September 3rd, 2012What Is Rapeby Kevin O'Brien |

This is a post from my own blog of a few days back.  While I mirror many posts both there and here at the Ink Desk, I leave the more contentious ones at my own blog.  Anything that's not about culture or the Faith, I don't share with the Ink Desk, nor posts that are potentially too controversial.  I try to keep the biggest headaches I generate away from Joseph Pearce and my fellow Ink Deskers!

So I had not shared this one. 

But my fellow Ink Desk blogger Dena Hunt wrote "Blaming the Victim", a post here on the Ink Desk that has attracted several comments.  I feel that Ms. Hunt, a fine writer and a very smart lady, was nevertheless confused about this issue and said some things that I think are potentially very harmful to victims of sexual abuse. 

So herewith is my post that touches on what I had hoped was a simple definition - WHAT IS RAPE? 


Todd Akin issued a very heart-felt and simple apology for his statement of a few weeks back.  In an interview, he had asserted regarding conception and rape, "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down", which angered folks for two reasons

  1. Did Akin imply with the phrase "legitimate rape" that some rapes are not legitimate?  Was he implying that statutory rape, for example, is not "legitimate rape"?
  2. Was he implying that if a woman conceives during a rape that somehow that rape was not "legitimate"?


And now just this week Fr. Benedict Groeschel has stumbled into the subject in a similar manner, by saying that sometimes a vulnerable adult can be "seduced" by a minor as young as age 14.

Fr. Groeschel's comment raised a firestorm of protest, and Fr. Groeschel quickly issued his own simple and sincere apology and retraction.

But both the Akin case and the Fr. Groeschel case have something in common - the implication that statutory rape is anything other than rape plain and simple.  As a Facebook friend commented to me, "It is a legal fiction that statutory rape and sodomy are always non-consensual."

A legal fiction?  This is quite wrong.  "Gay marriage" is a legal fiction; lack of consent in statutory rape is not.

As I wrote on Facebook,

Sexual contact between an adult and a minor is always non-consensual. Minors do not have the capacity to give consent. Thus statutory rape is always "legitimate rape", to use Akin's phrase. The law draws an arbitrary line - 17 or 18 years of age in most states - but without discussing how valid it is to choose any given age as the age of consent, the natural law behind such cases of statutory rape is valid and compelling. Minors are always victims of a violent act when adults molest them, even if, say, a 16-year-old minor behaves in a provocative way toward an adult.  The minor is, by the nature of his or her limited capacity, always a victim. Fr. Groeschel was simply wrong in asserting that adults like Sandusky can be "seduced" by under-age victims.

... and I should add, Fr. Groeschel  quickly admitted that.

Indeed, it is quite within the power of kids as young as 14 to act in a very seductive way toward an adult.  And this is always a sign of a serious emotional problem, and often an indication that the young person has already been abused and is acting out.

But regardless of what the teen-ager is doing, it is always the responsibility of the party who has full capacity to refrain from taking advantage of the party who does not - in other words it's up to adults to refrain from raping children.  This is common sense and morally self-evident, to Catholics, Protestants, atheists, and I hope all human beings; but, apparently, even Bishop Finn doesn't get it, for when commenting on the abusive priest of his diocese, Fr. Ratigan, he said simply, "Boys will be boys," or words to that effect - though the person who quoted him as saying such in a legal deposition is now trying to alter her testimony.

At any rate, I'm surprised that there is this much confusion over a simple matter - what is and is not rape.  It's also a shame that sex abuse becomes a political subject.

Indeed, while I feel that Clarence Thomas was almost railroaded by Anita Hill back in the 90's, what that case at least pointed out was that any relationship between two parties where one party has a significant advantage over the other - either an adult over a child, an employer over an employee, or an older man over a young woman - is potentially abusive.  Sexual harassment is a real thing.  People use their advantaged positions over others to gain sexual favors all the time - which is always inexcusable, especially when it's an adult victimizing a child. 

Let us at least keep this much of our sanity, regardless of our politics.  Let's defend the most powerless among us - a group that once included all women, but that now includes (or should include) children, babies in the womb, the sick and elderly, the handicapped, the poor, and all who so easily fall prey to the carnivores among us.

And let us be clear as to what rape is, in all its forms - a horrible and life-changing crime.


Likewise, I hasten to add, CHILD ABUSE is CHILD ABUSE, even if that child is a teen ager.  To play games with this fact is quite dangerous.

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  • September 10 2012 | by Dena Hunt

    I think, Kevin, that the only one who might be accused of questioning the definition of rape was Akins (by appending the qualifier "legitimate" to it.) But I don't think that even he deserved the bludgeoning he received. I thought that the man was simply ignorant about women and their bodies, but not a misogynist.
  • September 12 2012 | by Titus

    This is inane. The incapacity of a minor to consent to particular conduct (whether sexual or contractual) is itself a legal fiction. It is an arbitrary line drawn for the purposes of maintaining a workable legal system. It is not indefensible, or meaningless, or irreflective of reality, but it is a legal fiction. Everyone knows this is true, because we routinely admit that minors may make all sorts of decisions, even if we are sometimes hesitant to enforce the full ramifications of them. (Of course, we do not always do this: we routinely prosecute and incarcerate, sometimes for very, very long times, minors who commit crimes.) It is not a legal fiction that statutory rape is always non-consensual. It is a legal fiction that minors cannot consent to legally significant conduct.

    Furthermore, the comments in question do not relate solely to statutory rape at all. The statements relate much more to the degradation of rape laws in this country, which have taken a terrible, violent crime and re-defined it downwards so that it often encompasses consensual conduct that is later regretted.
  • September 14 2012 | by Kevin O'Brien

    Titus, are you a parent? If so, you are the first parent I have met to defend statutory rape. Of the people here and on my own blog who keep insisting that statutory rape is a legal fiction - and there have been perhaps eight who have done so - none of them has any children.

    Also, if, as you say, "It is not a legal fiction that statutory rape is always non-consensual," then what are you upset about?