Definition Rewrite-Dohertyk9

There are a number of definitions for rape.

The dictionary at defines rape as,

Unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines rape as,

Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion and physical force. Forced sexual intercourse means vaginal, anal, or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents where the penetration is from a foreign object, such as a bottle. Includes attempted rape, male and female victims, and both heterosexual and same sex rape. Attempted rape includes verbal threats of rape.

The FBI’s definition of rape as defined by the Department of Justice is,

Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website defines “sexual violence,”

 Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent.

These are only a few of the myriad of existing definitions, but they illustrate just how different rape is based on the agency that is considering it. The website defines rape solely for the purpose of having a definition. The Bureau of Justice Statistics defines rape to provide a count for the number of instances a crime has occurred. The FBI defines rape to explain under what circumstances a crime has been committed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define rape to provide better assistance to their patients.  It would be difficult to argue that any of these definitions is wrong, because there is no proof of a “right” definition. It is not the responsibility of simple observers of this phenomenon to provide the “right” definition. Governments have struggled with the question of how to define rape since their beginning.

In around 1780 B.C., laws stated that rape of a virgin was property damage against her father. In 1290, women who became pregnant from rape were not raped. In the 1300s, whether or not a woman was raped was affected by how promiscuous the woman was; a sexually active woman’s charges were less legitimate. After the 1300s, girls younger than 12 could not consent. In 1670, it was concluded that a man can legally rape his wife, because the marriage contract forfeited his wife’s right to consent. In 1814, it was decided once again that rape could be determined by pregnancy. In the 19th century, it was agreed that if the woman did not actively resist her rapist, she was not raped.

If any of these definitions were introduced today, they would likely be met with public outrage. Yet during the time periods in which they existed, they were rarely, if ever, contested. The definitions in use today include a greater number of circumstances, but often still exclude ones that some people may consider to be rape. However, because rape has strong ties to society, it would be impossible to create a definition that satisfied everyone.



An Updated Definition of Rape. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) – Rape and Sexual Assault. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Definitions|Sexual Violence|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. (2018, April 10). Retrieved from

Eichelberger, E. (2017, June 25). Men Defining Rape: A History. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from

Rape. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from


This entry was posted in DohertyK, P09: Definition Rewrite. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Definition Rewrite-Dohertyk9

  1. davidbdale says:

    You’re missing an opportunity for rhetoric, DK, if you’re interested.

    Two stories I heard on radio yesterday indicate clearly the trouble we have grappling with questions of coercion and consent, terms at the heart of rape.

    After decades of rumor and speculation, the testimony of more than 50 alleged victims, and a criminal mistrial, the retrial of Bill Cosby is attempting to answer just one question: did the complainant consent to sex with Cosby, or did the defendant coerce a sexual act? For the 49 others, the statute of limitations ran out while we’ve been grappling to define what constitutes force, coercion, pressure, consent, acquiescence. So uncertain were the victims that the courts would see things their way (agree with their definitions) that they delayed coming forward until the climate seemed finally right to take their claims seriously.

    If only your Definition Argument had surfaced 20 years earlier, who knows how much suffering could have been avoided! Yes, I am suggesting that you could use the Cosby case to illustrate the anguish caused by a failure to call rape by its name.

    In the second story, a former NFL cheerleader is suing the league for gender discrimination on a number of grounds, many of which have no bearing here, but some of what she said does indeed apply:

    Ware said some Dolphins cheerleading coaches mocked her after other cheerleaders learned that she was a virgin, planning to wait for marriage to have sex. At a 2016 rehearsal for a fashion show at which cheerleaders modeled bikinis, Ware claims, she was dressed with angel wings — something Ware believes was a poke at her virginity — and then physically grabbed and verbally harangued by Grogan as she exited the runway.

    The point here is that the “incremental nature of consent” leads to ambiguity that blurs the margin between acquiescence, pressure, and true consent. As long as a culture operates under the notion that wanting to be a cheerleader means wanting to pose in bikinis, which means wanting to be sexually objectified at any time and in any way, which means cheerleaders have consented to being manhandled backstage, agreement on the basic terms of the argument between victims and their perpetrators will be fraught with ambiguity and imprecise definitions.

    Such illustrations can bring dictionary disputes vividly to life. If you’re interested.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s