Rape and the promiscuous use of language

Have you noticed that the word literally has actually come to mean its opposite, figuratively? According to Dictionary.com, literally is the adverb form of literal, defined as:

in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical

But consider the following sentence: I heard a crash from my son’s room and I literally flew up the stairs. Did the speaker actually fly? Of course not; she used the term as if it were an audible exclamation point, to provide emphasis and to garner attention. The truth is that the speaker figuratively flew up the stairs, but she is trying to emphasize how frightened she was and how quickly she responded.

This example highlights an ongoing problem in communication, the promiscuous use of language. By that I mean the use and abuse of language for the express purpose of drawing attention. The example above is trivial. Yes, the speaker changed the meaning of a word to imply its opposite, but no listener believes that the speaker actually flew.

It’s more problematic, however, when the speaker deliberately intends to convey a meaning far different than the actual meaning of the word. Such is the case with the promiscuous use of the term rape as in the currently fashionable accusation of “birth rape”.

Childbirth activists use the term “birth rape” for the same reason anyone promiscuously uses language: to garner attention. They don’t like certain practices in modern obstetrics; they’ve whined and complained and tried to pretend that they represent the majority of women, but no one is paying much attention to them.

They’ve figured out that “I didn’t like the way the obstetrician treated me when he was trying to save my baby’s life” is not particularly compelling, since anyone who has ever suffered a serious medical problem knows that doctors give priority to saving lives in life threatening situations, rather than respecting emotional sensitivities. Let me be very clear about this point: I’m not saying that doctors are right. Often more compassion could be shown without compromising life saving efforts in the least. I’m merely pointing out that this is nothing more than a commonplace occurrence in our society.

Birth activists are dismayed that no one is particularly moved by their complaints. So they’ve decided to ratchet up the stakes by promiscuously using the word rape.

What is the actual definition of rape?

the unlawful compelling of a woman through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.

The legal definition has been expanded to include other forms of sexual touching that do not involve intercourse. And while it is true that we have come to understand that rape is often more about power than sex, we limit the meaning of rape to sexual contact. We have a different word for non-sexual harm; that word is assault. This is a critical point. We don’t discount any form of abuse or harm, but we do insist on precision in describing and punishing it.

Crying “birth rape” is just a more toxic example of the abuse of the word literally. The accuser is not claiming to be literally raped and meaning instead figuratively raped. She’s going one step further. She’s claiming that she was literally, actually raped. And she justifies this promiscuous use of the word rape by insisting that the only thing relevant fact is her feelings. If the victim “feels like” she has been raped, then she has been raped.

But we do not determine whether a crime has occurred by referencing the feelings of the victim. The feelings of the victim matter not at all; what matters are the “feelings” of the perpetrator. We a name for the perpetrator’s feelings: intent.

All crimes require more than a physical act. They require intent, legally known as mens rea or the guilty mind. Consider the crime of murder. A person run down by a driver who was texting is every bit as dead as a person run down by a professional hit man intending to cause the death. But only the latter case is murder, while the former is manslaughter at most. Intent is absolutely critical to determining whether a crime has been committed and what type of crime has been committed.

It does not matter how the victim feels about the crime (or in the case of murder, how the victim theoretically would feel about the crime). It does not matter that the relatives of the victim run down by a texting driver “feel like” the victim has been murdered, and that’s not because we discount their feelings. We are actually quite sympathetic to the anger and sense of loss of the victim’s relatives.

Let’s look again at “birth rape.” Rape requires sexual touching. A man can punch a woman and it is not rape. It might be assault, but it is not rape. Why? Because it is not sexual touching.

And it’s not merely a matter of the identity of the body part that has been touched. A woman can kick a man in the crotch, but that is not rape either. It might be assault, but it is not rape. Why? Because intent matters.

The victim’s feelings about the matter are irrelevant. The woman who was punched can “feel” like she was being raped, but that doesn’t make it so. A man who was kicked in the crotch might “feel” like he was being raped, but that doesn’t make it so.

What are the implications for the accusation of “birth rape”? Simply put, there is no such thing as “birth rape.” The accusation is merely the promiscuous use of the word rape with the express intent of drawing attention to one’s self or one’s cause.

It does not matter that the self-proclaimed victim was treated roughly. It might be assault, but it is not rape. Why? Because it is not sexual touching.

It does not matter that the part of the body involved has a sexual function. Why? Because intent matters.

And most importantly, it does not matter what the victim feels. Her feelings may be relevant to her; and, of course, they may be critical in providing psychological help to her. But they are entirely IRRELEVANT to the determination of whether or not a rape has occurred.

“Birth rape” does not exist. It is a promiscuous abuse of the term rape for the sole purpose of garnering attention. The term is legally meaningless and ethically suspect. It is morally wrong to insist that a rape has occurred when nothing of the kind happened. It is ethically unjustified to misuse the term rape regardless of how worthy the motivation. And it is insupportable to base the accusation of a crime on how the victim “feels” about it.