What is rape

Being the nosey kind when I got a pingback on a previous post which explored the constructs which support rape, I immediately took a shifty. At first I thought the blogger had just misunderstood the kind of assumptions that women live under compared with men, but once the comments started it became crystal clear that that she and clearly much of her readership had no idea what rape actually was.

And wow. Just wow.

Lets start with Scottish Law. Up until three years ago, rape in Scotland was only considered to have occurred through non-consensual penile-vaginal intercourse. Only men could rape, and only women could be raped. In In 2009 the law changed to acknowledge the existance of male rape. Rape is defined in Scots Law at present as


(1) If a person (“A”), with A’s penis—
(a) without another person (“B”) consenting, and
(b) without any reasonable belief that B consents,
penetrates to any extent, either intending to do so or reckless as to whether there is penetration, the vagina, anus or mouth of B then A commits an offence, to be known as the offence of rape.

I accept that this definition is still problematic – it does not take recognise rape with an implement and while the Opinion of the Lord Justice has acknowledged active consent as a basis of belief, the existence of the second clause provides a major loophole in the prosecution. But the act of penetration is prominent. The international definition of rape given by the World Health Organisation is much more inclusive.

physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object

Note however that the penetration is still the critical marker of rape.Several commenters on the link appear to believe that penetration is not required for the act of rape. That envelopment, as they term it, where a someone forces the body part of another inside them is also rape.

I suspect the confusion has come from older laws, written by men from male perspectives, which talk of “cardinal knowledge” and “sexual intercourse” without consent. Written by men, to be read by men, this “cardinal knowledge” and “sexual intercourse” means penile-vaginal intercourse, and as such implicitly suggests penetration – as the conception of “sexual intercourse” is of something which is done to women by men. As feminism has readdressed that to acknowledge that “sexual intercourse” is mutual, rather than something one person does to another, the implied penetration has been made explicit. These older statutes however have been interpreted by mens rights activists and others to talk of “rape by envelopment”.

There is no such thing.

The suggestion that unwanted penetration and unwanted envelopement are in someway equivalent or just as serious as one another is a nonsense. Compare and contrast unwanted and non-consensual penetration with unwanted and non-consensual envelopement.

Unwanted Penetration

  • Involves invasion of body
  • Can lead to external injuries
  • Can lead to severe internal injuries
  • Can lead to unwanted pregancy
  • Can cause death

Unwanted Envelopement

  • Involves invasion of bodily space
  • Can lead to minor external injuries
  • Cannot lead to internal injuries
  • Cannot lead to unwanted pregnancy
  • Cannot cause death.

The concept promoted by Clarissa and other commentators that any unwanted sexual contact or intercourse is rape is ridiculous. Penetration is fundamentally different from envelopement, but there is an equivalency being promoted by Mens Rights Activists who regard those who are forced or coerced by a sexual partner to penetrate them as being rape victims. The whole idea is so bizarre it hardly bears thinking about.

I do accept that there are narratives which can support the sexual assault of men by women through envelopement – that a real man is always desirous of sex, that men are stronger than women and thus able to physically resist any such sexual assault and that men cannot penetrate unless desirous and hence consent is automatic, but the ridiculous notion promoted by the link above that these are in some way equivalent, and should be treated as such is contemptable.

The reason that there is a specific word for sexual assault which involves penetration is because this form of sexual assault is more invasive, more likely to lead to injury, may lead to unwanted pregancy and can cause death.

That word is rape.

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