Blogathon: Eighth Hour

Sorry. My “eight” key is broken.

What’s particularly annoying about that is how many of my internet usernames involve the number “eighty-four” (my birth year).

So I just got back from grabbing some lunch, and it is easily the most dismal, shitty, dreary day, like, EVER. Great googly moogly.


I was expressing concern over the way that we often sweep all different forms of sexual assault under the term “rape”, and often seem to dismiss or belittle the differences that exist between the ways that a sexual assault or rape can occur. The term “rape” being used interchangeably, describing an extremely broad range of things. What might the motives be behind that? Are we sure that this is really a good way to approach things?

There is exactly one occurrence in my life I describe as “rape”, and even that one occurrence took me a long, long time to finally be able to face as such. It was the time with the knife. When an older, much stronger, and very intimidating man, who I’d never met until that night, and who was quite drunk (I was too), threatened the adolescent Boy I Used To Be with a knife and ordered me to engage in acts of penetrative and genital sex.

I didn’t report.

I was young. I was confused. I was scared. I was already in a ton of trouble for having spontaneously gone to an overnight party, and having obviously gotten drunk while there. I was deeply ashamed of myself, and in my head was thinking of it as having been “sex with a man”, and that was what I was ashamed of and horrified by, and couldn’t get past, not the knife, the age difference, the threat of violence, or the fact that it was not in any way consensual.

And I didn’t quite understand that it wasn’t consensual, because of how my body responded. Because one of the things I was made to do was to top him. Because I didn’t try to run away or fight back. Because I was drunk. Because I had been a little bit curious. Because when he flashed the knife, I just resigned to it all and said “okay”. Because I wasn’t scared “enough”. Because it was all my fault for being interested in guys. Because I somehow magically brought it on myself for having fantasies about men.

All of that, everything that happened, everything I needed to process in order to work through it… it took a very long time. Not least because I hated thinking about it, or remembering it. I still hate thinking about it and remembering it. Mostly, I go through my life pretending this, and the other horrible things that happened to me, just didn’t really happen. Or somehow don’t “count”.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties when I was finally able to look back on that event and describe it as having been raped.

And that is the only thing that ever happened to me that I describe as rape.

But what if I were to ahead and assume the definition that many feminists use? If I were to apply to myself the definition of rape that I don’t feel justified in questioning when other women apply it to their own experiences? What if I were to term “rape” every instance of uncomfortable, non-consensual physical intimacy in which one feels their boundaries have been violated?

If that’s the case then I’ve been raped a lot. Repeatedly. For two different significant chunks of my life, I was raped over and over again.

Do I want to see it that way? Am I okay with regarding that way?

One of those series of events was definitely physical intimacy. And definitely non-consensual. And definitely left me feeling violated and uncomfortable. And is also something I hate thinking about and remembering.

Which is exactly why the questions that have arisen for me in regards to the Ira Gray accusations are painful.

But what was far worse than those physical violations was the sequence of events that followed. Some people came to believe that what was occurring was an explicitly sexual thing. Basically, they suspected I was being molested. And so I was pulled through a seemingly endless sequence of interviews. With nurses, psychiatrists, social workers, etc. All of whom were asking me really, really scary questions.

What made things really horrible, though, was that this was “conveniently” timed to a legal battle taking place between various parties connected to me. As such, the possibility that I was being abused presented a wonderful trump card. My extremely painful and conflicted emotional situation, even as a child, was being exploited by the adults around me in their strange, inscrutable, petty little fights.

I was young, but I was smart enough to understand what was going on. I knew I was being used, that this event was important to the power games they were playing, and that whatever I did or didn’t say was going to have consequences for them. I also knew that the degree to which my own well-being was their interest was very, very compromised.

All of that felt like at least as much of a violation as the physical ones.

Despite those pressures, I did simply stick by what I understood to be the truth. I said that nothing genital had occurred. Although I didn’t possess the kind of terminology I now have, I maintained that to the best of my knowledge it hadn’t been sexual in nature. I confessed what did and didn’t happen. The only way I distorted the truth was, in trying to get everyone to shut up about it and leave me alone, suggesting that it was “no big deal” and that none of it had really bothered me.

It did bother me. A great deal. But I went along with it because I guess I thought I was “supposed” to. But having so many people invade my life like that, with so little respect for what I was going through and how I felt, and so much self-interest and pettiness tainting everything…. that was a lot worse.

None of it, though, was really rape. At least I don’t call it as such.

Why don’t I use that definition of rape? Well… it might be simply that that is something to painful to acknowledge, that that would require facing the depth and hurt of a whole lot of experiences I’d much rather just forget and put behind me. It might be because that would mean recontextualizing all that pain, and then having to process it all over again through that new context.

But it’s not really that. The real reason is that they were different.

The different things that happened to me felt different. And meant something different. And had very different consequences. They just weren’t the same fucking thing.

Being forced to perform fellatio on someone who’s holding a knife to your throat is NOT the same as someone stealing a kiss or touching your breast without permission.

It’s just not.

And erasing those differences? Erasing the gravity of those differences? It’s really fucked up.

I don’t by any means think anything should ever be EXCUSED on the basis of “not being RAPE rape”… but please, don’t you dare act like the distinctions between sexual harassment and violent penetrative rape are meaningless.

And to be honest? I think there’s some pretty creepy motives underlying this.

Consider, for instance, the distribution of risk in terms of who is more likely experience violent rape, or rape at the hands of a stranger, and who is more likely to experience acquaintance rape or date rape instead.

The fact is that there are a number of groups who are at much higher risk for violent rape. Women of colour, women living in poverty, trans women, sex workers, women with addictions, women with mental health issues, etc. These types of women are disproportionately at risk.

Everyone is at risk for acquaintance rape and date rape, but in so far as women benefiting from certain social and economic privileges such as being white, middle-class, cisgender, etc. are spared the additional, disproportionately distributed risk of violent rape (though of course they’re not completely safe from it, either), it ends up being in the interests of a feminism dominated by privileged women to position acquaintance rape and date rape as a priority, and to de-emphasise the differences in intensity and consequence between different forms of rape.

There can definitely be exploitation at work here. By erasing the distinctions, and placing everything under a single term, it becomes possible for privileged feminists to make statements such as “1 in 3 women have been raped by the age of 30”. By exploiting the experiences of less privileged women (women of colour, sex workers, trans women) and the violent forms of rape they’re at considerably greater risk of experiencing, and using that image of rape for its emotional impact at the same time as erasing the disparities of risk and sweeping all forms of sexual assault under the same term, they can use the fear and horror of violent rape to petition for resources to be allocated towards the needs of white, middle-class women without attention being paid to who is really at risk of what, and how. Without attention being paid to disparities in who is suffering, and whose needs are and are not being met.

I don’t have any precise information on hand right now, and no time to research, but something I intend to investigate in the near future is how rape-relief funds are allocated. My understanding is that relative to incidence and consequence, considerably more money, time and effort goes into supports for victims of acquaintance rape than victims of violent rape.

So, when we speak of “rape” all under one term, I think there’s a lot of important questions we could be doing a much better job of asking…

Are all forms of rape really the same thing? What do we mean when we say “rape”? Who is that definition benefiting, and who might it be harming? Whose needs are we trying to meet? Whose needs might we be ignoring? And what, exactly, are our goals when addressing the question of rape?

Oh whose behalf are we really working?


  1. says

    Without retreading all the sordid crap from my last comment, I’d just like to reiterate that we don’t have these hangups about the terms for other crimes. People accept, quite easily, the fact that some words are more broadly defined than others.

    If attention and resources are allocated disproportionately along lines of severity that also correlate to race and class lines, I really don’t think that stems from or can be solved by semantics.

    On the other hand, I foresee a severe downside from having separate terms for “greater rape” and “lesser rape”.

    • says

      I disagree. I think the semantics of how we frame rape and sexual assault are DIRECTLY connected to the allocation of resources, the unequal distribution of risk, and who has control over how the discourse is framed. I think there are very real motives, not all of them positive and harmless, both conscious and unconscious, motivating the way that differences in severity and kind of sexual assault and rape are obscured.

      Rape did not ALWAYS have the broad definition it does now, in the same way that “theft” always meant “theft” regardless of the worth of that which was stolen. People specifically pushed for the definitions of rape to be broadened beyond their original scope. And this push was quite recent.

      • says

        Webster’s American Dictionary, 1828:


        RAPE, n. [L. rapio, raptus. See Rap.]

        2. In law, the carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will.

        Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, 2012:


        : unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent

        The difference doesn’t appear to exist in the definition of rape (which is defined even more broadly as you go back to Middle English, the French, and then to the Latin.) The difference appears to exist in how we view the notions of “force” and “consent”.

        I think the modern evolution of what constitutes force and consent is entirely sensible, regardless of any privileged motivations behind the shift from the archaic interpretation. I like the modern notion of what constitutes consent and force. I wish I’d managed to internalized those notions twelve years ago.

        Seriously, Natalie. I admire the fundamental thrust here: that a disproportionate amount of attention and resources go to the types of rape suffered by privileged people. I’m glad you opened my eyes to that.

        But this is a bad, bad angle of attack on this issue. This makes me want to scream hurtful things at you.

        • says

          Bare in mind I’m writing very quickly, and hurriedly, without a lot of time to smooth over my ideas. These blogathon posts are, obviously, going to be very rough, unrefined ideas.

          There’s a reason I concluded this post as a series of questions rather than as statements.

          I’m interested in looking at what we’re doing, asking questions, wondering about how we frame things and why, and looking at the issues of privilege involved in how we frame and discuss rape and where we allocate resources and attention. I am NOT attempting to excuse any form of sexual assault, nor say some are “less bad” than others. I’ve made that clear, and I think you know that’s not what I’m doing. So if you’re aware of what the point of this post is, where I’m going with this, what I’m trying to get people to think and talk about, and why, then what are you angry at me about?

          • says

            Read what you just wrote.

            Would you accept, “I made it clear that I’m not advocating X, I’m just asking questions” and “Why are you being obtuse?” and “I don’t see why you’re getting so angry” if those comments were directed at you?

          • says

            I don’t think you’re being obtuse. But I am honestly confused as to what you think is the problem here. What I was pointing out is the issues of privilege and disparity of risk and allocation of resources involved, which you’ve agreed is an issue that needs consideration and that you appreciate being pointed out. So since that’s what I was doing, and you agree with it…?

            I mean, even the precise semantics aren’t the real issue. I’m not proposing we stop referring to acquaintance rape as rape, for example. In fact, I’m FINE with acquaintance rape being defined as rape. I think it IS rape. The issue I have is simply in how differences in experience, risk and consequence between varying forms of rape and sexual assault are overlooked or intentionally erased. I’m not proposing any particular solution to that issue at all. I just think it’s something that deserves to be discussed.

            It seems to me like the issue you have here is that what I’m saying bears a superficial resemblance to something else other people say that IS horrible. i.e. “acquaintance rape isn’t REALLY rape, and is not as bad, and people shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it”. But you know that’s not what I’m saying. So, again, I genuinely don’t understand what you think I did wrong here or should have done differently. It’s not even that I failed to make my position clear, since you DO understand my position.

            And I actually WOULD accept “I made it clear I’m not advocating X” as a response, depending on the context and situation.

          • says

            I understand that I overreacted at first, and I acknowledged my initial overreaction in a comment below which you appear to have read, because you replied to it.

            And again, I wish to remind you that I believe you are sincere.

            I am now simply making a SUGGESTION, as I pointed out below, that this is an awful angle from which to approach this problem, because IT DOES bear more than a superficial resemblance to the CONSTANT BARRAGE of voices trying to downplay and disappear non-violent rape.

            Even if it were merely a superficial resemblance (which it is not) (and here I wish to remind you that I believe your sincerity), that small resemblance is already too much, if you wish to avoid getting the same reaction from others that you initially got from me.

            I’m sorry if that makes your argument harder to make. I really am. But the consequences of making your argument in the manner you have are fact, and are severe.

            That it is an awful angle should be apparent from my initial (and admittedly unfair) response. I don’t think I’m a weak person. I don’t think I’m less rational than the people you’ll have to win over with this argument in the future.

            So you can either take my suggestion or leave it. If you leave it, I guarantee that you will run into many, many more reactions like my initial reaction as you press this issue. And most of them will not be as introspective as me. They will not calm down. They will not go back and reexamine their premises, and they will not change their initial impression, no matter how many “I don’t mean it like it sounds” caveats you use, and no matter how sincere you are about said caveats.

            Again, I’m sorry if this makes your argument more difficult to craft. I realize that. It doesn’t change what I’m telling you.

            This is a friendly suggestion, or at least as friendly as I’m capable in the mindstate that I have now found myself in. If it were not a friendly suggestion, I would not be making it.

      • says

        Okay, I’ve calmed a bit.

        I believe, upon a more careful reading of your article, that you weren’t suggesting that acquaintance/date rape be assigned a new word, but simply suggesting that the definition of rape not be expanded to things like sexual harassment (an expansion I was unaware of until now.)

        But seriously, given the history of the thing (i.e. I grew up at a time when what would later happen to me was not broadly considered rape, and I’m not that old), I suggest that you never put a discussion about how rape being defined too broadly within a thousand miles of a discussion about the differences between date/acquaintance rape and violent rape.

        Given the historical context and the fact that not everyone is familiar with attempts to redefine rape to cover sexual harassment, the implications of putting those two discussion next to each other are inescapable (even if unintentional.)

        • says

          I agree that there’s a difference between the question of rape being broadened to include things that aren’t rape (sexual harassment, for instance) and the question of difference between acquaintance rape / date rape / violent rape. And I agree it would be really fucked up to conflate the two in such a way that the argument then becomes “acquaintance rape isn’t rape!”.

          But since the underlying thing I wanted to address, being how the privileged parties who control the discourse benefit from obfuscating disparity and difference between various forms of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, and obfuscating the disparities in who is at greatest risk of what, and since to clarify that issue it’s important to talk about how the image of violent rape (which disproportionately effects WoC, trans women, sex workers, etc.) is exploited to help have resources allocated to situations that primarily effect women in positions of relative privilege, it WAS necessary to talk about both, since this underlying issue can’t be discussed without looking at the relationships it forms with and between the various manifestations of sexual assault, harassment, rape.

  2. Infophile says

    Interestingly, I’ve noticed a trend recently when laws against rape are clarified or changed, that the name of the crime is often changed to “Sexual assault.” Few people question that everything from stealing a kiss to violent rape count as sexual assault, so from a legal standpoint it makes sense to define it all as against the law using a commonly-accepted term. Of course, sentences for different types of assault are vastly different, allowing for a human to make a judgment call. (Although this human factor can allow for personal biases of judges and prosecutors to slip into the the system, it’s probably a necessary evil.)

    However, when we start with a word like “rape,” which has long been considered a horrible crime – so horrible the word itself was often avoided in the past – and expand it to include lesser sexual assaults, I fear that we might cause the word to lose its punch. We’re still at the point where the public consciousness tends to see rape as forced sex, but if the effort to expand the use of the term to cover all sexual assault succeeds, then I worry that victims of the worst forms of sexual assault will get less sympathy.

    If a friend tells you, “I was raped,” it feels (to me at least) like being punched in the gut. If they say, “I was sexually assaulted,” you have to ask more questions to figure how bad it was, or you just don’t ask at all. So if “rape” means all forms of sexual assault, then we don’t have a word left in its place that will give the immediate gut-punch and sympathy that rape currently does. (At least, among the subset of people who won’t immediately try to excuse the rapist.)

    This is probably being done with the best of intentions, so that people will treat sexual assault more seriously, but I do worry about this unintended side effect.

    • says

      Punched in the gut. Those are the words I was looking for. It feels like I’ve been punched in the gut, when people try to say I was never raped, because he was an “acquaintance” (i.e. someone I loved and trusted) and I never said “no”. Repeatedly punched in the gut, until I shake so hard and my eyes are so moist that I can barely hit the right keys.

      Thank you. That’s exactly what I was trying to get across. (although maybe not what you were.)

      • says

        I don’t want to make you feel any worse. It sounds as if you’ve been triggered (I almost always ignore TWs myself, I’m not saying you should’ve known better). I don’t know what to say about that except that I hope you’re all right.

        But two things can be true at the same time: one, your experience was rape, and two, it was different from what happens when there’s a knife involved.

        Both are rape. And it is unequivocally a good thing to my mind that we should acknowledge what “consent” and “force” mean, as you said above. But it is also true that for many people, when they hear “rape” they think of, well, the kind with the knife, and they’re mostly horrified by that kind. Evidently you’ve been dealing with this attitude. To me what this means is simply that people aren’t horrified enough about acquaintance rape, not that we shouldn’t call it rape.

        But it also may be that when we fail to distinguish between different kinds of rape, we may also fail to see the different goals and effects of efforts to reduce rape. We can’t reduce all rape by focusing mostly on date-rape and acquaintance rape, and there is a valid concern that this may happen. (Also see my long comment in response to BecomingJulie.)

  3. says

    This is very hard to read. I don’t think you’re wrong, Natalie. I don’t yet know if you’re right, either. Are we asking people who have been groped repeatedly to feel “less bad” about what has happened to them? Are we asking them to say, “this was bad, but it’s not like I was penetrated or anything”? Because that sounds like what a lot of people say anyway because they don’t want to feel like they’re making a “big deal out of nothing” or “making a fuss.” I don’t really know that it’s the responsibility of rape victims to be placing themselves on a continuum of harm and violation.

    But there’s no doubt that thinking about this is important.

    • says

      Of course I’m not asking anyone to feel differently about their own experiences! That would awful. Nor is it about excusing other forms of sexual assault as “less bad” or “at least it wasn’t…”

      And it’s definitely definitely not about trying to suggest acquaintance rape is “not a big deal”.

      It’s about looking at how we frame things, and recognizing differences. Not treating different forms of rape as all the same thing. And being very careful about looking at where resources are being allocated, being critical about our own motivations, being careful about what terminologies we use and what impacts they may have, and thinking about who faces what risks, who controls the discourse, and who stands to benefit or be harmed by what.

  4. says

    When you say “some forms of rape are worse than others”, what you’re implying to some rape survivors is “some forms of rape are worse than what happened to you”.

    So you have to be careful about saying it, even if it is true. And it probably is true, because a pinch on the bottom is not at all the same as forced and degrading acts. For that matter, a particular act might be construed differently by different people. It is not black and white, but a complex, multi-dimensional spectrum of hues, shades and depths, possibly extending into the infra-red and ultra-violet.

    And even if one kind of rape is worse than another, that should certainly not be taken to mean that any kind of rape is acceptable.

    • says

      Hey BecomingJulie,

      I think the point is not about which forms of rape are better or worse, and just because some forms of rape are experienced less by privileged people, does not make them intrinsically “worse”. I would be likely to disagree with Natalie if she argued that point–and it’s not an argument I’d want to make, given how anti-feminists already do this to invalidate some rape victims’ experiences.

      But what I got from this post is not about better or worse. It’s about the allocation of resources and activism: are we giving fair attention to all forms of rape when we’re trying to reduce rape and sexual assault?

      It is important to make efforts, as feminists do, to educate everyone and raise awareness about rape culture, and how to reduce acquaintance rape and date rape. But are we also focusing enough on things like how to directly reduce the chance that sex workers get raped? On how to help people who have already been violently raped? (I mean physical violence here; I have a very broad definition of violence.)

      Natalie made a point which should really really not be ignored:

      “[her own experience as a child of physical assault being used in a power play by adults] felt like at least as much of a violation as the physical ones.”

      This article reminds me of the one about the different risks carried by different trans people, and an important related post by TransActivisty, Trans Women of Color are Not Your Bargaining Chip.

      Are we allowing the experiences of victims of physically violent rape to be too easily conflated with the experiences of victims of other forms of rape? That is, used in order to win resources that primarily help rape victims who, on average, are more privileged in society? And when we deal with rape as an issue, are we sufficiently careful to keep the actual victims’ interest in the forefront?

      My cynical self tells me that anytime one neglects to see the differences in experience between a more privileged group and a less privileged group, one ends up favoring the privileged group.

      There isn’t good terminology for this, and I don’t know the answers either, and they will take a deal of work to find out even in my own local area. But it makes sense to ask the questions.

  5. Robert B. says

    The problem (and I don’t imagine this is news to anybody, certainly not you, Natalie, I just want to say it) is that there’s this strong urge or tendency not to admit to ourselves that we were raped or sexually assaulted. This post taught me something very sad, but not very surprising, about human nature. Reading your story about “the time with the knife,” it struck me as an absolutely unambiguous example of rape. I would have naively expected that no one could have ever mistaken that for anything other than it is. Obviously, I learned otherwise.

    The reason this wasn’t surprising, though, the reason my reaction to your story was just a sort of sad “oh,” was that I did the same thing. It took me years to admit to myself that, when I was groped through my clothes by a homophobic bully, I had been sexually assaulted. I classed it, in my mind, as just bullying. A particularly bad incident, sure, but it wasn’t really sexual – she’d done it just to mess with me, not to get off. There’d been like a dozen people watching and she didn’t get in trouble, so it couldn’t have been anything much out of the ordinary. Stupid stuff like that.

    So I think broadening the word “rape” has an honest motivation as well. It’s a mental trick, a counter-bias to work against our own tendency to understate, even to ourselves, what was done to us. (Not to mention other people’s tendency to understate what was done to us.) I don’t insist on the practice – your points against it were strong, and deliberately ignoring nuance makes my rationalism uncomfortable even if there’s a good reason – but whatever we do, it needs to account for that tendency to minimize.

    • says

      I very much agree, there are good reasons to label everything in the discussion as “rape”. And it looks (here) that Natalie’s not actually arguing against using the word “rape” to mean several different things. But the use of the word “rape” should not stop the analysis there. And it often does, because it’s triggering, and/or so horrifying that people just don’t want to touch on it further.

      As I said somewhere above, we should acknowledge the difference between different kinds of rape, because that helps us check that we’re covering all the bases. And I’m not saying this lightly. We shouldn’t be favoring privileged groups, and we shouldn’t leave anyone out of efforts to reduce rape, and we should make sure that the kinds of rape we talk about are also the kinds of rape we fight against.

      • Robert B. says

        I’m starting to wonder if we need an overarching general term, and more specific terms for important cases. You brought up the example of theft – and yes, if someone takes your bike that you left chained up by the grocery store, or shows you a gun and takes your wallet, or breaks into your house and leaves with your TV, or fiddles with the books at your business and takes a big pile of money from you, that’s all theft. We say in each case that something has been stolen from you, and that’s fundamentally the reason why each of those acts are wrong. But we also say that one of those is robbery and one is burglary and one is fraud. And those specific terms are useful in conveying the precise nature of the crime and why it may have been especially bad and they help us get at the class issues which intersect with theft and so on.

        Now whether the specific word “rape” should be the general term or a specific term, I have no idea.

        • says

          The law has attempted to address such distinctions by using the terms sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual battery. The definitions are somewhat but not completely consistent across jurisdictions, though. That may be part of the problem.

          No matter how clearly and specifically the law is defined, somehow I have the impression that cases will fall through the cracks (not “properly” meet all of the criteria for any crime). This might be more due to society’s dismissive attitude to sex crimes in general than the exact definitions we’re using.

    • daenyx says

      That was more or less my reaction – I understand what Natalie’s saying about resource allocation, and that makes sense, but my understanding of the terminology re-frame has always been that it’s VERY much a reaction to the minimization and denial of our experiences of assault.

      I’m much more sympathetic to the point of view from which this essay’s coming from, but it bears too much surface similarity to “She was living with him and he didn’t beat her up, so it wasn’t *really* rape” type statements for my full agreement. I appreciate that nuance is important in this as in all matters, but in light of how *any* and *every* excuse is seized upon by police, by courts, by society, and by many victims themselves to excuse a rapist, I think the surface similarity is dangerous. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

      Finally, I take exception to the distinction Natalie makes between “violent rape” and domestic/date rape. The latter isn’t by ANY means exclusive of the former.

      • says

        Finally, I take exception to the distinction Natalie makes between “violent rape” and domestic/date rape. The latter isn’t by ANY means exclusive of the former.

        That’s a fair point, and a very clumsy use of terms on my part. I’ll be using different terms to mark the distinctions I mean in the future.

  6. Bia says

    I think this is on topic so I’d like your opinion. In addition to being the fabulous being I am, I also enjoy playing MMOs, and yes that one in particular that everyone plays. So anyway…

    I was on a gaming blog recently and the discussion was victim blaming when it comes to account hacks. The argument in summary was that having your account hacked and ransacked by cyber thieves is a type of rape. That type of violation being the same as rape means that we are victim blaming people who refuse to use authentication and then turn around and blame the company for not protecting their account.

    Where as I can see how this is viewed as victim blaming, I think it’s really disrespectful to equate account theft with rape, and to co-op language specific to discussions of rape culture is pretty much the same thing as trivializing rape and actually contributing to rape culture.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated, I honestly can’t decide if I’m taking the matter too seriously or not.

    • says

      As you said, it’s a violation of personal boundaries. It is about one person taking control over something that another person regarded as part of themself. It can be compared to rape, but that not only is disrespectful and possibly triggering, it’s kind of a useless comparison, because far too many people don’t even realize what is so bad about rape in the first place.

      Rape feels terrible because someone is using your body against your will. Sometimes they are causing your body to react in ways you weren’t prepared for it to, that feel like they should be under your control but aren’t (I’m thinking of sexual arousal here, as well as society telling women in particular that being penetrated is always their fault). If someone doesn’t understand all that and more, there’s no point bringing the word “rape” into the discussion. And if they do, it can be explained directly in those terms without the comparison.

      Does that help?

    • Robert B. says

      It would depend on exactly how it was phrased, I think. Victim-blaming is a crappy thing to do no matter what they’re a victim of, so if the intent is to explain that victim-blaming is wrong for theft, just as it is for rape, then that’s okay (though rape is such an intense subject that it might not be a wise comparison to make.) If the intent is actually to argue that theft is rape, or is just as bad as rape, or something like that, then that would be inappropriate.

      • Bia says

        That’s just it. I think it’s wrong to victim blame no matter what we’re talking about, but it’s a bigger issue than just that. We’re talking about people that have their accounts hacked and then immediately perpetuate silly conspiracy theories, and these are respected authors in the gaming community. They frame the entire discussion as a form of rape, then turn around and use phrases like “slut shaming” to silence any dissenting opinion.

        It’s rather devious actually, watching mostly white dudes co-op feminist language because they can’t handle the fact that they too are vulnerable to account theft, despite their mighty awesome technical prowess. It’s that vanity that made them think they don’t need a form of authentication, and the exact reason their account was hacked. Instead of own up to this, they blame everyone but themselves then try to re-frame the conversation as victim blaming.

        I suppose I just can’t tell if it’s worth the time to bother pointing these things out, or if my silence is just as contributing to rape culture as anything else.

        • Robert B. says

          Just for perspective: silence does not contribute to rape culture as much as, y’know, actually contributing to rape culture does. There is a difference between creating a problem, and not wanting to have to fix it.

          That said, pointing things out is a goodness. They certainly won’t go away if you ignore them. Whether the goodness is worth your time (and, probably, the flak you’ll take for it) is up to you and depends on the situation.

        • says

          It’s completely inappropriate and rather offensive for white men who haven’t been raped and don’t face any significant threat of rape to be directly comparing other crimes to rape.

          I don’t see any ambiguity on that.

  7. says

    i’ve been raped violently by a stranger and i’ve been raped… gently by someone i was supposed to be able to trust.

    the latter was more traumatic for me than the former. not saying that i had a blast wondering if that stranger was going to kill me and leave me in the ditch, but i healed more quickly after the violent-stranger-rape than i did after the not-rape-rape-acquaintance-rape. that’s just me, though.
    also, i’m feeling very triggered right now; i should probably stop typing. maybe i’ll come back and try to be coherent at a later date. sorry, natalie. you gave a perfectly good tw and i just ignored it.

    • says

      Thank you for articulating something I was struggling to formulate in my head but didn’t feel I was in a position to say. I think we should cautious about assuming that a particularly violent rape is necessarily more traumatic than one that is less violent but perhaps is traumatic due to the emotional context (not suggesting that Natalie was making this assumption). In fact, even though there are broad trends that can be identified in the kinds of trauma that result from different kinds of rape or sexual assault, we should be very wary about making generalisations about how people respond to different experiences, as it can have the effect of making people feel their responses aren’t valid because they don’t fit with a perceived trend.

  8. Traci says

    Thanks for making me think about this. Your post is making me challenge my gut reaction, and I’d never even considered how privilege plays into it.

  9. says

    After some reflection, I’d like to more carefully detail the two primary issues I have with this argument.

    First, I take issue with pretty much any argument or discussion that starts out with “many feminists … term “rape” every instance of uncomfortable, non-consensual physical intimacy in which one feels their boundaries have been violated”.

    This is a definition held by a very small minority. I personally have never heard another feminist use this definition, and I’ve known a few. People who advocate for this definition hold so little sway that its chances of being broadly adopted are approximately zero. In a discussion spanning the view of society at large towards rape, it is at best barely relevant and at worst a red herring. It is primarily associated with rape denial, rather than with actual, real-world feminism.

    Two, it’s frankly offensive to characterize the decades-long, ongoing battle to get society to take nonviolent rape seriously as in any way an attempt to “de-emphasise the differences in intensity and consequence between different forms of rape”.

    I don’t think you meant that statement the way it reads, so I’m not going to get into it, but I think you can plainly see why it comes off as dismissive and infuriating.

    That said, I believe you’re getting unnecessarily hung up on the semantics/conflation thing. If resources collected under the guise of helping all victims are being disproportionately allocated toward the needs of white, middle class victims, a feminist semantics war is not necessary to explain this discriminatory phenomenon.

  10. says

    Thank you, Natalie, for these two posts – it’s an issue I’ve been giving a lot of thought to recently for various reasons. I think we need to better understand what are our motivations for selecting which experiences we define as rape and which we don’t. Ultimately I don’t see that there can be a useful objective definition – it matters much more how the experienced it than what was inserted where and in what manner. How we use that word clearly has important implications, both for survivors (and perpetrators’) understanding of what has happened to them and for how resources are allocated and so on.

    We’re all inevitably reading the posts through the lens of our own experiences and so it’s not surprising that people have strong reactions. But having read over it a couple of times and read the clarifications in the comments, I broadly agree with what you’re saying.

    I am a bit surprised by the use of the phrase “violent rape” and particularly the phrase “non violent rape” in the comments, as to me, rape is a form of violence – all rape is violent. Clearly there are more or less violent rapes as illustrated by the experiences relayed here, and it’s right that that should be recognised. But the phrase “non violent rape” is just a contradiction in terms, in my book. Although (as mentioned above), rape is difficult to define, I’m finding it hard to imagine a scenario which I would describe as rape which I would not also describe as violent.

    I’d be interested to learn more about the way resources are allocated in terms of legal support, health and psychosocial support etc. as my (admittedly totally uninformed) assumption would have been that it was the reverse. In the UK there was a furore a year or two ago when the Justice Secretary suggested that “classic rape” (i.e. by a stranger in a dark alley) should be taken more seriously by the justice system than other rapes ( Obviously the use of the word ‘classic’ (and the positive implications the word sometimes carries) was particularly offensive but it also seemed to chime with the general perception that acquaintance rape isn’t really rape and is less deserving of attention. I would have imagined (again – no evidence to back this up) that this perception would lead to fewer survivors of acquaintance rape seeking to access support as compared to stranger rape. I’m sure it’s much more complex than that though – and of course, services are disproportionately allocated to those in positions of privilege as a general rule, so what Natalie’s saying does make sense.

    (Apologies for the long post!)

    • says

      I think I agree about the terms “violent rape” and “non-violent rape” being inadequate. I was sort of fumbling for some kind of way to describe the differences I meant, and those were amongst the various clumsy distinctions I came up with at the time, but you’re right, they’re far short of ideal. But by “non-violent” I of course didn’t mean to suggest the act of rape itself was not violent, but more to indicate the contextual violence, or absence thereof, that surrounds the rape. Such as whether or not physical violence was used or threatened as a means to coerce submission to the sexual violence.

      • says

        Yeah, I understood that that wasn’t what you were suggesting 🙂 To be honest I’m not really sure what a good term would be – I tend to say things like “particularly violent” but that’s a bit clumsy and not very clear in its meaning.

  11. says

    No matter whether you mentioned it that way or not, this post reeks of straw feminists who apparently equate sexual harrasment or sexual assault with rape. They may exist but they certainly aren’t the majority.

    No matter whether you meant it or not this post makes us victims of non violent acquaintance rape (at least this victim) feel like my rape isn’t as qualified as yours.

    There is no rape that is worse than another rape.

    Much of the distribution of money likely comes from the fact that violent rape is less common than acquaintance and date rape. Much of it comes from the fact that those at the highest risk for violent rapes are also at the highest risk of having few or no resources.

    But we can work on fixing that in such a way that doesn’t make all us acquaintance rape survivors feel so less deserving of the same resources that ALL rape survivors deserve.

    Last thing I want to say is I am pretty sure at this point I get your intention. That doesn’t mean that post gets that across. Somewhere in the comments clarification was made. After a ton of tears and feelings of insignificance. No simple trigger warning was going to prepare me for that. I feel kind of sick that I had to read this whole post and the subsequent comments to reach that clarification. I guess I kind of trusted that you wouldn’t write something like this without being more careful about your implications. I guess I was wrong.

    Seriously these are the things that sting the most. The implication that because my rape wasn’t violent I am inherently less violated maybe even less traumatized. I can’t say either way whether it would be worse to fear for my life or have to be around the person who raped me at every holiday. All I can say is the latter cause me to be suicidal on more than one occasion. The latter made me question my worth my whole life.

    I can’t do this anymore. I just can’t fucking cry about it. It took me forever to call it rape. I want to go back.

    • says

      Given that everyone responding so far has understood my intention and meaning, I think people’s reactions are more connected to the intensity of the issue, how loaded it is, and how intense and common the “less serious” argument can be, than it is to what’s there in my own writing.

      It’s an obviously intensely emotional, and intensely personal, issue. So why see the emotional responses as purely a one-way street?

    • says

      There is no rape that is worse than another rape.

      I thought part of your point was supposed to be that no one should define the reality of someone else’s experiences? So why do you make a declaration that identifies all of those experiences as being exactly the same, none worse than another?

      This reasoning just doesn’t work for me. There are variations, factual differences, in different crimes and different cases. It’s your choice how you want to see your experiences. But don’t tell other people who have lived through a wide variety of bad to terrible events that the whole gamut is just the same. Implying that they aren’t allow to acknowledge any distinctions because that would hurt someone is really not so far from stating they shouldn’t speak on the topic at all. Any sufficiently detailed description of a horrific crime can and probably will be interpreted by someone to mean that other crimes are less severe.

      Think about that.

      • says

        Thank you for that, actually.

        I don’t think I have a right to tell anyone ELSE that THEIR experiences are “less serious” or “less bad” than my own, but by the same token, I don’t think THEY have a right to tell me that all the different things I’ve gone through are all exactly the same and interchangeable, when they clearly weren’t.

        But that’s not even the driving point here. What I think is important is considering how we frame the discussion and what consequences that can have in terms of privileging certain survivors who are able to use other social privileges to gain leverage over the terms of dicussion, over other survivors who aren’t so easily able to be heard and taken seriously.

        • Anna says

          It might be helpful to provide actual examples of the dialogue giving preference to differant types of experiences or examples of resources being allocated unequally.

          • says

            There are examples in the comment thread itself of people saying all forms of rape are the same. My critique, though, isn’t about preference given to certain types of experience, but instead about how the discourse is erasing difference between different types of sexual assault and thereby ignoring the highly serious issue of how women of colour, trans women, sex workers, addicts and other disadvantaged groups are at disproportionate risk to certain forms of rape… such as stranger-rape, and rape involving non-sexual physical violence. The fact that people react so negatively to discussion of difference between types of rape (as perfectly exemplified in this comment thread) ends up making it impossible to have a discussion about how the disadvantaged groups above are dealing with disproportionate risk and violence, a SERIOUS issue that we’ve failed to address.

            It’s a very severe example of mainstream feminism leaning in favour of prioritizing the needs of the most privileged at the expense of addressing issues that primarily effect women who aren’t white, cis, middle-class, etc. A very severe example that we end up not being permitted to talk about. Which is, frankly, fucked right the fuck up.

            As for research into resource allocation, I haven’t had the time to get all the necessary facts, but I WILL be doing a follow-up post once I do.

            This is something that has been discussed a lot by WoC feminists in relation to the problems with “White Feminism”.

  12. says

    I assure you your intent wasn’t clear Becoming Julie. I am fairly confident that your intent wasn’t totally clear to ZenPoseur and mx. punk. I know the intent wasn’t totally clear to me that you weren’t exactly saying “my rape was worse than your rape” I know there is a lot of stuff I can disagree with you on that will keep me coming back for morebecause I do really enjoy your writing. This isn’t even that much a disagreement in intent as a disagreement in effect. This is one of those things though may be my breaking point. Way to triggering for someone who doesn’t really ever need trigger warnings. I mean I can read about the most horrible things and I deal. I cry but I am ok. For me though I spent my life questioning the reality of my rape and how much worth I had. Reading this post made me do that again.

    I know it doesn’t really matter to you if I read your blog. I am just one in thousands and probably not close to your target audience. And you should know by now that my disagreements with an individual don’t mean I would ever stop fighting for trans equality. So you stand nothing to lose by losing my readership. I still feel obligated to tell you that posts that make me hurt like this one did, posts that say your experience wasn’t as real as mine, posts that require me to read the comments before I know that you didn’t actually mean the horrible things I thought you meant are too hard for me to make myself come back here and risk experiencing it again.

    • says

      It’s up to you if you want to keep reading or not. But that was the first trigger warning I ever used, on a blog that routinely deals with tough subjects. It was pretty clear this was going to be a difficult one.

      And honestly, I’m not ever going to remain silent on broaching subjects I feel are important to discuss. Even if they’re difficult or potentially hurtful for some people. Lately I’ve been taking on a lot of controversial subjects, like sexual preferences, anti-feminism within the trans community, and this, but I can’t let the fact that some subjects are emotionally loaded keep me from doing what I feel is important to do, and important for us to talk about in order to move forward.

      If you feel you can’t read my blog on account of the potential for me to deal with subjects that are difficult for you, that’s fine. That’s your decision. But I am going to continue dealing with such subject matter.

    • says

      It seems like a lot of people were triggered by this, but to be honest I don’t know what more Natalie could have done to warn people. I can understand why people keep reading past a trigger warning – I usually ignore them because the vast majority of things with trigger warnings don’t trigger me and I want to read about these issues enough to risk it. But if we do end up getting triggered… I don’t feel like we’re in any position to blame the author, when we had fair warning. I don’t know, that’s just my perspective…

      • says


        I also think that generally I treat my blog as having an already implied trigger warning, and that this is the very first time I felt the need to explicitly TW one of my own posts (the one other time I provided a TW, it was on a link leading to story dealing with forced lobotomy). This is a blog that consistently deals with difficult, controversial issues, and routinely addresses some really dark aspects of our culture. It’s a necessary element of trans-feminism (talking about the positive stuff is also a necessary element, it’s just not what I, personally, focus on as much). My readers are adults and can make their own decisions about what they feel able to read. If someone has a hard time dealing with dark, painful, emotionally-charged subject matter, this probably isn’t a good blog for them to be following. All that considered, I think people should have figured from the context of this blog that it was going to be a lot more serious than most trigger warnings.

        Something that’s occurred to me too in relation to this particular post is that I very routinely deal with subjects that are very triggering and emotionally loaded for trans readers, but as soon as I deal with a subject that can be emotionally loaded and triggering for cis women too, suddenly THAT’S when I get attacked…

        Like, what, triggering or emotionally loaded topics only count when it’s stuff that pertains to cis women? Were some of you so lacking in empathy for trans people as to not realize that my usual fare is already highly emotionally charged?

        There’s a lot of socio-cultural context tied to trigger warnings. And as with anything tied to socio-cultural issues, privilege is involved. Whose triggers do we take seriously? Whose do we ignore? Obviously we can’t put TWs on EVERYTHING that could be triggering for ANYONE, because then…well… everything would have a TW and they’d sort of stop being even remotely useful.

        Honestly, I don’t think social justice, feminist and activist communities have taken a nearly critical enough approach to what trigger warnings are and what they mean and how they operate. Maybe we should.

      • Ibis says

        Considering how charged the subjects on this blog usually are I’d say that Natalie did the best she could with the trigger warning.

        I know that any time I pull up this blog I might get triggered; because suicide comes up a lot, but I’ve learned quite a lot here and most days the information is worth the risk to me. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to come to the same decision, that’s just how I feel. Now, mislabeled fanfic that triggers me is what pisses me off.

  13. says

    The question I have been turning over in my mind lately has been this:

    At what point, or at what degree, is any violation of bodily or mental(in as much as they are separable) autonomy indistinguishable from any other “worse” violation of autonomy?

    In other words, at what point is the long-term damage done subject to diminishing returns relative to the harm inflicted, and comparable regardless of the exact nature of the harm inflicted? At what point does it all become the same lesson: your body is not yours to control; your body, your mind, your identity, is subject to the whims of whoever can overpower you, and on some level you will forever know, not suspect, KNOW someone is willing to exert that force because someone has done it, not theorized about it, at least once before.

    I won’t argue with anything you said about the rhetorical territorial encroachment. And I realize the question I’ve raised forms a crucial underpinning of any reasoning to justify that redefining of rape as “rape and everything else”.

    But I can’t not ask that question as I work through my own stuff and recognize which things actually did damage and which ones I bounced back from. And they were never the things I expected for either category.

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