Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Rape Shield Law-- or, Who Wouldn't Want to be Force-Fed a Chocolate Cake?

Now, I might attack the implementation or execution of rape laws in the US, but there's some times when I have to be reminded that they're there for a reason. And hey, what's Britain good for if not a damn tasty cup o' tea and a reminder about the importance of the rape shield law?

The rape shield law protects women in the good ol' US of A (and to an extent, in Canada) from having their reputations, which were determined by the opinions of peers, or previous sexual endeavors-- even in the realm of fantasy-- used to invalidate rape charges in court. This makes sense. A prostitute walking home after a night out can still get knocked over the head, dragged into an alleyway and viciously raped. A young woman who wonders what it would be like to have sex with a white man, since she's already had sex with black and Asian men, does not want any and all white men to stick it in her. And a woman who's had the gall to mention that she fantasizes about group sex with strangers does not automatically consent to have any random group of strange men forcibly spring said group sex upon her without warning or chance to consent. That, my friends, is called rape.

The woman in question met one of her rapists on MSN, chatted with him, presumably told him about her group sex fantasy, and then agreed to meet him to have sex with him. Singular. Consenting to have sex with one person does not include consent to have sex with more than one.

Let's take a moment and consider how ridiculous this is. Say Alice is talking with her friend Bob, who she's never met in real life, over the Internet about chocolate cake. "I say!" she tells Bob (because she is in Britain). "Chocolate cake is so delicious. If I had a chocolate cake, I would eat it all up right now. My diet just goes out the window when I think about cake. Mm, chocolate cake, how verily I fantasize of you!" Bob mentions that he has some cake over at his place, and she's welcome to come eat it. "Oh yes!" she says. "I would love to come over and have a piece of your cake. Where do you live again?" Bob tells her and she heads over. In the meantime, Bob has pulled together four of his friends. "Hey guys," he says. "There's this chick coming over and she said she fantasizes about eating a whole chocolate cake. Let's make her dream come true." They all agree. When she arrives, they force-feed her the whole cake.

Now here comes the question: (T/F) Alice consented to eating Bob's whole cake by admitting that she enjoys chocolate cake and fantasizes about having a whole cake to herself.

Of course not, right? We recognize that just because you are hungry and like cake does not mean that you want to eat a whole cake right now. And, frankly, to force someone to eat a whole cake without warning can have dangerous health consequences. Why do we get this with cake and not with sex? Just because you enjoy sex doesn't mean that you want it right now, just because you have a fantasy doesn't mean you want to act it out with any and everyone at any and everytime. Doing so can have dangerous health consequences, including STDs and pregnancy, in addition to emotional trauma.

Diligent readers will have noticed that whenever I mention sex I've been referring to the rapists as male and the victims as female, both in my hypothetical still-a-rapes and the cake story. I'd like to point out that the Sluts Love All Sex fallacy is a large part of why people don't take male rape victims seriously when they come forward. Since all men want sex all the time, how can you rape a man?

There's an excellent article at The Curvature on this topic. For a more recent example, last April a man attempted to rob a hair salon in a small town in Russia. The (female) proprietor of the place knocked him down, tied him up in the utility room, and raped him for three days- enough to injure his genitals. Sounds pretty gruesome, right? Look at the comments. Almost all of them are "I don't believe this could happen for a minute" or "What a lucky guy-- I wish I were in his shoes!" How could this guy not want to be raped? He is a man, after all, and we know how they are.

I mean, really, if you like chocolate cake, you should be thankful to get it whenever you do.

We really need to stop characterizing human sexuality as a big "ON/OFF" switch. Just because you are turned "ON" by some circumstance, like meeting a (singular) person for sex or canoodling in a backseat, does not mean you are "ON" to have sex with four of their friends. And just because you have had anonymous sex in the past, fantasize about sex, wear revealing clothes, or are a man does not automatically flip your switch to "ON" either. Whatever happened to nuanced conversations about sexuality and consent? Oh, right, we're not there yet.