By Jonathon van der GoesAfew weeks ago, I was at a little festival and someone was passing around “anti-rape” buttons. These buttons were imbedded with cute little slogans such as “consent is sexy”, “if you’re smelling whiskey, don’t get frisky”, and “silence is not consent”. The woman who was handing out the buttons made the unfortunate remark of suggesting that she wanted men to get the buttons, to protect the women.
Rape is not a legal term, rather it is a social term. The Canadian Criminal code uses the terms “ sexual assault” and “aggravated sexual assault” – instead. Yet socially, we use the terms “rape” to refer to the whole area of coercive or deceptive sex.
At present there is a man who has been given an eighteen month sentence for sexual assault in Nova Scotia. His sentence is being appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court. His offense? He put pinholes in his girlfriend’s condom. She had consented to have sex with him, but not unprotected sex that might result in pregnancy. The core of the accusation of rape against him is that he did not disclose to her that the sex that they were having was unprotected and might result in pregnancy. She had consented to protected sex, he had forced unprotected sex on her, thus he may well have raped her. In my mind it is easy – he did commit a rape. The Supreme Court of Canada will decide this case this coming winter.
In the meantime, men are being raped all over the place. Most of us can see clearly that what this man did was rape. What we can’t see so clearly is that every time a pregnancy occurs, with the woman saying “I’m on the pill, so it’s safe for us to have sex without condoms” (and she’s not really on the pill), it’s a form of rape. When she says, “I’ll have sex and babies with you…and only you”, and then dumps you, particularly if you are the sort of man who has made it clear that you would not be willing to impregnate a woman if you were not in a committed relationship, that is a form of rape. Then when he has to pay child support for eighteen years, it’s another form of rape; when he goes to the police and they slough him off, it is yet another form of rape.
It’s anyone’s guess how the Supreme Court will decide, but I would guess the odds are that they will decide to uphold the Nova Scotia man’s sentence. If they do, then the police will have to act when a man is deceived or coerced into sex that results in a pregnancy. If they decide to uphold the sentence, then that would mean at this moment, any woman who fails to fully disclose her reproductive status, and a pregnancy results, is committing sexual assault under the Criminal Code. Whether the sentence is upheld or not, we will have tens and hundreds of thousands of male rape victims who will need and deserve support services from society, rather than what they get right now, which is a secondary rape by the court system and the police.
I’m probably not going to get much of a warm reception at any festival I go to if I start passing out buttons for women to wear, saying “I commit to not raping any men” or “I commit to full disclosure before sex”. The rules must apply equally to both genders, otherwise, we have a situation where one gender is systematically raping another and it ain’t just men raping women here, folks.
And we need to think: Do we want this sort of rape to be criminalized? How can we support the offspring of rape? All those children who will have to live with the fact that they were conceived in rape. But if we support men going to jail for rape, we are stuck with the dilemma that we will need to support women going to jail for rape. Or maybe we should develop more compassion for male rapists, just as we can have compassion for women who play little pranks on their partners and then give him a “blessed event.”
As a society, we have a high level of compassion for female rape victims, a low tolerance for male rapists, which is getting lower all the time. Yet we have no compassion for male rape victims and a high level of tolerance for female rapists. It is no surprise that the first person criminally accused of rape for putting pinholes in his girlfriend’s condoms is male and yet many of us have heard stories of women doing the same thing, or have experienced it, without even a raised eyebrow.
Men’s groups should apply for intervener status with this case at the Canada’s Supreme Court. We have a huge interest in the outcome of this case. It may turn out that the Courts, in their wisdom find some way to continue with the status quo, will decide that: rapists are only male, and rape victims are only female. But we do know better.