What is rape? According to the law rape is defined by the Sexual offences Act of 1956 as: 'any act of non-consensual intercourse by a man with a person, and the victim can be either male or female. Intercourse can be vaginal or anal.' Most adults will be familiar with this and the later updates to the law which say that 'Offences committed on or after 1 May 2004 are prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The 2003 Act extends the definition of rape to include the penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus or mouth of another person.’
Most of us think we know what consent is, but shockingly, according to research ‘a third of people in the UK think it isn’t usually rape if a woman is pressured into having sex but there is no physical violence’. In fact, ‘the 2003 Act also changes the law about consent and belief in consent'. It goes on to specifically say that:
‘A person consents if he or she agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice. The essence of this definition is the agreement by choice. The law does not require the victim to have resisted physically in order to prove a lack of consent'.
The law makes no mention of the requirement of physical violence, recognising that a woman’s ability to consent hinges upon her ‘freedom’ and ‘capacity’, which implies that rape can happen under several circumstances. For example, there can be violent and non-violent force, intimidation, coercion, blackmail as well as a person being drunk, drugged, asleep or ill. Other shocking research highlighted in the Guardian article says that ‘almost a quarter of the 4,000 people questioned in the Attitudes to Sexual Consent survey carried out by Yougov believed sex without consent in long-term relationships was usually not rape’.
Rape by a partner is rife and one of the most under reported crimes that is not understood by the public and often not even understood by victims themselves. Studies show that those over 25 who commonly serve on juries are most likely to think forced sex in a long-term relationship is not rape. In 1991 the criminal Court of Appeal (upheld by the House of Lords) decided that:
"The husband's immunity... no longer exists. We take the view that the time has now arrived when the law should declare that a rapist remains a rapist subject to the criminal law, irrespective of his relationship with his victim."
In other words, a spouse can be prosecuted and convicted for rape and sexual assault of his or her partner. This law of course also applies to unmarried couples living together. But unfortunately, many people, especially women suffer in silence and feel confused and ashamed to speak about this abuse.
Forced sex by a partner IS rape and it is illegal and is not something a victim should feel ashamed of. The rapist is in the wrong, and it is his or her shame to carry. This type of sexual violence by an intimate partner can happen as part of an abusive relationship alongside other types of abuse. It can happen once or frequently with no other types of abuse or control and it can happen with or without coercion or force. It is referred to as sexual violence as the act of sex without consent, whether with ‘violence’ or not is a violation of a person’s freedom at the most intimate level, so therefore is an act of violence. The 2003 Act now places the responsibility to ensure consent on the man and he should ensure the woman has the capacity to give verbal/non-verbal consent, not just physically but mentally, implying that a woman who is incapacitated, mentally ill, below 16 to name a few circumstances, cannot give consent. In short gentlemen, if in doubt, don't do it. And for those who are parents, it is so important for you to educate young people about consent and respect.
It is time that people understood that rape is a serious crime and a partner does not have permission over a woman’s body because they have given consent before, which seems to be one of the driving factors behind intimate partner sexual violence. The Yougov poll reported that ‘a third of men also believed that a woman couldn’t change her mind after sex had started, compared with 23% of women’. Again it has to be said that a man does NOT have the right to continue having sex with a woman if she changes her mind and wishes to stop. This is rape and can be prosecuted as such. Even if it happens once, that is one time too many.
'Sentences can range from 4-14 years, depending on the specifics of the case, alongside any mitigating or aggravating factors. Life imprisonment can be handed out if the situation demands.'
Reporting a rape for a man or woman is a very difficult experience and often happens after other possibilities have been exhausted. It is important to remember that..
'If you’ve been raped, this is never your fault — no matter the circumstances.
The police must take reports of rape seriously, and you can contact Victim Support to discuss options and have support throughout the process. If the rape or sexual assault happened recently (within 7 days), you can have a medical examination carried out at your nearest Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) to collect forensic evidence. You don’t have to have a forensic examination, however it can give useful evidence if you choose to report the crime to the police and the case goes to court. If you’d like to have a forensic examination, try to keep the clothes you were wearing at the time and don’t wash them, and avoid showering if possible.
You can report a rape or sexual assault by calling 999 soon after the crime. Always call 999 if you feel you’re in danger. If the rape or sexual assault happened a long time ago, you can still report this to the police by calling 111.'
Please do not suffer in silence. There's a range of support out there from charities, government organisations, online forums and other literature. If you are raped under any circumstances, even if you are not ready to report it, tell someone. If you tell a friend record the conversation or save the messages. You don’t need to go through this alone, even if you don’t want to be examined, you can tell your nurse or doctor who will document this and refer you for the appropriate support if you want it.
If you need to talk to a sexual violence counsellor or need an advocate you can contact https://rapecrisis.org.uk/ .
If you are in an abusive relationship and need support or advice you can also contact https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/.
If you need support with your legal rights you can contact https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/.
For men who have experienced sexual violence and want specific support click on the links below.
For those within the LGBTQ+ community and want specific support and advice go to the below websites.
Dealing with the trauma of rape and sexual assault is harrowing and even more so when you are alone. In some cases a survivor may not even recognise for some time that what they’ve experienced is rape. They feel that no one else understands what they are going through and find it hard to seek help as the hurt is all consuming. Survivors may need support to help them manage their trauma, escape their abuser, heal their pain, survive everyday life and eventually thrive.
This process takes time but know that you are not alone and that there are other survivors who have had similar experiences that they are willing to share.
If you have any experiences that you would like to share on this website, please contact me using the comments form below.