The changing face of rape

Today, in my office, I over heard two men talking about how rape has changed. One of them made the comment that rape doesn’t happen the same way that it did fifty years ago, and now we have to be suspicious of rape allegations. I held my tongue, of course, and went back to what I was doing. What I really wanted to do, though, was walk into the room and tell him that he was right. Rape has changed from fifty years ago, but not in the ways that he thinks.

Before 1962, the legal definition of rape was common law and stated that rape was a “a carnal knowledge of a women not one’s wife by force or against her will.” Women couldn’t be raped by their husbands . Boys and men could not be raped. Girls and unmarried women could not be raped. No one could be raped by someone they knew, and anal and oral attacks did not count as rape. This is consistent with the view (which a lot of people still hold) that rape is when a stranger jumps out of the bushes at night and attacks a screaming women. We know that this view of rape couldn’t be farther from the truth. Seventy three percent of rapes are committed by a non-stranger, such as a friend, teacher or relative. Half of all rapes occur in the victim’s home and forty percent occur in the home of a friend or relative.  Obviously, the way the law views rape has changed in the last fifty years, as has the way people perceive rapes to have happened.

Facebook is used by 1 in 13 people on the whole planet. In 2011, the median number of Facebook friends was 130 per user. Most women don’t want to whole world to know they’ve been raped. However, one Facebook post, if shared three times, will let almost 400 people know. Songs like “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke perpetuate the stereotype that no means yes. “Slut shaming” has taken over the Internet, like when the picture of #Slanegirl went viral. She was a teen at a concert, who was photographed and publicly humiliated. A similar incident happened at Ohio University. A young lady was being assaulted, but instead of calling for help, it was put on Vine and went viral. Easier access to porn online has also changed the face of rape. Exposure to porn, especially beginning at a young age, has led to “rape fantasies” and attitudes supportive of sexual violence against women. So, thanks to advances in technology, the way we view rape has changed in the past fifty years.

In the early 1970s, the second wave of feminism swept through the United States and the anti-rape movement began. Up until this time, the general idea was that only crazy men committed rape and that they did it because they could not control their sexual desires. People didn’t talk about rape. It was vastly underreported (as it still is, but it was even worse at this point in history). Now, we have comedians making rape jokes and people who think that its okay to laugh about sexual violence. Is this healthy for our society? Its okay to talk about rape. I’d even say we should encourage it. But be a decent person about it. Don’t joke about it and don’t blame the victim.

There are many, many more things I could talk about as to how rape has changed over the last fifty years. We have the idea of the “friend zone,” we have rape being reported in the military for the first time, we have the media hounding the victims as well as the defendants at trials. There’s celebrities who get accused of rape, a widespread fear of the police, and the idea that the majority of women make false allegations to ruin the lives and reputations of the men they accuse. There’s condoms that have teeth that are supposed to protect women from rape, as well as stockings with fake hair that are supposed to make women less attractive to potential attackers. There’s rapes in the LGBT community that are meant to be “corrective” and make the victim straight. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

I’ll just leave it at the fact that rape has indeed changed in the last fifty years.

Fried, A. (1994). “It’s hard to change what we want to change”. Gender & Society 8 (4): 562.

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