My friend Miri recently expounded on why rape and robbery are two different things. Her article is excellent and I highly recommended it, but it made me think a bit about why some people automatically go to theft when talking about an analogy for rape. And I think I’ve figured out why.
Rape is a violation – an entry without consent. In this way, perhaps an analogy to breaking and entering might be somewhat relevant, although similarly imperfect. So why do so many people talking about this go to theft? Not only does theft involve a violation, something has been taken.
For those of us who have experienced rape, something has indeed been taken – innocence, perhaps, or a sense of self-control/self-determination. But I don’t think that’s what people who talk about rape-as-robbery have in mind.
These tend to be the same people who think in terms of ideal rape victims – of pretty young women who are drugged and attacked by lust-filled men who need a sexual outlet. It’s not too far of a stretch, then, to imagine that what they imagine has been taken is the victim’s virginity.
I feel this is why so much of the discourse about rape in our society is centered around the idea of taking, and why so many people view it as something that makes someone impure. And what’s frustrating is that rape does involve taking – but it’s never the thing that people imagine has been taken. Virginity is a meaningless concept. A man who is anally raped by another man imagines that his “manhood” has been taken from him or harmed in some way. Rape doesn’t take any of these things away in a meaningful sense.
Rape takes away self-determination, peace of mind, and in sadly too many cases, innocence. But these aren’t the things our society values. These are the things that rape steals from its victims. Which is essentially why the rape-as-robbery analogy falls flat for many of us. How does one protect against their self-determination or innocence being stolen from them? By definition, the very protection against that act means we are already robbed of our self-determination.
Put another way: the existence of rape in and of itself is part of the robbery that rape is supposed to represent. Theft, robbery, or whatever other property crime one might want to substitute does not, to my mind, invoke a similar threat to one’s personhood. Thus why I say that rape is not robbery. It is far, far worse.