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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Guest Opinion: Rape, in other words

A part of me might tell you that I once dated someone who felt differently than I did about the physical aspect of our relationship. Yet another part of me might tell you that I was raped.

What does the term rape actually mean? That’s what I’m trying to figure out. What happened to me is this: I felt forced to have sex. I was consistently asked to have it despite how often I explained that I didn’t want to. I felt like we couldn’t make out without the expectation that it would lead to intercourse. I was not reassured that he would be in a relationship with me if I refused to have sex. Anything sexual that he did for me, I felt that I had to do the same for him or I was being selfish.

Does this fall under the definition of rape? From my understanding, rape is any type of sexual intercourse that is forced upon another person. Most importantly, there is a lack of consent on behalf of someone involved. I consider agreeing to have sex because someone involved feels that they have no choice to be a lack of consent. I consider silence to be a lack of consent. Especially when that silence is a result of giving up.

What is important to realize is that rape doesn’t have to be violent or physically forceful to still be considered rape. It doesn’t have to be between strangers, between people with a significant age difference, between people of opposite sexes. Rape exists in many forms. What happened to me was masked by what we both believed, at the time, was a relatively healthy relationship. It happened even though outside of our sex life, we went on dates, cooked each other breakfast, talked constantly. It happened despite how much we cared about one another.

Is it my fault then, if I stayed in the relationship anyway?

Sometimes I feel like it was. I don’t think he ever had bad intentions. The blame could fall on these biological differences, or the ways in which society and the media says to treat these differences — namely, that it wasn’t his fault that he wanted to have sex, it’s just nature. Who or what is really at fault is an ever-consuming question, so if I knew the answer I wouldn’t be writing this article.

But here is what I’ve realized — it doesn’t matter who takes the blame or whose fault it is. Whether I should have or not, I went through with it because I felt like our relationship, or his happiness, or both, depended on it. I was led to believe that going along with sexual intercourse and being pressured is normal because it happens to everybody. I am not condemning sexual intercourse in a relationship; I am condemning sex that is not consensual, because that is rape.

Rape is a heavy word, and I don’t mean to undermine anyone’s experience that was more forceful than mine. I am not trying to equate my experience to the severity of anyone else’s. Why I’m arguing that the word rape applies is because what I went through crossed into the realm of exploitation, and I want to utilize the intensity and enormity of the connotations of rape to draw attention to the fact that I was physically and emotionally violated. I want to use this word because this kind of violation occurs too often, and just because it is common does not make it acceptable.

What I’ve taken from this experience is the need to perpetuate respect. I don’t know how to deconstruct society’s norms and expectations, but I can start by asking anyone who’s read this far to respect your partner, if you have one, or to respect one in the future. Respect each other’s wants and needs, and respect yourself. I think I wanted to respect my ex’s wants and needs by giving him what he asked for, but I violated my own to do so, and disrespected myself in the process. If not being intimate would have violated his wants and needs, then we weren’t in the right relationship. The relationships worth keeping are based on respect, and love doesn’t mean anything without it.

In other words, we are all worthy of respect. I learned that the hard way, but no one else should have to.

NICOLE LESNETT is a fourth-year international relations major. She can be reached at nelesnett@ucdavis.edu.


  1. Roberta, thank you for your sharing your thoughts on this. You brought up an interesting distinction that I had never considered until now- the difference between feeling forced and being forced. Before I read your comments, I truly thought that they were one and the same. I see now that they could be two separate entities, and if you believe that an experience has to be the latter to be considered rape, then perhaps you wouldn’t classify my experience under that term. If you don’t believe what happened to me falls under the term rape, I respect that. I will not tell you what to think or how to define the concept.

    But if I may, there’s a few things that I was hoping you would take away from the article that perhaps I didn’t make clear. I am not trying to trivialize the word rape, I am questioning the preconceptions of what it is commonly understood to mean. I don’t think that there is any sort of clear cut qualifying or disqualifying factor that makes one experience rape and not another. I think it encompasses a whole range of violations, violence, and pressure that are all blatant forms of disrespect, and only the person who is affected has the right to determine the severity of the situation and how they feel about it. I hope you realize that I never wanted to be in a situation that could ever possibly be construed as rape, but the classification that I, or you, or anyone else gives it doesn’t matter to me. Regardless, what happened shouldn’t be acceptable. The point of this article is to raise awareness and advocate for the respect that is so often lacking when it comes to intercourse. If anyone feels disrespected in an intimate situation, they shouldn’t have to belittle their own experience because it doesn’t seem like the traditional stereotype of rape. Common expectations concerning sex should be seriously questioned and more openly discussed because what can be hurtful is so often thought of as normal.

    Anyway, please feel free to email me if you would ever like to discuss this further. Noam, thank you very much for your insight and kind words; I really appreciate everything you said.

    • You were wrong Noam, she really is trying to label her experiences “rape.” Do you think your boyfriend deserves to go to prison, Nicole?

      Rape =/= disrespect. Rape = force, lack of control, and terror. Like it or not, but you are trivializing the word through your casual and inappropriate use of the term. You had sex with your boyfriend because you didn’t want to feel selfish. That was your choice and is not rape. You have sex with your boyfriend because you worry that he might leave you if you don’t. That was your choice and is not rape.

      What you’re describing is a pushy boyfriend with an insecure and overly co-dependent girlfriend. It’s certainly not legally rape. If you brought this story to the police they would probably laugh at you. I don’t believe that it’s morally rape, either. So long as you have a reasonable choice regarding whether or not to have sex, then your free will is still intact, and you haven’t been forced.

      • Your summation of my experience is inaccurate. This is not the place to go into the explicit details of what happened, but I will tell you that there was not free will or reasonable, voluntary choice involved. I did not let my ex talk me into anything; I stated many times that I didn’t want to, and it was disregarded. I did not give consent. I did not have control. And I am the only one who has the right to determine that.
        Again, I thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would prefer not to discuss something this personal through such a public medium any more than I already have, so if you would like to continue the conversation please email me.

        • Yeah, I’ve heard some feminists argue that any and all pressure for sex is rape, but I think it’s more complicated than that. Some amount of pressure is inevitable, and I don’t think it necessarily deprives you of a free choice. If a free choice is a choice without pressure, or a choice without consequences, then a free choice does not exist.

          None of us want to hurt or disappoint the people we love, for instance. None of us want to be thought badly of or abandoned by our friends, either. So if someone we care about asks us to do something for them, there will be some inevitable pressure to comply with their request. We don’t want our friends to think that we’re selfish jerks, after all.

          Yet, another person can decide that they don’t like us anymore for any reason, or no reason. These purely social consequences are a constant risk in any human interaction, and I don’t think they infringe upon our rights or deprive us of free choice in our interactions.

          We have a right not to killed, beaten, kidnapped, or stolen from. But we don’t have an unconditional right to another person’s company or affection. If someone makes it clear that they will only continue to like us/ hang out with us if we do X, Y, Z, then I think we are free to take it or leave it. Personally, I wouldn’t care too much about what a jerk like that thinks of me, anyway.

    • Noam:

      “I think that you are afraid that this piece will lead people to think of rape differently, and especially that they will want to play it down as just a transaction between someone who is reluctant and someone who is aroused. This would be a terrible disservice to our campus community, if this is in fact what this article was doing.”

      He doesn’t think what you describe is rape, either. Rape is rape because you have no choice. You did have a choice according to what you’ve described. You voluntarily decided to have sex because you didn’t WANT to feel selfish. You voluntarily chose to have sex because you didn’t WANT your boyfriend to leave you.

      The key word is “want.” You chose to have sex in exchange for things that you wanted. It’s different from ‘duress’ as the term is defined under the law. Duress represents a threat to your rights as a human being, not your wants. Someone who threatens to kill you or beat you is placing you under duress. That person is threatening to violate your human rights, and you thus have no choice but to comply with their wishes. Someone who threatens not to like you anymore isn’t threatening your human rights. They’re merely threatening to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and/or association.

      I agree that a good relationship is founded on mutual respect, and I agree that it’s wrong to try and talk a reluctant partner into sex. My main problem is your use of the word rape. I feel that you cheapen the word by using it so casually. Rape represents a horrific and violent violation of a person’s autonomy. The horror of rape should not be trivialized by comparing it to letting your boyfriend talk you into sex.

      I appreciate much of what you say. I just feel that some of it is very insulting to rape survivors.

  2. Roberta, do you see what you are doing? You are serving as the personification of the exact social pressures that Nicole described. This is a person who has bravely come forward to discuss a topic that is extremely personal. She is providing insight that is both intelligent and well-thought out. She is not coming forward and redefining the word rape-she is reflecting on the fact that her past experiences made her feel unsafe in a way that is not often discussed.

    She is not demonizing the man she shared this relationship with. She is analyzing her own behavior and role in this issue as much as his. She is providing Aggie readers with a perceptive look at a social phenomenon that is affecting people in very real ways.

    You are comparing someone’s traumatic experiences and internal struggles to to doing someone a favor, to showing up to your job? This is a young woman’s confession, it is her interpretation of just one facet of an extremely complex issue, and it is her own deeply personal expression of how an experience has changed the way she views the world. You are not entitled to this public abuse of her opinions. You are in no place to challenge her logic. Most of all, you have no right to undermine her experiences.

    I think I understand where you are coming from with this commentary. Rape is a brutal, disgusting and atrocious act against another human being. IF there is one thing that we have learned from public comments the political arena in recent months, it is that there are some terrifying misconceptions about what rape is and especially about how it affects women. This unconscionable act should never be minimized and its victims cannot be belittled. Is this what you think Nicole is doing? That she is reducing rape to some pedestrian act of unbalanced reciprocity? Not only have you have completely missed the point of this piece, but you are tearing apart, decontextualizing and subverting Nicole’s words.
    I think that you are afraid that this piece will lead people to think of rape differently, and especially that they will want to play it down as just a transaction between someone who is reluctant and someone who is aroused. This would be a terrible disservice to our campus community, if this is in fact what this article was doing. I think your comments-your dismissal of nicole’s feelings and her very brave reflection on this topic-are much more hurtful. You are advocating for the people out there who have power over others and use that power for their own ends. You are telling your readers that any discomfort or fear they feel in intimate situations is illegitimate, and you are questioning the validity of someone else’s pain.

    What I took away from this article-which is something that I think you missed – is that this idea of everyday disrespect and pressure have a place in a discussion of rape and women’s reproductive rights. Rather than limiting this discussion only to instances of violent coercion, why can’t we expand it and create new terminology and safe places for people to come forward about how they have felt unsafe or vulnerable in their own relationships

    Your words are incredibly hurtful, but I think you might have had good intentions. I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you are looking to stand up for the rights of women rather than angrily reproaching a woman for own self expression.

  3. It depends on why you felt like you had no choice. If you consent to sex because they think that it’s what’s culturally expected, I wouldn’t call that rape.

    Think about it this way: if a friend asks you to help them move, and you begrudgingly agree to do so because you don’t want to look like a jerk or upset your friend, is said friend guilty of slavery?

    The point is that there is always some kind of social, cultural, or peer pressure on our choices, but unless someone is under actual duress then their choices are still their own.

    If someone consents to sex with their SO because they’re worried that their SO will leave them if they aren’t sexually satisfied, should said SO be imprisoned for rape? Of course not. You don’t have an inherent right to be with your SO. So if he makes having sex twice a week a requirement for your relationship, then you are free to accept or reject that condition as you choose. Nothing is forcible about such a condition. Life is about making choices.

  4. Coercion equals threats and physical intimidation. Saying: “Please baby, I just want to feel close to you.” a few times doesn’t rise to the level of forcible compulsion.

    Feeling a sense of obligation doesn’t always mean that you no longer have free choice. I feel obliged to do a lot of things in life I don’t really want to do: go to work on Monday mornings, attend my friend’s play, loan my sister money because she’s having trouble finding work after college, etc.

    I have, none-the-less, freely consented to all of these things. My boss isn’t guilty of slavery because I feel obliged to go to work. My friend isn’t guilty of kidnapping and unlawful detention because I felt obliged to see a musical she was in, despite not really wanting to. And my sister isn’t guilty of theft because I felt an obligation to help her out.

    Our decisions are always under some kind of pressure from the outside world, but unless that pressure rises to level of actual duress, then a free choice has still been made.

  5. OMG, you can’t possibly be serious.

    In the future, before you attempt to discuss such a serious topic again, you might want to avail yourself of some basic information on the definition of terms that you intend to use. You don’t seem to understand what words like “consent” and “force” mean.

    Let’s be clear: nothing you describe comes even close to being rape. By the sounds of it, you voluntarily chose to have sex with your boyfriend because you were worried that he might leave you if you didn’t. As evidenced by this sentence: “I was not reassured that he would be in a relationship with me if I refused to have sex.”

    Here’s the thing: you don’t have an unconditional right to be in an intimate relationship with any other person. You don’t have to sleep with him, but on the same token, he doesn’t have to be in a relationship with you. It sounds like you chose to consent to sex in order to preserve your relationship with this man. That is a free choice that you voluntarily made. It doesn’t implicate any of your fundamental human rights, and there’s nothing forceful or non-consensual about such a choice. You didn’t need a relationship with him, you WANTED a relationship with him. As such you willingly chose to trade sex for something you wanted.

    Nothing you describe sounds non-consensual. You made your own choices and the responsibility for those choices falls on you and you alone. He never physically forced you or threatened you with violence. As such, you were not forced. Consent means to express an agreement by choice. It doesn’t mean that you really wanted to have sex. Make better decisions in the future, and, in the mean time, kindly stop trivializing the term “rape.”


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