Rape: What we all need to know

Never far from the headlines or off our TV screens and something that can affect all women regardless of age or background, rape and sexual violence are more common that you’d think.

Rape is an incredibly upsetting subject to talk about and an even harder experience to come to terms with – find important information on rape here.

New combined statistics from the Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and The Home Office show a frightening gap between the estimated number of sexual assaults that take place every year and the amount of people convicted. According to these new figures, since 2010 there were 78,000 victims of rape every year compared to just 1,070 convictions.

And sadly, these estimates are just based upon the information available. But the truth is, many rapes will go unreported because the victim feels afraid or somehow to blame for the experience. She may be ashamed or embarrassed and in some cases it may even realise that she’s been raped.

What is rape and when is it rape?

In the London-based survey Wake Up To Rape it was found that one in four women admitted to being made to have sex when they didn’t want to. But does that mean that 20% of women in our capital city believe they’ve been raped? What does ‘being raped’ actually mean, and are there grey areas when it comes to consent?

The legal definition of rape

What the law says:
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines rape as the ‘pentration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person’.

What this means
If a man penetrates another person against their will, then this is rape.

What the law says:
Consent is big part of rape. The law defines it as: ‘A person agreeing by choice if he/she has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.’

What this means
It means that in the eyes of the law, a rape victim doesn’t need to have physically resisted her attacker or said the words, ‘no’ or ‘stop’ to prove she hasn’t agreed to sex. If she’s pressurised into sex and hasn’t been given a choice, then this counts as rape. It states that it’s the man’s responsibility to make sure that the woman ‘consents to the sexual activity at the time in question.’

Is there ever a ‘grey area’ in rape?

Rape takes away a person’s right to say ‘no’. Jo Wood from rape charity Rape Crisis explains: ‘There is no grey area in the issue of consent – no means no.’

So where does this idea of a ‘grey area’ in rape come from? For many of us, rape is viewed as a threat from a stranger and the issue of consent is clear-cut. However, the reality is that the majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone known to us, and in some cases by a partner. This is where people start to become unsure about whether it’s rape or not – and may call it a ‘grey area’.

Elizabeth Harrison from rape victims specialist service the Havens says: ‘There seems to be a reluctance to call sex that you don’t want, that you haven’t consented to, ‘rape’. Yet legally, it’s very clear: if you don’t freely consent, and the man goes ahead anyway, then it’s rape.’

She adds: ‘Over half the people we see at the Havens have been raped by someone they know. The fact that violent and/or stranger rape gets more attention in the media can make it more difficult for women to see what has happened to them as rape if it was someone that they knew. They know they didn’t want to have sex but they may not always call it rape, even though the law would.’

Rape myths…

The Wake Up To Rape report revealed that half of the women surveyed thought that sometimes the rape victim should take responsibility for what happened. Some of these included: if she was drunk; dressed in a certain way; accepted a drink; flirted; or had slept with the man before.

‘A rape victim is never to blame for what has happened to them,’ says Elizabeth.

‘Women may talk about other women being partly responsible for being raped as a way of making themselves feel safer. If they think that there are certain things that lead to rape – like particular clothing, behaviour or alcohol consumption, for example – then they can persuade themselves that they will be safe if they avoid those things,’ she adds.

The reality is that rape can’t be neatly packaged into a dress-code nor is there such thing as a rapeable offence. Jo Wood believes that by giving rape a checklist of ‘contributing’ factors it places the blame on the victim and removes responsibility from the rapist. Feeling like they’re to blame might make a victim too afraid to report the rape and this is one of the reasons many rapes go unreported.