Only Virgins Can Be Sexually Assaulted

Indians protesting the way rape survivors are treated.

Indians protesting the way rape survivors are treated.

Once upon a time in America only virgins or married women could be raped, people thought. In some places people still think so.

The problem comes from failing to see the world through the eyes of victims.

And so an article from the 1952-53 Yale Law Journal explained that sexual assault is illegal because,

Women’s power to withhold or grant sexual access is an important bargaining weapon… it fosters, and is in turn bolstered by, a masculine pride in the exclusive possession of the sexual object… whose value is enhanced by sole ownership.

Even though this is the crime women most fear, outside of murder. 

But that was Yale Law back when their editorial board was 95% male. And back then, psychologists were pretty much only men. And they pretty much only studied men. And lawyers and judges and juries and religious leaders and media publishers, editors and writers were mostly male too. So ideas that came from their perspective were more likely to get out into the public.

And then we all hear those ideas so much that we tend to internalize them.

Men aren’t bad. But they seldom have the perspective of rape victims.

This problem has been affecting recent cases in India.

For instance, a judge presiding over an infamous Mumbai gang-rape case complained that victims are still being tested to see if their hymens are freshly broken. The test has been condemned by India’s Supreme Court and banned by India’s Health Ministry. But human rights lawyer, Vrinda Grover, suspects that 98% of Indian jurisdictions still seek this evidence,

Partly out of habit, partly they’re taught the wrong thing, and very largely because there is prejudice and bias (toward rape charges).

The Mumbai victim in question had been hospitalized for several days after the attack. But if she wasn’t a virgin, maybe it wasn’t rape?


After far too many brutal attacks these victims are fired from jobs and driven from villages as their families turn away.

Whether it’s the United States “back then” or India right now, true justice asks us to adjust our vision.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
What Do Rapists Want?
Why Maryville Citizens Defend Rapists
I Made Fun of Feminists… Before My Abuse


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 April 11, 2014, in feminism, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism, violence against women, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Breanne Esplana

    This is ridiculous. I cannot believe that anyone, ever thought that a sexual assault could only be considered rape if you were a virgin or married. A woman should be able to have complete say over their bodies in any and all situations. Therefore, even if an unmarried woman has sex and is then raped, that doesn’t make it okay. When she had sex previously, it was her choice. She chose to allow someone to have sex with her, it was of mutual consent. If she is raped, that is a man taking advantage and basically claiming that because he is a man and “above a woman”, he can do what he pleases just because she has chosen to have sex before. She isn’t married, so not claimed by another man and she isn’t a virgin, so she isn’t “pure” or “innocent”, so it is okay to abuse and defame her body and her being? A woman is a woman, not matter when or how she chooses to loose her virginity. She should have control of herself in all situations and have the right to say or deny anyone, without fear of retribution.

  2. This is so absurd to me because ANYBODY can be raped. Men, women, kids, virgins, married women, the deceased can all be raped. Now that things here are different its a little more peace of mind to me but in some places this is going on. What if a girl is super drunk and doesn’t know this act is going on? because she is so under the influence is is not able to give consent therefore it is rape. Even when said yes before it is still rape once NO is being said. It really sickens me that the Mumbai gang can do that to women. thats messed up, even though they weren’t virgins those men should go to jail because some of these girls were hospitalized any consensual or wanted sex shouldn’t ever send someone to the hospital.

  3. notrudeandginger

    I find myself thinking/writing Really?!?!?! All the time on this article and similar articles, all the time. “she wasn’t a virgin, maybe it wasn’t rape?” this is something I have heard before. When I talk to people about why I ended up giving up pressing charges against my rapist I have said if you aren’t a virgin they are going to tear you apart in court you will be a “slut.” I know many other girls and women who share this feeling we may not agree but if you aren’t a virgin they are going to try to humiliate you in court.

    It’s very sad they are turned away from family and lose their jobs I admit I have no idea how bad it is for victims in other countries. I do know while it may not be as bad as other counties we still have a lot of problems when it comes to understanding rape in the united states. We have made progress but I still think we have huge problems here. remember Stubenville was in the news around the same time I think. Thankfully the males actually got arrested and were found guilty. but the media treated the rapists as victims. The actual victim was bullied by her peers and even faculty as her school for speaking up. We still have a long way to go.

    • I’m so sorry that people like you still feel like they can’t press charges. And then, when rapists aren’t punished they’re more likely to keep on raping. It’s partly why we have the rape culture that we do. So we really need to have conversations about this to help change attitudes. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

      • notrudeandginger

        I was a minor and had a messy family life and sadly I felt like I would never win. I am strong now and am constantly having conversations and trying to educate about rape culture. I definitely would encourage people to press charges I spoke up wrote blogs about it that way. Thank you for writing about these issues.

      • You are welcome. Thanks for all that you do.

  4. It is honestly appalling to hear such a comment as to only a virgin can be raped. Might as well say that its okay to sexually assault a virgin women because its the thing to do! Why should women have to live in fear by the way she may dress or by the way she presents her self in a fashion that seems like “She was asking for it.” For goodness sake stop thinking about your own sexually needs. There is plenty of other ways to get sex without having to force someone to it. Just because a women may dress a certain way does not give ANY man (or boy I should say) a right to assume she is putting her self out their for everyone to physically take advantage of.

  5. jelissa blanco

    After reading this article it really amazed me to see how dumb people are and how their way of thinking is tottally off. A woman should have the right to be with any man she chooses to be with. Who is to say that if a women already has had sex she can’t be raped. It just doesn’t make any sense. She should have the right to do as she pleases. Its sad how women are treated, and how they are on their own in life. It’s way harder to be a women than a man because of things like this. Women are considered hoes, and sluts for sleeping with multiple men but for guys its okay. Given that fact that a women has already had sex before shouldn’t determine her future in cases like these were they don’t receive justice for what has been done to them. Rape is something all women fear.

  6. Rape should be illegal no matter if the girl is a virgin, married, not a virgin or not married! Rape is still rape. Girls or women being forced to have sex or being held down to have sex is rape. No girl wants to be raped and this blog is correct. Women fear rape. As for the Mumbai victim, it is so wrong to question if it is still rape if she isn’t a virgin. Like I said previously, being forced to have sex is uncalled for and should automatically be illegal! It is also true that men aren’t bad. Not all men tend to rape women but it is the case that men have the perspective on rape victims. Men are a lot stronger then women and they can over power women with their strength. I also think it is very wrong that these victims are getting fired and getting backs turned to them from their families because family is suppose to be there to support you no matter what the situation is. Also, girls and women cant help it being the victim so why should they be fired for something they cannot control? it is wrong!

  7. After I read this article, I thought that this tendency is incredibly crazy and foolish. I reflect that men who regard women as sexual objects have discriminations of sex, gender, and even race. In addition, women are still in danger that they have the possibilities to be raped because the percentage of men who think, edit, or judge the women’s laws or rights is more than 90%, according to this article. This is extremely strange. Women should establish their own laws or rights, which are equal to men. I know there is another problem of the inequality of employment. Therefore, people should change the foundation of our society first. Moreover, men should realize their ignorance about women, and they should change their thoughts about women because the rape dramatically affects the rest of the women’s lives.

  8. The Yale review in particular was new to me, such an outdated mentality makes America 60 years ago seem almost foreign. There’s so much wrong with it that it’s hard to know where to begin…The fact that it literally calls women sexual objects, the fact that it implies women don’t have any valid reasons to deny sex to any man except for power, or maybe the fact that women denying a man sex is based on the opinions of other males.
    For lack of better words, the case in India is so appallingly idiotic that I would expect the likes of it to appear in Orwellian fiction. While there may be a clear patriarchy in the United States, it’s mostly ingrained and subconscious to most men: I consider myself quite socially aware, but didn’t realize I was doing my part in maintaining said patriarchy until I was educated on the viewpoints of the other side. Be that as it may, that even a single judge (or 98% of them) would Honestly believe a beaten and battered women should have to have their hymens intact before the event to be considered rape victims, is beyond believable. Even if, for some reason, one wanted to claim violent gangrape was somehow alright due to cultural differences, it’s still incredibly wrong to base virginity off a tiny bit of the body that can be torn by so many other things than sexual penetration. The ‘judges’ in this case are not only blatant and intentional rape-enablers, they’re blatant and intentional rape-enablers who lack a basic understanding of the female body.

  9. INDIA, still is struggling! Many victims are waiting for their justice. Few may have grown old and still dwelling on the darkest phase of their life because they are constantly reminded of their sexual attack. The procedure of investigating whether a woman was raped or not is very terrifying and very disturbing.! Doctors not only ask questions but there is one process where fingers are insert in victim’s private organ to check the presence of hymen.! And this include small kids who have been sexually abused. Even they go through this tests.!

    • This is so amazingly sad. Being raped all over again.

      And that probably makes rape more likely. Girls and women are shamed for the rape, and raped all over again, So they don’t report, And no one is punished. And that just keeps the cycle going.

      It is always helpful for me to get the perspective of people who live in different countries. Thank you.

  10. I feel like seeing the world though the eyes of the victims is a very important part of this issue. I definitely feel like people do not take into consideration how much the people who assault others are and have been victims themselves. As said above, men are not bad, and there is definitely something wrong with the way we look at it but that we really need to be looking at it that both parties are victims rather than one or the other. It is not that i feel the person who assaults some one else should not be punished but that part of the punishment should always be some sort of therapy.

  11. To think that people would even consider rape not rape if the victim is a virgin is unbelievable, It shows how many cultures, including ours, consider virginity to be so important. Rape is an incredibly personal attack on someone, and can ruin them for the rest of their lives, especially if they do not have a support system. I can not believe that some people do not consider it rape if the woman is not a virgin. I know that in some cultures women who have had multiple sex partners are looked down on horribly, and can be physically punished for it. To think that some people think it okay to rape, and that it is a normal thing is repulsive to me. I guess when people are raised a certain way, and do not know any better, and this is normal behavior around them, then the cycle will continue.

  12. This article makes me realize that people don’t really speak to these woman and see they’re view on how they feel while walking down the street being terrified of being raped? they probably have no clue in how these young woman feel or are battling with everyday or maybe its just ignorance because I don’t understand the comment “if she wasn’t a virgin it wasn’t rape” I can’t even begin how repulsive that is. But yet again maybe they just don’t have a expanded mind and not enough knowledge to be smart enough to understand the term rape.

  13. If she wasn’t a virgin it wasn’t rape? Oh god, sick, sad and bloody scary!

  14. I imagine this comes from the assumption that only a virgin respects herself enough not to have sex (as if having sex outside of marriage is always a sign of a promiscuous person). So, if they don’t value themselves, why should anyone else.

    It’s stupid logic, but, given the reasoning behind religion and traditional calls for abstinence until marriage, I’m not surprised.

  15. I agree that this is revolting and disturbing on many levels, and that the justice system in India needs to get into the proper century. However, I think more boys/men know what it’s like to be raped than you mention, especially if we count male rapists and female rapists together. But I know this post was mostly in regards to female victims, so I’m not going to derail the conversation…just wanted to put that out there.

    • Rape does happen to men. But at the same time, very few men worry about it happening to them, surveys show. Women are much more likely to walk through their days worrying about it in the back of their minds.

  16. Makes me so angry that this is still going on in this world today. I didn’t know that the hymens are still being tested to decide whether or not it was rape. That act to me is another violation right there.

  17. The society and people are working to get rid of the colonial laws which still prevails. There was widespread protest across India against these atrocities. We are still in starting phase of our social reforms. 🙂

  18. Interesting post, as usual. That was the Yale Law Journal in 1952-53, but what’s its excuse now for giving a platform to Jed Rubenfeld’s “The Riddle of Rape-by-Deception and the Myth of Sexual Autonomy” (arguing that sexual assault shouldn’t be defined as “sex without consent” because sexual autonomy is a “myth” and because such a definition could, in theory, criminalize “rape by deception”)? (I wrote about the Rubenfeld piece on my blog on January 6, 2014).

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