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Simonson Says: Rape definition finally updated

There are a million other things I’d rather talk about than rape. It isn’t an easy topic, but a very important one, because sexist and narrow-minded views of what constitutes something as serious as rape are still rampant. Until recently, our own legal system’s official stance reflected such views.

Only recently has it been announced that the archaic definition of rape we learned from reading To Kill a Mockingbird — “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” — is being revised as the official definition of the crime. According to a report by Moni Basu on, the Justice Department announced on Friday that the definition is finally being expanded to protect victims besides females who are raped in the “conventional” manner. I shouldn’t have to get too graphic here for everyone to know what rape traditionally means. Let’s just say that the old definition, which, if you can believe it, has stood since 1927, would not even consider Jerry Sandusky, the Penn State assistant coach charged with 40 counts of sexually assaulting young boys, to be a rapist if he is found guilty.

The new definition will include all forcible sexual penetration as rape. We all know there are sick people in the world who have found increasingly more ways to be sick people, and these people are rapists the same as those who have been formally charged under that term. Under the old definition, women could not be rapists. Perpetrators who used foreign objects for penetration or penetrated victims orally or anally were not technically rapists. Certainly nothing done to a man or even a little boy could be considered rape. We should all be in agreement that that is seriously twisted. Rape should not be about which way the perpetrators choose to execute it, but about the nature of the crime. Do we seriously think rape is any less devastating or demeaning to victims who are assaulted with a foreign object or forced to perform oral sex?

This new legal definition also means we are finally acknowledging that men can be raped. For some reason, this still seems difficult for many people to wrap their heads around. In a society where men call young boys who are “seduced” by their attractive female teachers “lucky,” a “raped man” is considered an oxymoron. Romantic comedies can show women handcuffing passed-out men to beds and having sex with them despite their protests, and it passes as titillating humor. Our first instinct is to laugh when a man says “she forced me to have sex with her.” What on earth is wrong with us?

One reason people have a hard time accepting men can be raped is the obvious: the basic mechanics of sex. While it’s true that men must be physically aroused for sex in the usual sense to take place, it’s just ignorant to assume that, because a man has a knee-jerk physical reaction to certain stimuli, he mentally or emotionally wants sex. I know, a man not wanting sex 100 percent of the time — groundbreaking concept, I’m sure. By that logic, if a young boy experiences unwanted, embarrassing arousal in public, it’s OK to jump on him and have sex with him, right? I’m not clear whether the new law will take this into account — that nonconsensual sex is rape even if the nonconsenting party experiences physical arousal, which, by the way, can happen with women too — but we’re moving in the right direction simply by acknowledging that men can be victims too.

That the law has taken this long to be adjusted to acknowledge victims of all forms of rape as rape victims at all is a sad reflection of the sexism and double standards still prevalent in our society, but thank goodness for people trying to effect change.

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