On “Real Rape” and Rape Apologists

by Cara on May 3, 2008

in assholes, blogging, feminism, misogyny, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

Rev. Stuart Campbell sent me this email in response to this post about Johnny Vegas:

Sexual harrassment

…is what you will doubtless describe this email at, since you seem to be on only the remotest of nodding terms with your marbles. However, I do urge you with the greatest of sincerity to reconsider your approach to what you incredibly damagingly describe as “feminism”. I have no idea whatever of your personal circumstances beyond the comments you make on your blog, but it appears that you’ve suffered some kind of sexual assault short of rape, but desperately wish to channel the anger of those who have been raped.

I have no desire to minimise whatever you suffered, but as someone who’s worked with several rape victims I find this behaviour deeply troubling, and rather more importantly know it to be greatly counter-productive in terms of attitudes to women. Perhaps things are different in America, where it appears to be widely acceptable to call for the murder of abortion-clinic doctors and the like, and adopt a rather cavalier approach to human life in general, but in the rather more rational environment of the rest of Western society your attitude only serves to encourage and empower misogyny and the trivialisation of all forms of sexual violence by portraying genuine victims as hysterical exaggerators. Your attitude to debate, rather astonishingly in the circumstances, only makes your position even weaker.

Regards,
Rev. S. Campbell

If Campbell actually has worked with rape victims, I offer those victims my greatest sympathies and hope that they find the actual help they need.

He also posted this on a message board. It happens every so often: a man who I’ve banned — and it’s always a man — can’t believe that some uppity woman tried to silence him. He has a penis! He has a right to say whatever he wants to say wherever and whenever he wants to say it! So in his righteous anger over my banning him, because of my totally irrational anger to something silly like rape (not being able to comment on a blog > sexual assault), he sends a whole slew of trolls my way. And those trolls leave comments like these [sic to just . . . everything]:

Your immediate banning of somone who disagrees with you in a very civil and reasonable manner does far more harm to your cause than good.

Nobody has attempted to say that people who are sexually assaulted did not experience (and continue to experience, often) a terrible ordeal, and nobody has said or even remotely implied that any form of sexual assault is less than reprehensible. However, equating an alleged forced entry with a single digit with, say, being held down and forcefully penetrated several hundred times over the course of an hour is an indefensible position.

I’ve little doubt that everyone commenting (myself and Rev. Campbell included) would (assuming the allegations are true) gladly throw the full force of the law at the fat unfunny prick for such a despicable act – doubly so for trying to make a joke of it. But we won’t know now that you’ve banned everyone, will we?

Give people with reasonably expressed points a chance, however strongly you disagree, or everything you do to support any of your causes will just entrench your opposition further.

I find he descriptions of this “comedy” act disturbing and the lack of action taken by any member of the audience or theatre staff in attendance shocking and appaling.

I do however feel it necessary to point out that what occured wasnt rape. I think it is important to highlight that the 2003 Sexual offences act classifies rape as; Intentional pentration of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person, with a penis.

This act was therefore, under UK law, not rape. It was assault by penetration, which is such penetration but with a part of the body or any other object.

Without the woman involved coming forward to press charges, sadly nothing can be done legally under this offence but perhaps with broad interpretation of the public decency laws, actions by a thrid party who was present could be brought against the performer?

By the way, this is part of the “civil” comment that the first commenter is referring to:

It’s unfortunate when the people brave enough to speak out against unacceptable behaviour are also so pathologically stupid that it serves only to completely undermine their cause. You can print as many made-up definitions of rape as you like, but the only one that counts is the one in law, and in law nothing Vegas did counts as rape. If you had him brought up in court to answer for his actions on those grounds, the case would be thrown out in seconds.

I explained this in the comments on the post, but for those who clearly didn’t comprehend it the first time, here it is again:

Rape is forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object.

* Rape victims may be forced through threats or physical means. In about 8 out of 10 rapes, no weapon is used other than physical force. Anyone may be a victim of rape: women, men or children, straight or gay.

So, folks. I don’t care what the law is. I never said that penetrating a woman against her will with a finger fits the legal definition of rape. In some sane places, it does. In many others, it does not. I don’t give a shit. In many places, a man who has nonconsensual sex with his wife has not legally raped her. But he still raped her. In many places, a man who has sex with a woman who is unconscious has not legally raped her. But he still raped her. In most places, a woman does not have to say “yes” to give consent, but simply fail to say “no.” A situation where she did not say “no” but does not want sex and did not agree to it is still rape. No matter what the law says. Rape is the nonconsensual sexual penetration of another person. It’s not that fucking difficult to grasp.

I still think that Vegas’ ass should be in jail. But I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to presume that rape charges would be thrown out. I never said that they wouldn’t be. If actually taken to court, the highest charges that he could possibly be convicted on would be those falling under sexual assault that is not rape.

But if Vegas penetrated the woman with his finger, he still raped her.

I don’t know why people can’t understand that. I don’t know why people look to the law as some kind of fucking gospel and assume that it is always right. The law is not always right. That’s why we still elect legislative bodies and expect them to do the job of passing and amending legislation — because we have not yet reached a place where laws are timeless and perfect. And I doubt with all my might that we ever will. I can only assume that they’re arguing with me on legal terms because they don’t have anything else. Nope, Vegas will not and probably cannot be tried on rape charges. I never argued otherwise. What the hell is your point?

I also never compared rape with a single digit with gang rape by a stranger with the use of a weapon. I just said that they’re both rape. And they are. Just like injecting someone with a lethal dose of morphine against their will is a hell of a lot “nicer” than stabbing them forty times, setting them on fire and watching them drown in their own blood. If I was forced to choose one of those fates, I would go with the former in a heartbeat. But both are still murder.

If using the word “rape” to describe rape is somehow denigrating feminism, then I sure as hell won’t stop until the entire movement and body of theory doesn’t have a single ounce of credibility left. Luckily, those making these remarks are not feminists, don’t know a damn thing about sexual assault and don’t care enough to do some research before spewing bile all over my blog. If someone agrees with them and calls themselves a feminist, their feminism is certainly not my own, and they are a person with whom I absolutely do not want to be associated.

I said upfront on the post about Vegas’ actions that the story had a strong affect on me personally. It did. However, the fact that this story triggered me doesn’t make me any less credible. In fact, it shows that I know what the fuck I’m talking about. And in any case, this was never about me. Campbell wants to make it about me. He thinks that I only give a shit because I’m psychologically damaged — and says that he doesn’t want to minimize what was done to me, right after calling me crazy, and right before calling me a hysterical exaggerator. (It doesn’t take very long to go from “angry woman” to “hysterical,” does it? Oh, I forgot . . . same thing.)

And you know what? I am psychologically damaged. Sadly, I know that all too well. I think that most victims of sexual violence are. That doesn’t make us crazy or incapable of rational thought. It doesn’t make us less able to see sexual violence for what it is than a man who seems to very clearly have never experienced it. Do my own experiences encourage my speaking out on the subject of sexual assault? Most likely. But I write about sexual assaults that I have ever personally experienced much more than those I have — Every. Fucking. Week. I write about them with the same anger, the same disgust, and the same profound sadness over the state of humanity. And so do other wonderful feminist bloggers, and the amazing people who regularly comment here.

I stand by what I said on the Vegas comment thread — that comments from those like Campbell keep me from talking about my own experiences in detail. The word “exaggerator” stings particularly strongly. Words like this are the reason that I have personally told exceedingly few people about the assaults, and even fewer in any amount of detail. Remarks like Campbell’s are the reason that, though they can read about it here and someday probably will, I’ve never discussed it with my own family. His words are the kind that kept me in denial for so long and that still keep me from being able to actually use the word “rape” to describe what was done to me. Words like this keep me cowardly, and are the reason that I have such immense respect for those who do publicly talk about their own sexual assaults. Because I know what happens. And honestly, as I began speaking out more and more, I knew that it would eventually happen to me, too.

I know that they’re wrong. I believe with all my heart that I am right. But while I don’t want to say it and give them the satisfaction, you know what, it’s the fucking truth. This kind of shit hurts like hell.

What kind of kick people get out of it, I do not know. I am doing my best to ensure that they don’t silence me. I have closed comments on the Vegas thread for obvious reasons. But I stand by every word I said there. I may have to close comments here, too. I hope that I don’t.

Every so often, comments that I get here throw me over the edge and make me want to burst into tears. This is one of those times and has me considering a break. I don’t know. I do know that I will not be reading the things being said about me on Campbell’s message board thread. I do know that this is my space and I only have to publish the comments of my choosing — and right now, my choosing is going to be in my own best interest, and the best interest of a safe space for those who have survived sexual assault. This has always been my goal. Sometimes my argumentative personality gets the better of me. And clearly, I need to do better at not engaging with these kinds of people.

If Campbell reads this — and he can’t, but I’m sure it will get back to him — I’d like to say that no, his email is not what we call sexual harassment. His email is what we call acting like a shitty excuse for a human being.

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{ 59 comments }

1 roses May 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I’m so sorry, Cara. You don’t deserve that. No woman does. This is your space, and you don’t have to share it with misogynists and rape apologists.

2 Paul May 3, 2008 at 2:28 pm

I’m sorry Cara

3 Ari May 3, 2008 at 2:33 pm

It’s really fucking shitty that we have to deal with people like that, but I think you did exactly the right thing. Please know that a majority of the people here believe that you’re right and wonderful and thought-provoking. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog – it’s one of those that made feminism really “click” for me.

Thanks. Stay strong.

4 Dean May 3, 2008 at 2:38 pm

I realise in my last comment I didn’t really explain myself very well, wasn’t even quite sure what I was trying to get at. You don’t have to publish that, or even this for that matter, I really don’t mind.

My real point was, there’s a lot of power in the word ‘rape’. It’s one of those few words left in our language that make people pay attention. You hear it on the news: you sit up and listen. You read it in a newspaper: you pay attention. You’ve seen this yourself – use it in a blog title and you attract The Guardian and a whole load of people on either side of the arguement. There’s still real, genuine power in the word.

There are other words and phrases that should have that power: sexual assualt, murder, serial killer, war, starvation… so many others. When you stop and think about them, they’re horrible, horrendous things that should truly shock and appaul us. But we hear them so much on the news, read about them all the time, have them fictionalised for our entertainment, that mostly we just filter them out. It’s just another person been knifed to death, just another dead soldier in Iraq. We don’t care anymore. Or at least, we don’t want to.

But ‘rape’. That word has power. It’s one of the last bastions of societal discourse that stops you dead and makes you think. So really it’s obvious why we’d want to extend that definition to thing that are currently just classed as ‘sexual assualt’. Because few people care about “just another sexual assualt”. Even though it can be just as harrowing, disturbing and damaging to the victim. So it follows that if you extend the usage of the word ‘rape’ you draw attention to more such despicable acts yes?

But that’s not the case. Honestly, I think eventually things will go the way you and others hope, and that ‘rape’ will become synonymous with any sexual assualt. But when that happens, the word loses all value. It ceases to shock, it ceases to effect people. It just becomes another horrendous crime that we filter out of our day to day lives, and that’s what I want to avoid.

It’s unfortunate and upsetting that society doesn’t care about sexual assualts as it does rape in the legal senses. But attempting to conflate the two won’t make people care more about the former, just less about the latter. I wish there was a way to achieve what you clearly want. To make people care again. But I don’t think there is. And so for me, the best course of action is to leave things be. And then at least some of the people that really need societies support, understanding and sympathy, will get it. As the alternative is that none do.

For what it’s worth, it’s already sort of happened with another word: ‘paedophile’. For a while it shocked people. Then the media started using it to describe a 17-year old boy sleeping with his 15-year old girlfriend. Now whenever the word comes up there’ll always be someone dismissing it by going ‘well he could be an evil bastard but we don’t know the details do we?’ That’s sad. But it’s happened.

5 Malc May 3, 2008 at 3:23 pm

Hi,

I am one of the “whole slew of trolls” that the subject of your post has apparently sent your way.

Now, I’d like to make a disclaimer at this point. I do not know what happened on that stage with Jonny Vegas. I have read Stuart Campbell’s post, which lead me to here, to the Guardian website and to the NotBBC website (which I read quite often any way). I also read some of the other newspaper and blog links contained on those sites.

From what I can gather the most damning “first hand account” of what happened is that Vegas gropped the woman’s breasts and fingered her vagina over her clothing.

If that is what happened, and she was as unwilling as has been made out (ie not actively saying “no” but being pressured in to it) then that’s pretty disgusting behaviour. And is a serious sexual assault. Now I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t know the definitions of the various terms, but I do not think that can be described as “rape”. That would be akin to saying that doing the same thing consentually is the same as sex.

Now I personally think there should be a difference between the 2, as although both are pretty hideous, I know which one most people would chose to have happen to them IF THEY HAD TO CHOSE BETWEEN THEM.

You may disagree with me on this, and it appears that you do, and it sounds like you have had something bad happen to you in the past, and I am sorry to hear that. I have no comprehension about how you must feel about that. And I am sure it makes you extra sensitive about this area of debate. I am sorry you have taken the course of action you have tho. Stuart can be a stickler for details, but I don’t think he should banned for what he has done. He has disagreed with you, and for you (now, this is just a suggestion, I am not trying to put words in your mouth, or ideas in your head) it may appear that he is defending rapists or being unsympathetic towards rape victims, but he really isn’t. From what he says he has known people who have been raped, and he has been effected by their experiences, he knows how they felt (or at least he saw how they reacted after the fact) and he feels troubled that people often use the same word to describe “lesser” acts of sexual violence.

I do hope you don’t take offence at my post, and I hope that I have shown that people over at World of Stuart are not all rabid sycophantic lap dogs. I think Stuart would rather debate with you in the open with both sides comments visible to see for all, but he does tend to have an abressive edge which some people tend not to like. But he does tend to argue from a point of knowledge. If you were to unban and attempt to have that argument with him, then perhaps you would see that. But then you’ve mentioned that it’s perhaps too much for you to open up the wounds. If that is the case then I ask of you (and obviously this is your website so you can do what you like) to provide the full comments of the people you have banned (as long as they are not abusive) so that the full conversation can be known.

Thank you for taking the time to read this (if indeed you have done) and I hope this can go some way to smooth the road a bit.

Malc

6 Cara May 3, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Dean:

I have no idea where you’re coming from with this and can’t exactly say I’m convinced that it’s from the position of an ally. Quite the opposite.

But you’re wrong on multiple counts.

I’m not using the word rape to draw attention. I’m using the word rape because it’s accurate.

And the word rape does not have power. It doesn’t. People don’t stop and think when they hear the words — they stop and ask “what was she wearing?” They stop and say “how do you know?” and “it’s her word against his.” When they hear the word rape, people stop and make apologies.

Rape is already a crime that we filter out of our day to day lives. About one in four American women will be raped. We don’t take it seriously. If we did, this wouldn’t happen. If we cared, men would make sure that they didn’t rape, and other men would not swarm around whenever the word is used and defend the guy.

I agree that people dismissing the word pedophilia is sad. But not for the same reasons. First of all, I’ve never heard anyone refer to the scenario you describe as pedophilia. Maybe it’s different in the UK, but here that’s called “statutory rape” and it is the phrase that we use.

You seem to think that we’re “expanding” the definition of rape. I am not, and neither are those on my side. We’re fighting for a correct definition. As I said in the post, martial rape used to be and often still is completely legal. Being raped by a friend was not seen as rape. Now these things are. I agree that people take rape less seriously now than before the definition was updated — but that’s not because the word was changed to encompass more things that are actually rape. It’s because people don’t give a shit about sexual violence.

So please don’t assume what I do and don’t want. Yes, I want people to care. I want them to care enough to recognize what rape is. And clearly, that’s not what’s happening.

7 Cara May 3, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Uh, yeah Malc, you did offend me.

First of all, for fuck’s sake, digital penetration is sex. For the love of god, you do not need a penis to have sex. And you don’t have to have or use a penis to rape. How do you think that lesbians have sex? There is oral sex, there is manual stimulation with fingers and there are props (to give a limited list). Countless straight women do these things as well. Many women don’t even like penetration at all. Do you really want to sit here and argue that all of these women are not having sex?

Secondly, as a general rule, one would indeed “prefer” sexual assault with fingers to sexual assault with a penis. As I asked in the post: what is your point? Some rapes will be more violent than others, just like some murders, some physical assaults, etc. will be more violent than others. We still call them murder, we still call them assault. So why the fuck is rape different?

And please stop patronizing me. I don’t want people to tiptoe around me because I have been sexually assaulted. Why? Because I want to know who the fuck I’m actually talking to. And because you never know who and who has not been sexually assaulted. You can always be talking to someone who has been sexually assaulted. The fact that I publicly mentioned it shouldn’t change anything.

And yes, Stuart is insensitive. He does not care about victims of rape — most rape victims do not want men sitting around judging and ranking their experiences with sexual violence. If he cared about victims of sexual violence, he wouldn’t run around calling them pathologically stupid, hysterical exaggerators, or any of the other insults he has thrown my way.

Stuart will not be welcome back on my blog, ever. I didn’t ban him until he became abusive, so you can drop that line of defense right now. Stuart does not have “an abrasive edge.” He has an abusive, misogynistic, rape apologist edge.

For the record, folks: I’ve currently received more shitty comments than good ones at this point (though thank you to those who have left kind words). These two comments were by far the most civil. It took approximately 2 seconds for one person to call me “mentally unbalanced.”

8 Reticent May 3, 2008 at 4:52 pm

People just make me want to puke sometimes.

I’m sorry they feel a need to visit your site, Cara. Thank you for blogging in spite of them.

9 Heather May 3, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Hi Cara,

I read your blog every day although I think I’ve maybe only commented once. I just want you to know that I think you are AMAZING in everything you do and say on this blog. The courage you have astounds me, as well as the way you articulate your posts so perfectly no matter how angry you are.

From what I can gather by what you’ve said about your own experiences with sexual assault, I think that what happend to me was similar: I was raped countless times by my own boyfriend, but most everyone except feminists wouldn’t call it rape because there was almost never violence (besides maybe one or two times). But when you let someone do what they will to you simply because it’s easier than fighting them off and dealing with the consequences of that, it is still rape. It took me a long time to figure this out for myself and stop feeling so bad about myself (basically, realizing I didn’t do anything wrong). And you, Cara, and other bloggers like you, helped me along my path to clarity.

So basically I just want to say thanks, and please do not stop writing because that would make me very sad (although, I can definitely see why you would want to give up and stop dealing with these assholes). You are making a difference in countless lives, and it’s much appreciated.

Oh, and ps. I promote you on my own blog every chance I get. :)

10 Melissa May 3, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Cara –
Do not let these assholes silence you. Just like others that I have commented I can understand why you would want to, but from what I know about you through your amazing writing, empathy and analysis, I have faith that we as a community can help give you the strength to carry forward.
Just as Heather said, what you do on this site gives so many of us a voice, it gives us power and understanding and comfort and…there are so many things that it gives us.
You are an amazing woman and an amazing writer. Just lean on us if you need to – we are here and we are sending you love and light.

11 corey May 3, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Cara,
You are a ridiculously strong person. A big part of my dayjob is SA outreach and education and it often feels like pissing in a forest fire and I really want to pack up some close friends and family and move to a fucking island somewhere. But every once in a while it gets back to me that someone who heard a program has reached out and started talking about what happened to her. Maybe I helped someone gain some empathy, too. Your words are so powerful. You have made a huge difference for survivors. I don’t know that there’s any getting thru to assholes who are so deeply hateful of women and threatened by any challenge to their privilege. Whatever you do I hope you take care of yourself first.

12 Dean May 3, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Perhaps the reaction to the word is another example of UK/US cultural differences then. All I will say is that there is no ‘correct’ definition of ‘rape’ or any other word. Language is fluid and changing but totally artificial. Most people here are just going by the dictionary and legal definitions as that’s the only common ground we all have – were we all to choose our own interpretations of words, we wouldn’t get very far!

As you know, and have clearly seen, it’s a very emotive topic, hence why people will attack you for the slightest mis-definition or different interpretation.

Martial rape is an interesting example, as in that case the definition of rape didn’t actually change, but rather the definition of ‘consent’, and the idea that a woman couldn’t refuse consent to a man she was married to.

For what it’s worth Chambers link) do offer an alternative definition as any sort of ‘violation’ which backs up your point, though a lot of other dictionaries disagree.

I shall agree to disagree with you on this and wish you the best of luck in changing the way people think – if nothing else you’ve opened the eyes of many, myself included, to an alternate point of view that we weren’t aware of – even if we don’t agree.

13 Sara Brigham May 3, 2008 at 6:55 pm

For what it’s worth, Cara, I think your perspective is dead on. I’ve spoken with so many fellow survivors who have been violated in their lives on all levels- physically, sexually, and emotionally- and there is never any indication among them that one act of violence has traumatized them any more than the next. Some may cause more physical scars than others, but emotional scars can’t be measured, nor can their ripple effect be quantified. I wonder if these rape apologists would make the same distinction if they were sodomized with a broomstick rather than penetrated with what they claim is the only object capable of generating trauma: a penis!

Your blog has been a tremendous source of strength and inspiration to me, and has helped me keep fighting, even though I can say I’ve never been “legally” raped. It’s easy, when fighting the naysayers day after day to start to doubt myself, especially when it’s precisely the people who are supposed to advocate for me who turn their backs. Activists like you keep me grounded and strong in my convictions. Thank you for all that you do.

Sara

14 Feminist Avatar May 3, 2008 at 6:57 pm

The new rape legislation that is being drafted in the Scottish parliament includes most acts currently defined as sexual assault (such as penetration with a digit; inapproprite fondling) as rape. It’s concentrating on lack of consent as the basis of rape rather than the form of the sexual act. So, even as we speak in the ‘UK’ the word rape is being redefined to have a broader meaning closer to Cara’s definition.

15 akeeyu May 3, 2008 at 7:01 pm

“Honestly, I think eventually things will go the way you and others hope, and that ‘rape’ will become synonymous with any sexual assualt. But when that happens, the word loses all value. It ceases to shock, it ceases to effect people.”

Yeah, here’s the thing: If the term sexual assault doesn’t sufficiently shock or affect you, that’s kind of a problem.

Regardless, if the reports are accurate, what happened to that woman was rape, and calling it sexual assault certainly won’t pretty up the experience for her.

16 kelly g. May 3, 2008 at 7:07 pm

For the record, folks: I’ve currently received more shitty comments than good ones at this point

Cara – Just delurking to send some more positive vibes your way. You shouldn’t have to put up with this bullshit, and you’re certainly showing more patience with the trolls than I’d be able to muster.

17 Jessica May 3, 2008 at 7:25 pm

Cara, your blog is extremely important to me. I have learned a lot due to your unwavering, unapologetic ability to call out injustice wherever you see it. You have supporters, and I would surmise that the majority of us have no problem with the way you moderate your website. This is *your* website, you don’t have to tolerate anything you don’t want to.

And I think your comparison with different modes of murder still being called murder is a spot on analogy. Rapes and sexual assaults are too often minimized by altering the language used to describe them, and reading blogs by women such as yourself has helped me become more vocal about fighting those types of minimizations. You’re making a difference.

18 abyss2hope May 3, 2008 at 7:29 pm

What I find typical is the approach by these type of men in positioning themselves as rational when seeking to minimize sexual violence. There is nothing rational about seeking to demean women who are actively against all forms of sexual violence. There is nothing rational in dismissing the perspectives of rape survivors as irrational.

Their arguments about the exact label are nothing more than distractions. The call for civil debates is nonsense. The debate format is desired for one purpose only — to shout down all who disagree with them. Rationally, of course. But their rationality is in reality cold-bloodedness.

Limiting rape to “penis in vagina” means that boys and men cannot be raped by other boys and men. Yet I have never seen any of these types of men coming in and informing men that when they say they were raped or when they talk about opposing prison rape (referring to men as the victim) that they are liars or exaggerators.

Their statements lack what all those who rape lack. Respect for the humanity and rights of others.

19 Ashley May 3, 2008 at 7:44 pm

Thank you, Cara.

Those who oppose liberation movements always, always, ALWAYS call those within liberation movements “crazy.”

Always.

That’s because what we’re saying doesn’t fit within the dominant framework. It doesn’t “make sense” according to their rules.

Crazy is just one more way to discount us without actually engaging our points, or offering a single argument to disprove them.

So feminists are “hysterical” and those working for racial justice are “angry.” And we’re all just illogical and irrational and we don’t make any sense at all. So we should shut up already.

Fuck that shit.

Trust yourself. The fact that you see our culture’s attempts to kill your spirit for what they are is deep, fundamental sanity, and you should nourish it. The people who swallow that nonsense are the ones acting crazy.

20 roses May 3, 2008 at 7:45 pm

To the people who are coming on here and saying: “Yes, this is terrible, yes, this is sexual assault, but no, this isn’t rape”… why? You don’t have to consider it rape, nobody here is going to force you to, but what do you hope to gain by coming on the blog of an anti-rape advocate and arguing the definition of rape with her? All you’re doing by doing so is drawing attention away from where it belongs, on the woman who was assaulted and her assailant.

21 Izzy May 3, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Cara,
For whatever it’s worth I’m so sorry that you have to deal with people like this just for expressing yourself. I’ve been reading this blog everyday for several months now and I have a huge amount of respect for you and your perspective. When the trolls get you down, please remember that there are many more of us that support and respect you.

22 thordora May 3, 2008 at 8:25 pm

I’ve never been so glad to be a female atheist. That “Reverend” makes my skin crawl.

And I wonder if any of these men have been forcefully penetrated by a finger(s) against their will? Maybe they could understand why it’s rape a little better if they were.

Disgusting.

Hang in there Cara.

23 Cara May 3, 2008 at 8:34 pm

Hey Everyone,

I just wanted to say thanks to all of you who have commented, and to those who took the time to email me. It means a lot to me and your words have felt very validating and uplifting. To reference Kelly G’s comment, the balance between supportive and shitty comments has definitely shifted by this point.

Roses, I had the same exact question . . . I didn’t ask it only because I wasn’t trying so much to start a dialogue or debate with these folks as I was trying to tell them to rot in hell. ;) But yes, it’s a good question.

Malc, your last comment — which is not getting approved — made my head explode a couple of times, what with the revelation that you commented on Vegas’ actions not being rape before knowing all that he was accused of, and the asking of how Campbell has been either misogynistic or a rape apologist when the question has been answered countless times on this very thread, and the examples are in the post. I appreciate your apology for being patronizing, but really don’t feel that we have anything else to discuss here.

24 Lyndsay May 3, 2008 at 10:51 pm

I hope you start to to get more positive comments than negative now. I can kind of understand where their arguments are coming from. I mean a narrow definition of rape (as well as sex) is really ingrained in most people’s minds and if you start to expand it, they think how far will you go? But there is no need of them to be condescending. And it really doesn’t matter if you called it rape or sexual assault. It’s your blog.

Rape is not mentioned in Canada’s criminal code, just sexual assault. If done without a weapon the max sentence is ten years. I didn’t really get why they took away the word rape but now it’s making more sense (after reading this entry, thanks). I mean what is rape? Well, you can have a broad or narrow definition but it’s all sexual assault. How traumatizing it is or how it is done matters for the sentencing but not what crime the person is charge with.

25 Lyndsay May 3, 2008 at 11:08 pm

Also, rape sometimes does seem like a powerful word though too often not. When a rape is “serious enough” to be on the news, I think people listen. I think people are also scared of serious conversations about rape because they are scared of the reality but somehow they can easily joke using the word rape. It’s a powerful word when people who have been raped don’t want to say they have because rape is awful. But yeah, it’s also not powerful in the ways you mentioned, the ways it should be powerful.

26 Jennifer May 3, 2008 at 11:56 pm

Cara, I know from experience that you absolutely do not block comments on the basis of respectful disagreement. Thank you for being so brave as to call this one like it is. And that is coming from a think skinned right-wing conservative pro-lifer. Who just happens to be female as well. Speaking out gives us power. It does not mean that we are taking on the mantle of victimhood, it means that we are rising above it. I am certain that there are many women out there that you have encouraged to speak out. Or, as in my case, take a better look at their own past. It’s a very thin line between assault and rape, that line is crossed at penetration. Assault causes substantial damage as well and him calling you an exaggerator only increases the problem. There are a few women that speak out for the sake of attention, but not many. There are many more that never say a word. This guy is showing us why.

27 SunlessNick May 4, 2008 at 12:16 am

“There is nothing rational in dismissing the perspectives of rape survivors as irrational.”

I’m guessing the theory used by these types goes something like this: experience sharpens men’s judgment, but only clouds women’s.

28 jfpbookworm May 4, 2008 at 1:32 am

You’re absolutely right on this, Cara.

Rape is any sex with someone who doesn’t want that sex with you. Sure, laws are going to have a bunch of procedural protections there, but if that’s not the rule you’re living by, you’re either a rapist or a wannabe rapist.

29 veronica May 4, 2008 at 5:32 pm

Coming out of a long lurk to say thank you, thank you, thank you.

I’ve had friends and even a therapist tell me I wasn’t “really raped” because I had no bruises and he was my boyfriend, for God’s sake! My (male) therapist told me I was appropriating a term reserved for violent acts in order to self-aggrandize.

Well, fuck that guy. And fuck all these commenters who are playing the same basic rhetorical game. Reserve the term “rape” only for those victims who really “deserve” it? What kind of sick mindset does that reveal about all of us?

And also, to that other guy up there, if the word “rape” has such power, why have all those stupid self-defense courses told us to yell “Fire!” instead if we’re being attacked?

Thank you.

30 Sparkle Pants May 4, 2008 at 5:36 pm

This is my first time reading but I just wanted to thank you for being strong and putting all of this out there. I am still not ready to publicly discuss my own experience, can’t even yet SAY what happened to more than one or two people, and rarely, if ever, talk about it. I think about it, however, every single day. It will be 11 years this summer. Well, the first time, anyway. I draw strength from bloggers yourself, and the commenters, who are all so brave and astounding. Thanks again. :)

31 dew May 4, 2008 at 5:39 pm

What makes these people feel the need to INSTRUCT you so? I see people say things I feel are incorrect on the internet all the time. I do not try to bypass blocking (which is breaking a social contract) in order to INSTRUCT them with my superior wisdom. I wonder if people like that see any connection between their forceful attempts to dominate you verbally and their dismissal of other people’s forceful attempts to dominate women physically. I sure do.

32 rhiain May 4, 2008 at 7:35 pm

Thank you for this. I’ve never commented here before, but I just wanted to tell you that your posts frequently touch me.

You don’t have to take garbage like that in your own space, and if it pisses off some asshat rape apologists? GOOD. Make htem as unwelcome as they have made the entire_world for women.

33 ilyka May 4, 2008 at 7:46 pm

This is a REVEREND sending this filth to you? Oh, I know: I should know better by now than to expect such titles to indicate anything remotely resembling mercy, compassion, or wisdom.

Nevertheless, what a contemptible ass this man is–contemptible and a fool besides, for if there is one thing you’d think a Reverend might have the sense to distinguish between, it’s the law and morality. Who cares what the legal definitions are, Reverend? That is hardly your domain anyhow. Your domain is morality, and morally, using another person’s body for one’s own ends without that person’s express consent is VILE.

Imbecile.

34 Lola May 4, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Hello Cara
I read your blog everyday and I appreciate what you write about and what you’ve said so much. I have not commented mostly because I am shy about it.
This recent turn of affairs has made me so mad and this recent comment by on of the “reverend”‘s minions is disgusting. He is a patronizing rude man and I cannot believe someone minimizing rape and sexual harrassment and saying that it makes it more okay for sexual harrassment or assault to happen is even around.
He is scum and I am so sorry if you feel that there aren’t women all around you who are proud of you for speaking up and who appreciate the voice you are giving to women who are quieter than you.
I have found that the commenters here who are against any form of equality have alternated between belittling or patronizing us for being women who have been or are in danger constantly of being raped or saying that they care and that law says it wasn’t rape. Fuck that, Cara, and please continue writing. Your blog makes my day, makes me feel stronger, and I sincerely hope you continue posting and know women are supporting you always.
xxoxo

35 Moody May 4, 2008 at 10:41 pm

Posting to support you and your wonderful blog. You’re an inspiration Cara.

36 blue_eyes May 4, 2008 at 11:30 pm

It is withoutafuckingdoubt rape. Cara is absolutely right; the legal definition is not inclusive enough. Rape with a finger does the same thing to a woman’s body as rape with a penis. Rape (sexual penetration) is about power: power over women, power over their bodies, power over their sexuality. What Vegas did fits this model. If Vegas penetrated her with his finger, he raped her in a way that most assuredly was about the power he had over the woman and the audience. This is a warped man who deserves to be identified as a rapist. If it takes an audience for him to feel powerful with raping a woman with a finger, imagine the dynamics of his “need” for power in private settings.

Cara, thank you for the post. It takes guts to carry on these conversations in the face of someone questioning your right and ability to have this kind of discussion. You don’t give up or shut up, and I like that in a blogger.

Thank you.

37 rrp May 5, 2008 at 12:35 am

I’ve just started reading your blog. Thank you for the post and your clarity. I’ve really nothing to say other than add my support.

38 ripley May 5, 2008 at 1:27 am

coming late here, but to say you are absolutely right, both in your initial statement and in your responses.

TO WHICH your trollish commenters didn’t even respond!! Even though you completely answered their points (about preferring one method of murder to another, for example, and about this mythical “power” of the word rape).

more broadly, your point about law is also wholly true. The law can be wrong. It has been, in the past, systematically wrong. It does also differ in different places. So relying on law to tell us what happened is supremely stupid, at most generous analysis.

What we are talking about is a specific kind of harm that one person chooses to do to another person. The primary aspect of the harm is that whatever is done is done without consent of the other person. if the law ever recognizes that, we will be in a better place (and maybe rapists will actually be punished instead of their victims). But we won’t get there with folks like the reverend around to apologize for the rapists and patronize the people who fight back on a cultural level, as you are doing.

brava! thanks for your clarity

39 Cath May 5, 2008 at 9:51 am

Just want to add my voice to the chorus of praise and support, Cara. It’s revoltingly ironic that the rape apologists call you irrational; I don’t know how you *stay* so rational, logical and matter-of-fact as you point out the fatal flaws in their premises.

Hang in there, but only if you want to. You are appreciated and loved.

40 Daomadan May 5, 2008 at 10:06 am

Posting to let you know I support you! Your responses to those misguided trolls were spot on!

41 MariaS May 5, 2008 at 10:33 am

ilyka, “Reverend Stuart” is just a facetious internet alias. According to the bio on his website (the forum thread that Cara links to is part of the site) he is a games journalist and a former games developer. The website & forum are just him & his mates talking about gaming and other random stuff that interests them.

Of course, from the concern for feminism & for victims of sexual violence that is expressed in his comments as quoted by Cara, one might expect to find some profeminist writing and discussion over there on his website and forums.

But unlike dozens of other feminist & allied websites out there that manifest their feminism by actually writing about feminism, patriarchy, misogyny, activism and similar, there is a puzzling absence of profeminist writing on his personal website.

Strange that. Or not, once you notice that he doesn’t post about the Johnny Vegas incident itself (you know, to express outrage and sadness and solidarity with victims of sexual violence), but only brings it up in passing as he complains about Cara banning him – in a post titled “It actually is political correctness gone mad, hysterical American screeching”. The ensuing discussion proves them all to be wankers and is only worth reading if you want to dissect a prime example of male-centric wilful misunderstanding and self-congratulatory belittling of women.

Cara, I feel so angry that these men have the arrogance to continue to hector you and to try to dominate your online space. Just wanted to delurk, as a regular reader, and let you know here’s one more person rooting for you.

42 Thealogian May 5, 2008 at 11:41 am

I’d like to know what denomination this dude comes from because I’ve got friends in and high and low places and if he’s Mainline, he could be censured. If he’s non-demoninational, he can pretty much rape 3-year olds and then blame them for being slutty and get away with it.

43 Niki May 5, 2008 at 12:44 pm

I don’t post often here, but I read your blog daily. Wanted to send some positive vibes your way and let you know that I applaud you DAILY right here from my computer!

This is BS you don’t have to put up with. This is YOUR space and for these trolls to be all whiney about not being able to post here is stupid. Hey dudes, try being silenced in all respects of life (except diaper-changing) from the moment you are born just like the hundreds of generations that came before you.

Try being completely violated and then told it was your fault or that you can’t take a joke. Maybe then not being able to post on ONE blog about something will garner my sympathy. Trolls are just pissed that they cannot shout you down like it has been done for generations.

Cara, I am glad you have taken a stand and won’t apologize for it.

44 Kristen May 5, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Cara,

If there was such a thing as a virtual hug, I would offer you one right now. Some people don’t get it. Their misogyny and privilege are just too hard to break through. They are only attacking you because otherwise they might have to accept the concept that they are not good people.

But it isn’t your fault and it isn’t your problem to resolve. They’re the asshats. You are a good, kind, empathetic blogger that I enjoy reading every day.

I know that doesn’t help…but I had to say it anyway.

Assembled Asshats:

Rape is not only a legal definition. I know…you don’t want to believe a rape occurred unless there is a conviction, some sort of last ditch effort to avoid acknowledging the existence of rape, but that is utter and complete bullshit.

That the criminal system failed to convict the defendant of murder does not make the victim spring back to life. That you didn’t get caught for drunk driving, doesn’t mean you were sober. The vagaries of legal system are well documented. Law does not equal truth or fact.

And guess what! I’ve never been raped! Not once. Fondled without permission a few times…but not emotionally scarred by the experience. So here I stand…meeting your (asshatted) definition of rational…say you are completely and utterly WRONG.

Your inability to understand that rape is an act separate from its legal status is indicative of the depth of your misogyny and privilege.

Please take 5 seconds out of your life an ponder the concept that women are full and complete human beings that should not ever be touched without permission.

45 Nick Kiddle May 5, 2008 at 3:55 pm

I wonder whether these guys feel the need to give this lecture to other guys when they say their favourite sports team got raped by the opposition, or whether it’s reserved for women actually talking about sexual assault.

46 Ellie May 5, 2008 at 11:31 pm

Cara, I just want to say that as a young feminist, I take so much inspiration from your writing. This is one of the first blogs I check every night when I come home, and one of the few I can rely on to have an unbiased, intelligent point to present that doesn’t succumb to silly bickering or just inarticulate yelling. I’ve only posted once here before, but I wanted to tell you how much you encourage me every day. Small acts do matter, even when that act is only refusing to be silenced.

Thank you so much, and I hope you know that you have the support of many, many women. As cheesy as it is: stay strong.

47 skirt May 6, 2008 at 1:39 pm

I just want to add my voice to the positive-vibes chorus. I don’t come here often enough, but I thank you for your writing, your clarity, and your strength. I cannot imagine what it takes to be visible in this way, but I’m glad you do it. I volunteer on a rape crisis hotline, and there are many times it feels like nothing. But it’s not nothing. Telling the story – the stories – is one way people heal, and being heard reinforces that healing. In fact, I’d say the two – the telling and the hearing – work in tandem. So thank you for offering up this space.

And thank you, thank you so so much for picking apart the trolls and rape apologists, for reiterating again and again what rape is, what sexual assault is, and that even though all rapes are different, they all *matter.* As someone who often has trouble articulating her own thoughts about and objections to rape culture, I appreciate you and all the feminist bloggers for helping me know what I think. Thank you.

48 Iyapo May 6, 2008 at 2:13 pm

Hi Cara,
Just posting to add my voice in support of you. You don’t deserve the shit these trolls are throwing at you. Also, I love your blog and read it every day. Your thorough coverage of rape/sexual assault made it possible for me to give intelligent advice and encouragement to a friend who was being raped by their boyfriend (she left him and is doing fine so far). So thanks for being in the blogsphere. ((hugs))

49 Sara Brigham May 6, 2008 at 2:51 pm

I’d just also like to add, Cara, that I have never made any presumptions about your past and personal experience. (Your older blog posts might say more, I don’t know.) I think it is outrageous to suggest only survivors can be passionately angry about sexual violence. All a person has to be is lucid, socially conscious, empathetic, and just. It’s the people who aren’t up in arms who are truly “damaged.”

Sara

50 Cara May 6, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Thank you Iyapo. That’s the best and most meaningful compliment I’ve ever received with regards to my writing. And it’s up there pretty damn high on the list of any compliments ever given to me.

And again, thank you to everyone who has commented/emailed. You folks are absolutely amazing.

51 tigtog May 6, 2008 at 6:11 pm

Sending some more good vibes your way, Cara. You have far more patience than I do for disruptive commentors, and it’s to your credit.

As to the alleged power of the word “rape”, it certainly used to have a lot of power in its original meaning as the theft of another man’s control over the sexual purity of his womenfolk. As soon as the law was changed to reflect rape as a crime against the rights of women rather than as a crime against the rights of men, the word started to lose its “power”. No feminist is surprised by this, in retrospect.

52 Joanna May 7, 2008 at 9:38 am

Hi Cara,

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the details of Vega’s “performance”, but I know his routine. He is a fat slob and a no-talent jerk who seems to spend most of his time drunk. If he did indeed do what its widely reported he did – yes – he belongs in jail. Here in the UK though, that would commonly be perceived as “sexual assault” rather than “rape”. Thats not to say I don’t think of it as rape, but thats the consensus at the moment. As someone mentioned above, perhaps this will change. So…I don’t disagree with you on that part.
However, I think your behaviour to people who wish to challenge your point of view is pretty appalling. Yes, its your site and you can do what you damned well please but if you don’t allow feedback that challenges your own perceptions….really, whats the point? All you’re doing is surrounding yourself with ‘right-on’ yes-women. As far as I can tell from the feminists I’ve come across, its just an excuse to do and say whatever they like with no opening for intelligent debate. Its ugly, it makes all women look angry and hysterical and it gives the rest of us a bad name. For the love of God at least allow debate on your views, else you’re just screaming into the ether. How a reputable paper like the Guardian gives you page space for this almost fundamentalist nonsense, I’ll never know. The Daily Mail perhaps would suit your zealotry better.

53 Cara May 7, 2008 at 12:00 pm

You know Joanna, you can disagree with me all you want. But please don’t patronize me by claiming that you do agree with me and then call me a fundamentalist, angry, hysterical (there’s that word again!) zealot. How you think that you can start a comment with “I don’t disagree with you” and end it with how my views should be in the Daily Mail and think that you could keep any level of integrity, I do not know. At least stand behind your convictions.

Clearly, you don’t agree with me. If you did, you wouldn’t think that there is anything up for debate. Among anti-rape advocates, there are lots of things open for intelligent debate. How should we sentence? What, exactly, should the law say? Where should we focus our education efforts? What are the best methods of prevention?

But no, I am not going to allow space on my blog for assholes to “debate” whether or not rape is bad. I’m not going to let them sit around and rank rapes for “which is the worst?” I’m not going to approve comments that viciously attack me over semantics. Because there is absolutely nothing intelligent about that, and that is fucking ugly.

If you think that I make all women look like anything, you really ought to go find some new women to talk to. First of all, I highly doubt that most women share my views. Secondly, no person can accurately represent an entire group of people, particularly when they’re not trying to.

I’ve responded to every piece of “rational” disagreement that hasn’t tried to attack me personally for my own history as a victim of sexual violence, and virtually no one has bothered to intelligently engage with the points I have raised. There is indeed a very good chance that I might not publish that rape apologist shit, anyway — but they’re not even reading the posts and responding to them. Like you, they’re going after me and not my argument, and not backing up their views with anything other than “it’s what the law says” and “I think I’m right.” And I’ve addressed both of those pathetic points. In this post. But everyone is coming here like it’s some kind of news, like they’re the first one to make the argument, and like I didn’t already provide a counter-argument with which to engage in the very post they’re commenting on! No, I don’t have time for that.

Lastly, I never asked for a space at the Guardian. They did that on their own. I don’t even know why — my post was short, angry, and there were many better, more well-written feminist responses out there. And quite fucking frankly, though I don’t blame the Guaridan and would have to be paranoid to think that this was their intention somehow, I wish that they hadn’t. I’ve made a record amount of ad money in these past few days, but I’ve also had the joy of sleeplessness and flashbacks. It hasn’t been worth it by a long shot. I didn’t ask for this, and I’d happily undo (most of) it if I could.

54 Kristen May 7, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Joanna,

Just to add to what Cara said. People disagree with her all the time on this blog. I disagreed with her on Miley Cyrus kerfuffle just a few days ago. Not a big deal.

Its sort of like this…you can come into my house and tell me that you prefer McCain to Obama and Clinton. We can argue about environmental policy or nuclear proliferation. You can insist that the Treasury Blueprint is the solution to all our woes. Whatever. We can reasonably disagree about these things.

But I’m not going to have a conversation about the Klan being a productive part of society. Or one that argues that kicking small children is part of growing up. And I’m not going to have a conversation in which a person tries to absolve another by denying rape by definition.

Any of the above will result in a visitor being bodily removed from my house. Not because I dislike contrary opinions, but because the contrary opinions evince the underlying hatefulness that I want nothing to do with.

55 Tali May 7, 2008 at 6:29 pm

I just wanted to chime in (far too late) to offer you my support. I’m incredibly grateful that I have this blog to come to for intelligent insight on and discussion of so many of these hugely important issues. I’m continuously amazed by your patience and willingness to defend your point of view, no matter what kind of awful shit you get thrown. Know that you make a measurable difference in your readers’ lives each day, and we are all so thankful. Enjoy your (well-deserved) break!

56 angela May 8, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Hi Cara,

I’m chiming in late, too. I was raped by digital penetration when I was 14 years old. I wanted you a clear thank you from from someone who’s had this happen. The people who are saying that this is anything but rape are wrong, and frankly they’re scary. Thank you for speaking out and speaking the truth.

I love your blog. Keep doing what you do.

57 Cara May 8, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Thank you, Angela. I was 14, too.

58 Cici October 23, 2008 at 3:22 am

Rev. Stuart Campbell can stuff a shit filled sock in it. Anyone attempting to argue the definition/meaning of rape obviously has never endured the experience. Therefore if you’ve never experienced it than you don’t know what your talking about. More over anyone attempting to argue such a point in a discussion with rape victim is a cruel and blindly ignorant fucking asshole. All of which nullify any points attempting to be made such toxic dimwits.
That jackass may have counseled a few women through their experience but that doesn’t mean that he has the right to speak for them or for their experiences. The fact that he has counseled such victims and can say such things proves he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, lacks the sensitivity to even remotely understand it, and didn’t fully understand what those women he “counseled” were going through.
I don’t care what the law says in the USA, in the UK or on Mars. And I find any debate on what is used – penis, finger, broomstick, chopstick, paperclip – in an act of a rape to be disgusting. Rape is rape. Period. And until this act is no longer committed in society I don’t feel that we have the right to call ourselves civilized.

Don’t let him or any other trolls get to you. Keep up the good work and don’t take in any of that crap. People like that have no right to speak for this issue.

59 SunlessNick November 10, 2008 at 11:49 pm

But ‘rape’. That word has power. It’s one of the last bastions of societal discourse that stops you dead and makes you think. - Dean

If that’s really true – and other commentators have pretty much demolished that – but even if, isn’t that a reason to use it? Why shouldn’t crimes against women be referred to with powerful words?

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