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.
A 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.