Return to main Health Page

RAPE from Womankind(1972)

(Editors Note: Rape was just becoming recognized as a feminist issue when this article was compiled from a pamphlet called Stop Rape and an article in Ramparts Magazine.)

A look at the laws regarding rape along with the actual "justice" dealt out to rapists a good insight into society's view of women and the place it holds for her and expects her to keep.

Men can feel free and uninhibited to force sexual violence onto women as they receive full protection from the law, police and courts. Men know this and therefore understand that limitations are not placed on them in this area. The careful wording of the law with the broad latitude given the defense (rapist) make clear the state's intention to not prosecute rapists.

To reveal women's real status as sexual property, the law protects rapists by upholding that no man can be accused: of raping his wife. Who are the rapists? Strangers, friends, work or business associates, dates, boyfriends, and husbands.

In Michigan the prosecutor must prove that the rape was forcible and that there was penetration of the vagina. Forcible rape is determined primarily through trying to ascertain if the woman consented or not. Bruises, marks on the body, cuts or gashes all reveal assault but in the eye of the court they do not prove forcible rape and proof must be presented beyond a shadow of a doubt. Thousands of rapists have received acquittals by claiming that the victim had consented. Consent has been defined as everything from inviting the rapist to your apartment as a stall tactic, to not screaming loud enough. Anything a woman does issued against her in court. And therefore there can be no other conclusion than that the courts exist as one logical outgrowth of a male sexist social order that allows rape as one of the ways that men are permitted to oppress women.

Allowing a male friend into your home who turns violent and rapes you cannot be prosecuted in court. In the eyes of the court, allowing the male into your home implies consent for him to have sexual intercourse with you. The courts apparently see that opening your front door to a man means that the vagina is opened to his penis. As brash and boorish as these conclusions may sound, we must understand that they constitute the thinking of the society and the courts, not of women. It is no chance of fate that one man can visit another in his home, have an argument where the visitor beats up the other man and the beaten man can charge his former friend with assault. Yet a woman who has been raped in her home by a former male friend need not press charges because NO COURT will believe she didn't consent. But if rape was defined as anytime sexual intercourse took place with a woman against her will ill then husbands, boyfriends, and all men who are able to define their woman as their property would be subject to prosecution, women would be protected and have more freedom of movement and the chains of control would be dealt a heavy blow. It is exactly these things which the police and courts must prevent - not rape.

Here we come to the heart of sexism and its brutal mutilation of women. Now we must ask in all seriousness who is on trial. Women first of all may not do anything to try to prevent the rape such as trying to divert the attention of the man or direct him to a place where there is help for her nor may they do anything to prevent violence to try to save their lives, such as going limp instead of screaming, which may provoke more pain for themselves.

The requirement of the courts to prove penetration of the vagina is also established to protect the rapist and further victimize the women. The only possible way to prove penetration is through examination of the vagina and detection of sperm. There could not be a requirement in all the cannons of law with more loopholes in it than this one. What if the rapist didn't have an orgasm? There is no sperm but the vagina was penetrated. If we can't with any reliability determine penetration by examination for sperm, then what about the examination of the vagina. Although penetration may be revealed if the female is a young girl who has had no sexual experience, we know from the scientific data of Masters and Johnson that there is no way to prove penetration in a sexually mature woman unless it is done minutes after intercourse. But because the courts hold on to this requirement, women upon reporting a rape are rushed to the emergency room of the local hospital where they are initiated into the post-rape humiliation.

The treatment a woman receives after she has been raped indicates clearly that she has stepped out of her place in reporting a rape and asking for justice. The policemen responding to the call provide the first level of harassment. They apparently seek vicarious pleasure from having the women recount over and over again the details of the rape when their initial report usually doesn't require the information they are eliciting from the woman. Because the law requires proof of penetration of the vagina the raped women must be taken by the police to the hospital. Here doctors who also identify with the rapist hold attitudes toward the victimized woman from disinterest to sadism. A women reported recently that when she arrived at the hospital after being raped and visibly upset, the doctor shook her unmercifully yelling "Shut-up, you bitch!"

But the zealous interest the police frequently exhibit in the physical details of a rape case is only partially explained by the requirements of the court. A woman who was raped in Berkeley was asked to tell the story of her rape four different times "right out in the street," while her assailant was escaping. She was then required to submit a pelvic examination to prove that penetration had taken place. Later, she was taken to the police station where she was asked the same questions again: "Were you forced?" "Did he penetrate?" "Are you sure your life was in danger and you had no other choice?" This woman had been pulled off the street by a man who held a 10-inch knife at her throat and forcibly raped her. She was raped at midnight and was not able to return to her home until five in the morning. police contacted her twice again in the next week, once by telephone at two in the morning and once at four in the morning. In her words, "The rape was probably the least traumatic incident of the whole evening. If I'm ever raped again...I wouldn’t report it to the police because of all the degradation...”

If white women are subjected to unnecessary and often hostile questioning after having been raped, third world women are often not believed at all. According to the white male ethos (which is not only sexist but racist), third world women are defined from birth as "implore." Thus the white male is provided with a pool of women who are fair game for sexual imperialism. Third world women frequently do not report rape and for good reason. When blues singer Billie Holliday was 10 years old, she was taken off to a local house by a neighbor and raped. Her mother brought the police to rescue her, and she was taken to the local police station crying and bleeding:

"When we got there, instead of treating me and Mom like somebody who called the cops for help, they treated me like I'd killed somebody.. .I guess they had me figured for having enticed this old goat into the whorehouse.. All I know for sure is they threw me into a cell. A fat white matron... saw was still bleeding, she felt sorry for me and gave me a couple glasses of milk. But nobody else did anything for me except give me filthy looks and snicker to themselves. After a couple of days in a cell they dragged me into a court. The rapist got sentenced to five years. They sentenced me to a Catholic institution."

And so we come to the ultimate conclusion that this society protects rapists because of its insidious contempt for the female and all she represents but most particularly her sexuality.

This article combines articles from STOP RAPE, available from Women's Liberation of Michigan and Ramparts Magazine.


Woman symbol

Archive Topics
Classic Writings