Is it Rape? She Was Asleep and He Didn’t Use a Condom

Is it rape if a woman said “yes” previously? What if she awakened to the man having sex with her, and without a condom? After she had agreed to sex if he used one?

Two Swedish women have accused WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, of rape under those conditions. One had previously agreed to have sex with him, with condom. But on another occasion she awoke to his penetrating her sans protection.

The other accuser felt similarly violated when he reluctantly used a condom but then seemed to purposefully break it.

New York Times reporter said none of her friends felt either case constituted rape, voicing opinions like:

“It cheapens rape.”

“Why get the police into the bedroom over something like this? Grow up.”

“He sounds really sleazy, but not exactly like a rapist.”

Here’s why I disagree with our reporter’s friends.

Most obviously, rape is defined as sex without consent. When women are sleeping, they cannot give consent. A survey of young women found that most felt that initiating sex while they were asleep was rape.

And if the women gave consent only if a condom were used, a man has no right to find ways around that protection.

A woman may want to have sex if she doesn’t fear getting pregnant or a sexually transmitted disease. But behaving in ways that could create pregnancy or infection, against a woman’s will, has deeply troubling consequences.

Some doubt the allegation because one victim didn’t report to police until days later, and only after she’d learned that Assange had behaved similarly with another woman, who also felt violated.

Yet with the common view that rape comes in only one variety – “stranger jumps out of bushes using violent force” – many women who feel hurt and violated aren’t aware that what happened constitutes rape.

I find it hard to believe that anyone questions whether these women were raped.

But one exasperated male journalist queried, “So in future we need a written contract every time before we close our bedroom doors?”

Not really. Everyone just needs to understand that rape is sex without consent. Meaning, rape occurs when a woman has sex out of fear or force. If she’s unconscious from sleep, drugs, or alcohol.  And if she’s mentally or physically disabled so that she cannot consent.

And communication is key.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 28, 2011, in feminism, gender, rape and sexual assault, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. As controversial and debatable as some people may find this topic, I would definitely consider having sex with a sleeping person to be rape. Regardless if previous consent is given, a person who’s asleep or unconscious cannot give consent in the moment. If somebody is unable to or will not give consent for any reason, that is rape.

    The same applies to if somebody in the middle of sex says no, they don’t want to continue having sex. If you persist and keep on trying to have sex with them, that is rape.

    Essentially, if you can’t get an immediate and definite “yes” when you are about to have sex with someone, whatever the circumstances, you are committing an act of rape.

    P.S: If somebody claims they have “somnophilia”, aka gaining arousal from somebody who is sleeping or unconscious, stay away.

  2. Why would anyone would want to have sex with someone who is asleep? I find that weird.

  3. When I approach a topic like this, I try to put my emotional response aside for the first or second read-through, and really focus on the words and the context. In that light – my position is that Yes! the man who penetrates a woman while she is sleeping (with or without a condom, and with or without prior consent) is raping her under the definition of rape. Sex without consent. It’s very clear.

    Now, as to whether nuances exist for individuals in their definitions of rape, consent and so on – yes, a husband may feel that he is entitled to penetrate his wife (presumably intending to initate consensual sex and wake her up in this way) while she is sleeping and neither partner feel that a violation or rape has occured, but that is decidely not what we are dealing with in this case.

    In this case, it would seem that the male intentionally penetrated the woman while she was sleeping – in part to avoid using a condom, as she had previously insisted he use. What particular phsycological reasons he had for doing this are unclear, but off the top of my head I can imagine a few different scenarios, such as to impregnate a woman to pass along his genes, to dominate her by removing her choice in the matter, or simply to feel more pleasure for himself. Either way, he has taken his own needs or fantasies and held them as more valid than that of the woman. He has acted not only without her consent, but to spite her for stating her demands.

  4. No matter how anyone puts this if a man has sex with a girl while she is asleep or drunk and not in her right mind and without her consent it is definitely RAPE. Men know its rape when they are having “sex” with a girl when she’s asleep or when she’s drunk. It’s rape even if she says yes to sex, while she’s drunk and about to pass out. Men should know better. That is just an excuse that men use to make it ok in their own head.

  5. Cheuk Wing Szeto

    I think it is obviously a rape, if the man did not use the condom on purpose. It’s because the man goes against the wish of the woman. Although the woman may accept having sex with the man, it is not including get pregnant or infect a venereal disease from the man. Therefore, if the man doesn’t use a condom and let the woman facing those problems or troubles, I believe it is already a crime. At the same time, if a woman is asleep and a man has sex with her, it is also a crime because it also goes against the wish of the woman.

  6. I see the writer’s point here. To people, especially male, they wouldn’t think this can consider as rape just because the man doesn’t wear condom. In the passage, writer considers rape as having sex without consent and writer would consider the two cases as rape because the man has violated the “consent” and thus, he should be considered as rapist.
    However, in my opinion, I wouldn’t really consider these cases as rape but a disrespectful to woman. The woman in the beginning has promised to have sex with the man under the circumstances of putting on a condom. However, the man didn’t. It’s really hard to say he rapes the girl just because he doesn’t put on the condom or purposefully break it. At most, I would say that this man cheats the girl or lie to the girl and this has insulted the girls but not rape because this word is way too serious. Moreover, the latter one is very ridiculous. Condom can be broken easily because of friction, there’s no evidence showing that the man break it purposefully.
    Summing up, I would not consider the two cases as rape because I thinking the two women agreed to have sex with the man. The man is just breaking the promise of the agreement but this doesn’t mean he rapes them.

    • Well, a lot of people don’t really understand what rape is. Even though date rape can have more negative consequences than stranger rape, a lot of people think rape happens only when a stranger jumps out of the bushes and violently attacks. This protects those who rape. They don’t have to worry about negative consequences of their acts.

  7. If a man has sex with a girl while she is asleep without her consent it is definitely rape. The fact that the man doesn’t have a condom on only makes matters worse. Because the man is having unsafe unprotected sex without the womens consent or even the women knowing about it. Having unprotected sex puts the participants at a higher risk of getting an STD or the women getting pregnant. I believe that this is a big deal and should be considered rape.

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