Sunday, 15 January 2012

Updating the Law on Rape

So it seems the FBI is finally getting round to changing how it defines rape to actually include a lot of rapes it had previously ignored. The new wording now reads:

The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

I’ve read a lot about this and how important it is. It has made changes that have been well examined and talked about at length and in great detail which is wonderful to see – especially the removal of the necessity of “force” which previously was present and excluded so many rapes.

But another thing it has done is actually acknowledge that men can be raped.

This is vital and doubly vital for gay men because there is a pervasive idea that gay men cannot be raped.  After all, we want sex all the time right? A gay man is a raging sex driven monster that leaps at any and all possibilities of sex, right? So how can we be raped? If we always want sex with men (and remember, it’s any men all the time, no matter what, who or when) then how can we possibly be raped? Surely we not only always consent but are always ultra ultra eager, right?

Yeah, it should be laughable – but it remains that an ultra-common response to a gay man who has been raped by another man is “but you’re gay!” And that most certainly extends to law enforcement.
Even rape within a gay relationship – and all relationship rapes are poorly understood at best – is faced not only with the idea that gay men always consent to sex all the time, but also a pervasive belief that our relationships are entirely sexual, that sex is the only reason we’re ever with another man (and if sex is the only reason we’re together, and we always want sex, how can there be rape?). Added in the prevailing belief that our relationships cannot be happy, loving or anything other than miserable (another element that makes it nigh impossible to have any acknowledgement of domestic abuse) and any kind of reporting or acknowledgement is fraught.

In fact, if we ever consider rape and gay men, it’s inevitably considered something we will inflict on the poor straight men. The whole gay panic defence has been built around the idea that gay men are sexual predators, constantly hunting sex and a second away from leaping at any straight man who crosses our path. If rape and gay men is considered at all, it is considered as something we commit, not are victimised by.

One of the unsurprising statistics that was found in the UK is that the vast majority of men who rape men are, surprise surprise, straight. This shouldn’t surprise anyone really because rape is about power and expressing that power. Similarly, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to find out that a disproportionate number of men who were raped by men were… gay. It’s actually a not-uncommon hate crime – especially penetration with objects. And at the moment? At the moment it’s not only hard to prove that such victimisation happens – but it’s hard to have it accepted that it’s even possible.

Of course, this isn’t going to magically fix anything, not by any stretch. Nor will it add support which is usually non-existant (if you're a gay man facing rape or domestic abuse in my city then you better have some good friends or be able to get through it alone because that's all you have) Nor is this new definition all inclusive, there’s a lot that would fall through the cracks here. But at least acknowledging that this kind of rape actually exists, that these people can be raped is a long over-due step in a very long road that has long since needed travelling.

Such old and flawed laws are not just in the US – many rape laws are missing some severely vital inclusions (the UK law, for example, doesn’t see rape if a penis isn’t used to penetrate) – and they need severely dragging out into the light for re-wording