’s injured, perhaps it was consensual rough sex. Perhaps the man she accuses only misread her “no” as an ambiguity.
    Now what?

    • tpoz says:

      “Shame on you, lady”, is as ad-hominen as it gets.

      But let’s forget about that, because you are, now, raising an excellent point.

      “Now what?”

      What if everything you stated is true?
      What if we are not sure if she (or he) was raped?
      What if she (or he) is lying?
      What if she (or he) doesn’t know?
      What if it was rough consensual sex?

      Does vilifying the accused fix the problem? Surely not.
      Does running in circles screaming “Rape rape!” fix it. Nope, not that…

      The solution can only be found if emotion is kept OUT of these conversations.
      This is a very difficult subject, and ONLY if we embrace the concept behind articles like these, regardless of how they make us feel, can we start unwinding the thread to a possible solution.

      Let’s assume for a moment that the study mentioned in the article is false. If you’re concerned about it, find the data, scrutinize it, and call it out.
      BUT if you find that it’s true, you have to stand behind it regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you feel. Anything else is hypocrisy.

      Here’s what I found with a google search and 2 clicks, in 5 seconds:

      And a note about avoidance.
      When a woman (or man) is raped, it is NOT THEIR FAULT… that’s something we all agree on. It’s the rapist’s fault 100%

      But getting yourself into a situation that will increase your chances to get:
      mugged, shot, run over, arrested, beaten up, killed by a wild animal, sick… and even raped, is not a good idea.
      It’s not about rape. It’s about being sensible.
      And that’s missing from this discussion. Sensibility.

      (By the way, what is the female equivalent of a rapist?… I guess PC hasn’t got to that yet)… [excuse the sarcasm]…

  5. todd h says:

    I see one problem with this article “The National Crime Victimization Study, a nationally representative study designed to reveal reported and unreported crimes, found that between 1995 and 2011, fewer than one percent of college women said that they had experienced attempted or completed rape”

    No one is scrutinizing this study

  6. Amy says:


    I think the article betrays the bias of the Editor of The Skeptic even more than this author.

  7. J. Hannah says:

    I don’t think the author is thinking like people in the 1950s. I think she did what we all should do – she re-examined a deeply held, emotionally-couched belief in light of facts that contradicted it, and made the decision to grow and change in response to those facts. She examined the scientific evidence around the subject of rape and altered her viewpoint. Isn’t that what skeptics do? As for Christina Peterson, I agree her attacks on the author are invalid. Yes, women do carry SOME personal responsibility in their choices. And women like Maria should get counseling to deal with their trauma, so she knows how to build a healthy relationship, instead of playing confusing mind games with the men she dates about whether or not she means it when she says she doesn’t want sex. No it is not a woman’s fault if a man ignores their clearly stated “no” and physically assaults her, even if she was drinking or acting provocatively. However, in the case of Peggy, although it was unwise of her to go into a house that was not hers with a man she barely knew, that does not mean she is to blame for the incident. In fact, by giving in to her shame about those poor choices, she allowed that man to escape and gave him the freedom to perpetrate his crime on the next unsuspecting victim. Recognizing her mistake, she should have swallowed her pride and brought charges, even though it might mean embarrassment for her and those close to her. This slimeball was counting on her to do exactly what she did – stay silent in her humiliation. And yes, I bet she DID learn a lesson from that experience.

  8. tpaine says:

    Analogizing rape victims with a virus that routinely spreads in humans might be a bit hyperbolic, dontcha think?

    • Christina Peterson says:

      I did not draw a parallel between rape victims and viruses and, if I had, it wouldn’t have been hyperbole it would have just been stupid.

  9. Christina Peterson says:

    When you’re writing from a “gadfly” perspective about a subject that touches people (and our culture) so deeply, you might want to avoid using language that betrays your bias.

    I quote:
    “And if I have two car accidents in my freshman year, does that mean I’ll have ten by the time I graduate? Isn’t there a chance I might learn something from those accidents and not have another one?”

    Suggesting that rape is something a woman can (and should) learn how to avoid is a fade back into the good old days when how a victim dressed or what her sexual history was were seen to be important factors in determining whether or not she had been raped.

    How about this?
    And if I catch the flu twice in my freshman year, does that mean I’ll have the flu ten times by the time I graduate?

    No, it doesn’t guarantee that you will but yes, it suggests the probability.

    But the biggest complaint I have about your article is this: Every one of your “gadfly” thoughts about rape was the societal view back in the 50s. If she’s drunk, she’s asking for it. When she says no, she means yes.
    She may lie about rape, victimize some poor man, just to get even.

    Shame on you, lady.

    • tpoz says:

      Dear Mrs. Peterson,
      I would be very interested in knowing which of the facts presented in the article you disagree with.
      Also, when you refer to Mrs. Tavris’ “Bias”, what do you mean exactly?

      It seems to me that your response is purely emotional, and doesn’t help promote the dialog for sensitive subjects like these.
      About the “freshman car accident” example, although she could have omitted the last phrase, the point was made to show the wrong way to extrapolate data. Well…. that’s if you try to understand what the good lady is trying to say, and not let your bias get the best of you.

      If you indeed disagree with facts, instead of nitpicking on a few isolated parts of the article and then attacking her personally, please try to evaluate the arguments, and if you disagree, please share your thoughts so that we can all learn something.

      If you decide to share your thoughts, please avoid ad hominem attacks and stick to the point. Nobody cares if you like her, me or anyone for that matter, what everyone would LOVE to know, especially in this forum, is WHY you disagree. Only then can we have a discussion and benefit from it.

  10. Maria says:

    Having been sexually assaulted as a child by a family member, I was conflicted when, in my early 20s I really wanted to have sex but still had very strong feelings of resentment that this relative had felt so entitled to me in that way.
    I found a solution with my first sexual partner (now my husband). I told him that I knew I wouldn’t want to have sex for the next couple weeks but might be open to it after that and then waited to see whether he would complain, cajole, whine or in any way pressure me to change my mind. Not fair perhaps, but my boyfriend simply looked a little surprised and said OK. I felt so empowered that the next day I initiated sex. I did this one or two more times until he learned that if I said no sex, it probably meant it would happen pretty soon and until I learned that I could stop testing him repeatedly. It was clear that sex was desirable but he did not feel entitled to it. Maybe other victims can try that strategy if they want to see how a potential mate views sexual access.

  11. Victor says:

    Dear Ms. Baker,

    I undersand you´ve had a traumatic experience. I sympathyse with you, and I am sorry for that. I can imagine how it was, and how it has shakn you. Human being can be criminal and cruel. It was courageous of you to post it here in such colorful detail.

    I am a health professional, and I was willing to discuss this whole post in a group. But then I had second ideas. I really wouldn´t like to have my whole group have access to this whole material.

    While making a point about circumstance, materials and methods, I am not sure your personal story really adds to the main point; Meanwhile, I suddenly got afraid it could be be – so to say – matter of inspiration, both to men and women; and it is now on the WWW, a media which never forgets anything.

    To be sure, I´d advise you to discuss such details in a more private and therapeutic environment. When discussing this in public, you should keep out the more explicit details.

    Take care, and think about that.

  12. Ray Riehle says:

    Excellent article. It will take some time to digest all the details. I appreciate the honesty and believe that this article goes a long way to effectively addressing a difficult subject.

  13. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    Wow. Excellent article. I applaud Skeptic for covering such a difficult and politically charged topic!

  14. EDWARD LINGURI says:

    Excellent article respectful of free will of each individual… How much protection for each individual, male or female, is required and still keep individual human rights, nurture the free arbiter and treat each individual as adult? Of course not having reached maturity and engaging in adult games, alcohol, DUI, etc… remains a hazard necessitating teenage and young adult education, both health education as well as ethics for all potential participants in such “games”….and where appropriate engaging responsibility consequences, both legal and social is a must if the “weaker” or “victimized” party is to remain protected. After all nothing magic happens between age 18 minus one day and age 18.. as evidenced but not sufficiently addressed by the clumsy legal provisions of statutory rape.

  15. awc says:

    Great article. One if the best on the issues regarding this subject I have read.

    Every time these (sexual encounter gone wrong) incidents come up in the news I see the talking heads demonstrating confirmation bias. When the fact is there is ambiguity from moment to moment in a human (potentially) sexual encounter.

    I don’t think this solves anything however.

  16. Peggy Baker says:

    I am a victim of rape. I understand and agree with everything said in this article except the deal with pantyhose. My pantyhose are what enabled a date to rape me despite he being the same height as me and not much heavier than me.
    We were on a beach. He led me to a beach house. I was not drug or under the influence of any drugs.
    At first, I was open to having sex, nice sex, tender sex.
    But, he shoved me to the ground in the beach house, laid on top of me with his forearm on my neck and most of his weight on my chest making it hard to inhale.
    He shoved his hand up under my dress, grabbed my pantyhose and pulled them to my knees in just a few seconds. U was busy holding his arm trying to remove it from my throat. I was fighting for air. I was kicking my legs as well. The more I struggled, the more of his body weight he put on my chest.
    I could only manage a few very shallow puffs.
    He then leaned into my throat, lifted his body off just long enough to get a good hold on my panty hose so that he had a handle of sorts by holding the waist/ crotch and jerked my knees up to neck level.
    He then quickly laid in top of me again pinning my knees to my throat level using the crotch of the pantyhose to continue to choke off my air. Yes, I was very flexible. My knees were at my ears. I could not breathe well or move much. I tried pushing up using the strength of my legs to throw him off but he leaned more onto my chest.
    I was barely getting any breath. He did all of this so quickly, I felt he must have preplanned this technique or perfected it through repeated uses. I could not believe I was so helpless so fast.
    My vagina was completely accessible.
    He quickly got his pants open and down enough using one hand to be able to force his penis into my body. It hurt like hell.
    I was not a virgin but I was not lubricated.
    I was crying and terrified. I had no idea if he would kill me afterward or not.
    My back was being torn up from the friction on the fake grass carpet on the beach house floor. I cried and cried. I nearly padded out.
    I could not scream. I didn’t have enough breath to do it. Hi kept saying “no, no, no, no…” The entire time. He never slowed down the process of raping me.

    He did not care.

    It was our first date. I had gotten acquainted with him through a work friend, so I trusted her judgement. I was new in town. After work on Fridays, we went to a restaurant for drinks and dinner. This man was a waiter there. He had spent the nght at my co-worker and her husband’s house. I had no reason to believe he would do this to me.

    We had gone to a beach restaurant for dinner. Afterward, we went for a walk on the beach. It wasn’t hard to do on the wet, firm sand. Sure, I got some sand in my shoes, but this was a romantic walk on the beach right?

    We got far down, away from the public area to where wealthy people have mansions. He told me he had worked at a particular one not long ago and he knew they were gone and the beach house was nice.

    When we got to the beach house, it was unlocked. I had no reason to feel alarmed. I thought we were just going to sit inside and enjoy the view without being bit by mosquitoes.

    I never reported it.

    I was ashamed.
    I had just left my fiance from another state.
    My sister had taken me in. Her husband had a prominent real estate business.
    I had just gotten my job.

    We had been trespassing.

    The guy disappeared from town the next day.

    I let it go for fear of losing my job, embarrassing my brother in law, having rich people prosecute me for being on their property, because I had willingly gone into the beach house with him, … etc.

    He gave me genital herpes.

    So, in conclusion, pantyhose can be the weapon of a successful rapist.

    • awc says:

      Peggy a horrific and obvious rape.

      I do not think your scenario is representative of those that fall into the category of ambiguous that the article refers to.

      You were conflicted on what to do next and it is more an issue of the social services and support to address it after the fact.

    • 123elle says:

      What a horrifying traumatic experience. So glad you survived that monster’s attack.

    • Lawrence Winkler says:

      You were a victim of a violent rapist — precisely the kind that should be taken off the streets and reported.

      You should report it now, regardless of any statute of limitations, or how long ago it was. He’s simply dangerous.

  17. Mike Colyar says:

    I have been in the situation where we agreed from the beginning that there would be no intercourse and than I would keep my pants on. I promised.

    Within a fairly short time my partner was asking, very emotionally and directly, for intercourse.

    Being who I am, I didn’t comply. She went back to a reportadly difficult previous relationship an I went home with my self respect intact but more than a little disappointed.

    So if I had taken her change of mind at face value would I have been guilty of rape? Do I need to carry a tape recorder with me on dates? Are statements made in the midst of erotic focus equivalent to ones made under the influence of alcohol?

    Probably I would have ‘gotten away with it’ but I was very interested in a long term relationship with this person and made my choice.

  18. 123elle says:

    You dismiss mind reading out of hand, as in “,,,most straight couples, even long-term couples, communicate sexual intentions—including a wish not to have sex—indirectly and ambiguously, through hints, body language, eye contact, “testing the waters,” and mind reading (which is about as accurate as…mind reading).”

    Dismissing “mind reading” as invalid is, well… invalid, since it has played a major role in human civilization and persistence as a species, e.g.,

    “No doubt the ability to outthink and outwit the opposition, to “predict” its likely behavior, and the behavior of your fellow hunters, would have been crucial. This mind-reading ability, first developed in our primate ancestors, is now a significant part of the characteristics that have made humans, and particularly modern humans, so special.”

    Stringer, Chris (2012-03-13). Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth (pp. 109-110). Henry Holt and Co. Kindle Edition.

    The ability to accurately suss out another’s intent has been key to man’s evolution and survival. Physical anthropologists don’t hesitate to call this capability “mind reading.”

    So for purposes of your argument here, you need to define your own understanding of the term “mind reading” more narrowly. Perhaps when you disparage “mind reading,” you actually mean “telepathy,” which fits better.

    • MBDK says:

      Physical anthropologists may not hesitate to call this capability “mind reading”, but the vast majority of the world recognizes its usage as deigned by the author. A term that is probably more accurate than even the anthropologists’ wording is “cold reading”, as mind reading implies the ability to assess exactly what a person is thinking, and cold reading is…well, from wikipedia –

      “Without prior knowledge, a practiced cold-reader can quickly obtain a great deal of information by analyzing the person’s body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc. Cold readings commonly employ high-probability guesses, quickly picking up on signals as to whether their guesses are in the right direction or not, then emphasizing and reinforcing chance connections and quickly moving on from missed guesses.”

      • 123elle says:

        “Cold reading” makes sense, though it’s pretty obscure to the average reader. Stlil, a professional should define what he/she means by “mind reading”. If she meant the silly parlor game use of “mind reading” here — and if it is so widely understood that that is what “mind reading” is — then perhaps it’s anthropologists who need to find another term, because I have read about the emergence of “mind reading” in many books on evolution that discuss the rising ability of humans to grasp and understand (read) quickly what is going on in the other’s mind — a matter of life and death foremost, but also vital to initiating sex.

  19. Russell says:

    An excellent article. There is another factor – culture. As the author points out, memory is fallible and easily influenced. If you talk to young women, there is a belief in the rape culture myth, and that not only is the 25% figure true, but as rape is underreported – the real figure is even higher. Add this cultural background, mix it with alcohol and a dose of post-coital regret, and a woman can easily believe she was raped, when an independent observer may say it was consential.

    • Sean says:

      There’s also ambiguity in the court that makes defining rape harder. I am reminded of a case some years back. Both parties agreed on all events, they were having consensual sex when she decided well into intercourse that she no longer wanted to. She told him to stop. He stopped immediately, did not attempt to prolong it or play dumb and complete the act. Neither party disagreed on the events. However, she claimed it was rape. The jury was not certain – consent was given, then withdrawn later – and asked the judge if this was defined as rape. The judge said that was for them to determine. Result was guilty. I don’t know if it was ever appealed or overturned later.

      Personally, I disagree with the jury. He stopped immediately upon withdrawal (no pun intended) of consent. Had he continued, then I would agree.

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