[Note to my kids: Skip this post; it may well come under the heading of too much information]
In criminal law we are studying rape. We are reviewing the history of its prosecution and the evolution of its definition. For example, rape has historically always been defined as between a man and a woman (not his wife).
What I find interesting in this area of law is that all my high ideals seem particularly challenged. For instance, I am against the death penalty. I am against killing people. When faced with a hypothetical situation where I am called upon to kill or be killed, I always opt for being killed. When faced with a hypothetical situation where someone has murdered one of my children I opt for life imprisonment.
But, when it comes to rape, I am very harsh. Rape does not take away someone's life; a person might arguably (physically) survive a rape in better shape than a simple assault. Yet, I would opt for castration of a rapist. This apparent clash of values has caused me to look at why I react this way.
Perhaps it lies in the distinction between a hypothetical situation and an experienced situation. When I was in the Navy my shipmates called me "Debbie" for a couple of reasons -- my initials were DEB and because I was somewhat feminine looking (blond hair, blue eyes, smooth face). The very first question I got asked when I reported aboard ship was if I was queer. In submarine duty -- at least in diesel submarines such as I served on -- everyone is required to earn their "dolphins" in a process of qualification on all the ships systems and compartments, such that anyone can handle any task aboard a ship if need be during a crisis. The rules for qualification are very strict and the status of being a "non-qual" is harsh (they like to say that you're so low in life that "whale-shit is stardust in your eyes"). You must accomplish this learning and qualification process in addition to your normal job and duties and you must do it within a set time period. Moreover, there are only certain people who are authorized to test you and award you the much coveted and required signature attesting to your knowledge and skill.
In a couple of systems and compartments (having specifically to do with mechanics and engines which I have always sucked at) there was this one particular petty officer who was the person I needed to sign my quals sheet. He took me below decks, ostensibly to check out a particular system, and then told me that he would only sign my sheet if I performed a sexual "favor" for him. I was a 17 year old, scared and essentially helpless (or at least I felt helpless) non-qual. He was a rated, qualified petty officer significantly larger and stronger than me and well regarded aboard ship. I needed that signature. You do the math.
While I would avoid him whenever I could, there were at least two other occassions where I found myself back below decks in a similar situtation. Was that rape? Does his threat to not sign my sheet constitute force? I don't know. I can say that I felt completely helpless and violated.
One time, months later, while out drinking one night, he spotted me as I was headed to my hotel room on the beach. He followed me to my room and then tried to forcibly have sex with me. There is no question in my mind that was attempted rape. I got away by smashing a beer bottle on his head and running. He was found the next morning passed out topside aboard ship. He resigned the ship that week and left the Navy soon thereafter.
I never reported this to the authorities. I always felt responsible, as if I had somehow communicated to him that it was ok to treat me that way. And, after my history with him below decks, I certainly did not want to report his attempt in the hotel room. But I have also never completely gotten over it.
Now, many years later, I still have this strong negative reaction to people who force themselves upon others who are in weaker positions. I honestly don't believe I hate anyone, but the person who did that to me comes pretty close.
I am honestly not sure that I could ever be completely objective if I were involved in a rape case. I can't even seem to read this chapter without all this coming up!