Foucault has argued that one of the worst parts of being raped is the stigma. The after-math. The idea that it’s a worse crime than regular assault causing grievous bodily that makes it seem as though getting past a rape and moving on with one’s life is impossible , or at least nearly so. Yesterday, we discussed this in my feminist political theory class. It’s a view I have long held myself. The view that rape is a “special” form of assault goes back to patriarchal beliefs that a woman’s sexuality essentially is her self-worth. All she is “Is” sex. The idea that women must be pure and then only have sex for reproduction is what makes rape such an appealing crime of anger, because when you force a woman to have sex with you, you defile this purity. Even marital rape is associated with the idea of women as only having a very conservative reproductive sexuality, as this is what makes a man think he has a wife to take his wife sexually whenever he wants.
Don’t fool yourself, rape laws are gendered. They are imbued with male control over women. The idea that a husband is the only one with a right to touch you. Male rape is not a factor here as no one I know seems to think men can be raped by women and men who are raped by other men often feel so ashamed to have been sodomized they never report. Rape laws are thus constructed as retribution for the innocent flower who has suddenly become damaged goods. If you were already damaged goods (ie. If your skirt was short at the time of the attack, give up on EVER getting any justice, because the court will think you were “asking” for it).
I have often heard friends who are feminists claim that rape is the “worst” thing that can happen to a woman, but what I want to know is, what service does this view do for women who have been raped? If it’s the worst thing that can happen to you, then publicizing that just makes it an even more appealing way for people to use rape as a form of defilement and an outlet for anger. If we saw rape as a terrible attack leaving grievous bodily harm, just like any other attack that doesn’t involve sex but involves violence, then perhaps we could disempower the rape narrative somewhat? After all, the idea that you have ruined a woman’s whole life, that she can never completely recover or enjoy sex again which we get from numerous media outlets and women’s organizations just makes rape look like a better option for woman-haters.
I am not questioning that rape is a terrible crime. I am not implying that being assaulted sexually doesn’t have different traumatic effects than being stabbed in the shoulder with a switchblade. Obviously, the specific nature of any crime makes it traumatic in its own way. Perhaps someone who was raped will have trouble enjoying sex, just as perhaps someone who was assaulted in a race riot by the police in France might have trouble being in large crowds or trusting authority figures ever again. Yes, everyone who is assaulted needs and has the right to counseling that helps them work through whatever traumas they experienced in their attack; however, in categorizing sexual assault differently from other crimes on a legal level, we have created a category of special crime. We have established a unique trauma that renders women “rape victims” for the rest of their lives. Rather than saying each rape is different just as each attack causing grievous bodily harm is different, but at the end of the day, they are all violations of the body, we have a set of patriarchal laws that reflect how important it is for a woman to have as few sexual partners as possible.
I see rape as a hate crime because we make it one. Women’s self-worth is still so tied to our chastity that raping them is seen as the ultimate disrespect and defilement. Perhaps we should change that…Perhaps the idea that being raped is the worst thing that can happen to a woman - a fate WORSE than death - is a self-fulfilling prophecy?