But was it rape?
Sometimes we hear stories from our friends of bad sexual encounters, or we personally experience sex as something bad, something that leaves us filled with sadness and regret… and we wonder: "Was it rape?"
This seems like it should be easy to answer, right? But often our emotions around something as intimate as sex can get clouded and fuzzy. We feel things that we don’t think we're allowed to feel – including shame, hurt, indignity, humiliation, guilt, anger and distress. Healthy consensual sex shouldn't leave you feeling like that, choma.
Consensual sex – where two people are willing and keen to have sex – should be happy, fun and safe. That doesn’t mean regret equals rape. Sometimes we do things willingly that we later think better of. But if you didn’t consent and someone forced you… that’s a different story. What does that mean? This is hectic stuff, but stay with me, choma. It’s important stuff too.
What is consent?
Consent seems like a big clinical word, medical-sounding or something a professor or lawyer would say. But it’s actually really simple and straightforward. Consent is agreeing. To consent to sex just means saying yes. It means agreeing to have sex or a sexual experience with someone. If there’s no consent, then you shouldn't be having sex. If there’s no consent, it is rape. Simple as that – no ifs or buts.
Rape without violence?
We tend to think of rape as something that happens under threat of violence; something that is perpetrated against us by scary strangers with weapons who break into our homes or pull us into dark alleyways. There is a lot missing from that narrow definition of rape and these gaps leave us asking, “But was it rape if he didn’t hurt you?"
Yes. Firstly rape is inherently violent. Someone forcing themselves on you, in you, is violent, even if they don’t tear, cut or bruise you. But also, if you said no and he didn’t listen and stop, it is rape, even if he doesn’t stab, hurt or punch you.
But what if he didn’t use his penis?
The South African law – the Sexual Offences Act – recognises rape by fingers and objects. So if someone uses something to penetrate your vagina, anus or mouth against your will, without consent, then it is rape.
But what if I was too drunk to remember?
It is such a common story: “I was so drunk, I passed out and when I woke up I was sore down there, or he said we did it and that I wanted it”. There are so many horrible variations and versions of this. But whatever went down, if you were too drunk to remember or so drunk you passed out, you were also too drunk to consent. So, yes, it was rape.
But I wanted to kiss him and fool around, and then…
It doesn’t matter if he is your boyfriend or if you have had sex in the past. It doesn’t matter if you were kissing and making out just before it happened. You have the right to stop the action when you choose, choma, for whatever reason you choose. If at any stage, you say no, change your mind, or are unable to consent to sex, then he must stop and go no further. If he doesn’t, it is rape.
What to do if you have been raped
If you have experienced any of these things, if you have been raped, or even if you are not sure what happened and how you feel about it, I strongly encourage you to reach out for help, choma. You can call LifeLine anonymously for private, caring counselling over the phone.
LifeLine National number: 0861322322
Rape Crisis Line: 021 447 9762
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