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June 03, 2016

Rape is Not a Metaphor for Sex

The words we use to talk about rape matter.

In 1983 the term “rape” was removed from the Canadian Criminal Code. It was replaced with the crime of “sexual assault” in order to make it clear that this crime covered more physical acts than just vaginal penetration. This has, however, contributed to reducing the use of the term “rape” at all.

Words like “non-consensual sex” and “sex crime” for rape serve to distance us from the violent reality suggested by the word “rape.” This distancing can be understandable, particularly when used by survivors in reference to their own experiences. But it can also be very harmful when these are the main terms we always use when discussing the issue.

We don’t have language in English for many forms of sexual assault. We don’t have a word for an unwanted kiss, for example, so we are left to use the word “kiss.” We are left to use a word that usually has very positive associations to describe something violent.

This gap can blur the boundary between consensual sex and rape in people’s minds. We think of “being kissed” as a pleasant thing. We think of “having sex” as an enjoyable activity. When we talk about rape and sexual assault we need to be absolutely clear that these are distinct from consensual acts.  

Rape is rape. It’s not a metaphor for sex.

 

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