Rape is not sex.
Sexual assault isn’t sex, either. And neither is sexual abuse. Why is this so hard to understand?
Sex can be many things but one thing sex must always involve is the freely given consent of each participant. The inclusion of consent must always be a key consideration when we are employing the word sex. Without free and willing consent, sexual activity is no longer sex but a form of assault, a criminal act and a human rights abuse.
Rape is not sex because free and willing consent was not given, and, most likely, not sought either. Sexual assault isn’t sex because, once again, consent was either not sought, not obtained or not given freely. Sexual abuse is not sex because once again consent was either not sought, not obtained or not given freely.
This bears repeating. In fact, it requires repeating ad nauseam until it becomes an obvious, readily understood, self-evident distinction. Theft and borrowing are not the same thing. We all understand this. What is the difference? Both involve the possession of property being transferred from one person to another. The difference is that one act involves the consent of the owner of that property. The other act does not. The distinction between these two acts is obvious, readily understood and entirely self-evident. It is not contentious, it is not conflated. We don’t accidentally say borrow, when we meant stole. So why can’t we so readily maintain the same distinction when it comes to discussing rape?
A rape case before a court of law, is not a sex case. Child sexual abuse is not sex with a child. An adult cannot have sex with a child because a child can not give consent freely. An adult can only rape a child. It really is that simple. The same applies to people who have a cognitive impairment and to people who are asleep, unconscious or affected by alcohol or drugs. They cannot give free consent. This is the law.
The damage that is done when we choose to use the word sex, when what we actually mean is rape, is enormous. The conflation of sex and rape has incredibly dire consequences. It makes rape harder to police and harder to prosecute. It aids perpetrators to commit their crimes and to get away with them. It prevents victims from clearly understanding the crime that has been committed against them and discourages them from coming forward and reporting the crime to authorities.
It is all of our responsibility to be aware of the language we use and to make the right choice. Rape is not sex. If we think about it, for even a moment, we all know the difference. It’s not tricky. It’s not murky. It’s not hard to understand. We know to ask someone before we borrow their television from their house. We know that if we don’t ask, we have just committed a criminal act of theft. It’s the same principle. If you do not have the free and willing consent of your sexual partner when engaging in sexual activity, then you are not having sex but are in fact committing a serious criminal offence and a grave human rights abuse.
Don’t let your language support crime. Call rape, rape. Only use the word sex to describe activity that unequivocally, undoubtedly, uncontestedly involves the free and willing consent of each and every participant. Your words have real consequences. Make sure those consequences support the prevention of violence, not the occurrence of violence. The choice is yours.
- Sexual assault laws in Australia, Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault
- Confusing Sex & Rape, Arthur S. Brisbane, New York Times