Stories of sexual violence, punctuated by the words “RAPE IS RAPE,” were projected onto the U.S. Capitol building last night in Washington, D.C. Activist groups Luminous Intervention and FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture organized the action with the intent of drawing attention to the discourse around rape culture, noting that “American culture is uncomfortable to the point of being incapable of recognizing the reality of rape in this country…the culture of rape will not improve until a more difficult conversation is had.”
The activists noted that only 14% of rape fits the definition of “forcible,” and so chose to highlights stories that fall outside of this category. The stories illuminated onto the Capitol included the following:
As a young girl I was raped by a group of teenage boys. They put money on the bed afterward. I was convinced it was my fault.
I was drugged and raped by a man I met while traveling in Greece. He offered to show me around and then put sleeping pills in my food. It was broad daylight. Since my rape was not “violent,” the Greek courts did not charge my rapist.
I can’t even count the number of times I have had sex against my will. Some of the times I was pressured and other times I was drunk. I’ve never been able to call these situations rape.
In a press release, the organizers stated, “The origins of ‘legitimate rape’ or ‘women who rape easy’ are deeper than anti-abortion legislation, conservative views, or a few politically incorrect statements. The problems in the public conversations about rape are bigger than election year politics. The image of forcible rape is the only publicly recognized image of sexual violence in America, and it is not realistic. Rapists do not only use physical violence. Rape is not only committed by a few sick criminals. Rape is not a rare occurrence. Rape is much more complicated and much more common. If sexual violence is going to end, Americans need to drop the story of ‘forcible rape’ and face reality. These stories are here to force the issue.”
The language of forcible rape has come to the forefront in the past year, as a campaign led by the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine alongside a massive grassroots campaign succeeded in urging the FBI to change its definition of rape. Prior to the change last December, the 82-year-old definition had limited what was legally considered rape to an act that was “forced” and only enacted on a woman, excluding the majority of sexual assaults and leading to major underreporting and a lack of adequate response.
Also last year, Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) partnered with Rep. Todd Akin (MO) to redefine rape under the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act so that only those deemed “forcible” could receive Medicaid funding for abortions.
We need more direct actions like this one to draw attention to rape culture in a visual and public way, and in a way that privileges the stories of those who have experienced sexual violence over politicians who want to legislate it.