I am the face of illegitimate rape. I was the victim of a series of illegitimate rapes. Many years ago. As a child. By an older, much larger, child. Of the same sex. It happened over a span of a few years. It changed who I was. It contributed largely to the woman I am today. It altered the choices I made. It transformed the way I look at the world. And just yesterday, once again, I was reminded that it was not “legitimate rape.”
You see, legitimate rape is the kind that happens in a back alley, late at night. The perpetrator is a man. A big man. He has a deadly weapon. The victim is a tiny woman, walking alone. She might be dressed too provocatively, making the whole episode a bit her fault, anyway. She does not know this man who violates her and she will never see him again. She may not even see him that night, with his face all covered with a mask, like in the hold-up scene of a cheesy movie.
Legitimate rape is not the kind that happens when a male co-ed gives his date far too many drinks, takes her back to her dorm, waits for her to pass out and then has his way with her. Legitimate rape is not the kind where a woman is violated by a guy she consented to go out with and even consented to fool around with, later changing her mind, but just not forcefully enough. Legitimate rape is not the kind that happens when a young, gay man is followed home by a group of men who taunt him, then beat him up, then force themselves on him. None of these are examples of legitimate rape. But, for those of us who have been victims of illegitimate rape, we already knew that.
When I told my mother, ten years after the fact, about my rape, she informed me that it didn’t qualify as rape. In fact, she chose instead to refer to it as a “sexual relationship” between me and the other individual. Of course, when it began, I was only seven years old. As a mother of young children myself, I feel confident in asserting that they are incapable of “sexual relationships” of any kind. But, what my mother said that day was not really strange. In fact, on some level, I expected that reaction, which is why my shame prevented me from telling anyone about the ordeal for all of those years.
It wasn’t “legitimate.” So, what was it, then? There are a lot of us out here. I know it. I know I am not alone. There is a reason that only 3% of rapists will ever spend even a day behind bars and it is not just because they are all so crafty that they get away with it. It is because we have an enormous societal problem with rape. We think very few rapes should even be dignified with that title. Women and men who are victims of rape know this. It is this knowledge that keeps us silent. It is this knowledge that humiliates and shames us. It is this reality that surrounds the debate about “forcible” rape. It is the truth behind Rep. Akin’s comment last week. It is what a lot of people think, even victims. And it has to change.
Rape does not fall into two categories – legitimate and illegitimate. I was violated and that made it rape. I have spent most of my life being ashamed of that because of the perceptions of people like Rep. Akin and Politico’s Dave Catanese. But I shouldn’t be the one to feel shame. These people should feel shame for revictimizing victims. We as a society should feel shame for how commonplace their perspectives really are. That is where the real shame should lay. I am ready to lay it there and stop carrying this burden for myself. Will you join me?