By Leah Cook
Arts and Culture Editor
Rape and consent are a big problem. A problem no one is having the same conversation about. State laws are a tangle of conflicting definitions regarding consent, rape and sexual assault. There should be more concise state and federal laws to unravel the legal knot of unwanted sex.
The difference between a criminal sexual act and a legal one hinges on consent.
A sexual encounter without consent is sexual assault or rape. But only 10 states define consent, according to vice.com. Some states require affirmative consent and other states define situations where consent cannot occur. Others don’t mention it at all.
According to The New York Times, researchers consistently report that most rapists don’t believe their actions are rape. They won’t call it that even when they describe nonconsensual sexual encounters.
The long-term result is both rape victims and rapists experience two different versions of the same event. To add to the already complicated mix, a state might have its own stance.
Based on each state’s legal definition, a rape that occurs in New York might only be defined as sexual assault in Pennsylvania. In Georgia, the same act might not even be a crime at all, according to rainn.org.
Georgia defines rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” In Georgia, there is no legal definition of consent, according to rainn.org.
By contrast, California updated its definition of rape in 2016, according to The Atlantic. Now, whether someone is guilty of rape is determined by the outrage and feelings of the victim.
Similar conflicts occur with the definition of consent.
In Texas, there is no legal definition of consent, although the laws outline when without consent occurs, according to rainn.org.
Minnesota’s legal definition involves affirmative consent, which states that a person must indicate through words or actions their voluntary participation for consent to occur, according to rainn.org.
Because Texas rape laws do not involve affirmative consent, a legally consensual sexual encounter in Texas might legally be rape in Minnesota.
Persistent myths about rape, rapists and rape victims and conflicting laws make it even harder to solve the problem. Just like murder and armed robbery, rape isn’t OK anywhere in the U.S. or its territories or anywhere else.
While serving in the military, I was selected for the 2010 Sexual Assault Victim Intervention program. The program focuses on individual and unit safety in regard to sexual assault. Part of my training included a brief on the military’s sexual assault and rape statistics.
I was skeptical of the statistics, which included 3,230 reports made in 2009 alone. I asked the SAVI coordinator whether they were accurate.
“Oh no,” she said. “They are much too low.”
According to the Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2009 report, research found only 20 percent of service members who experienced nonconsensual sexual contact ever reported it.
I briefed sailors and airmen I worked with on sexual assault and harassment, and cited statistics I barely believed. I had to explain how, in situations many of them had experienced, sexual assault and rape could occur.
According to navy.mil, the official website for the Navy, 65 percent of sexual assault reports in the two years before the 2009 report were committed by someone the service member knew and trusted, and occured in situations where they felt safe.
A rapist can be the co-worker you have a few drinks with after work or a friend from your high school clique. They can be the person you agreed to date or a close family member whom you trust, according to rainn.org.
MYTHS & CONSENT
A common myth is most rapes are committed by male strangers using threats and violence on female victims, according to rapecrisis.org. Unless the victim actively fought back, verbally or physically, it was consensual.
But according to Psychology Today, freezing up is a common response in most sexual assaults, and it’s a natural reaction when people are in dangerous situations, such as combat. When a victim freezes, they cannot move or speak for several seconds, which is often when the initial assault occurs.
States that don’t explicitly define consent make this problem worse. Men and boys can also be rape victims, and so can spouses. Gender and marriage don’t automatically equal consent.
It would be strange to see this with other crimes. The basic definition of murder doesn’t change depending on the victim’s gender, or whether or not the murder victim fought back. But with rape, these factors can negate it.
Brock Turner, then a college student, was convicted of sexual assault and attempted rape without consent in 2016. To his victim, it was rape. To Turner, it was consensual outercourse, a term his attorney used in trial indicating sexual activity other than vaginal sex, according to The New York Times. To California, it was sexual assault because he used his fingers.
California changed its rape definition law after Turner’s conviction, according to The New York Times.
Turner testified that his victim gave verbal consent even though she was intoxicated. His victim had no memory of meeting Turner. She was unconscious when bystanders discovered the two behind a dumpster.
Turner’s father later referred to the sexual assault his son committed as 20 minutes of action, according to The New York Times.
Sex-offenders like Turner should be convicted equally across every state. The bottom line is our society needs clearer, stronger federal and state definitions to convict offenders.