Putting a penis into a vagina isn’t the only way to rape.
When I was fourteen, an older boy from my high school raped me at a party. It's a variation of a story you've heard a thousand times. He was popular, I wasn't. He intimidated me into drinking until I could hardly move and trapped me in a basement. It's a story familiar to millions of young women in America, and probably worldwide.
But like many girls going through this trauma, I wasn't sure what the words to put to my experience might be. "Sexual assault" was a phrase I didn't know but even then, it's unspecific. It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned the true definition of the word "rape," and its many modifiers.
"Rape" isn't just a brutal assault committed by anonymous men, perpetrated against unsuspecting girls. "Rape" is a tremendous spectrum of horrors.
At one end of this spectrum there's an act sometimes legally described as "forcible rape." This is when a woman has her vagina penetrated by a penis, while she fights and screams. But this isn't close to the whole story. This description of rape invalidates the experience of people who suffer marital rape, anal rape, date rape, statutory rape, and oral rape, among many other acts often referred to in law as "sodomy."
In fact, what "rape" is must have the broader definition: "The penetration of any orifice by any object or body part against one's will." If somebody is violated by an assailant wielding anything from a dildo to a table lamp, that's rape with a foreign object. If somebody puts their finger into another person's vagina or anus, that's digital rape. And if somebody puts their penis in another person's body without their consent — vaginally, anally, or orally — that's rape, too.
Society at large likes to compartmentalize rape, as though there are rapes that are somehow OK while others aren't. If the victim is a virgin attacked by a stranger, society likes to say that's somehow more legitimate than a drunk girl being raped by a friend, or a man being raped in any circumstances.
And oral rape seems like an easy win to people who want to apologize rape away. These apologists have confronted me with variations of a few phrases meant to shame me into agreeing that I must be to blame for my own assault.
Why didn't you bite him? Just as when people ask a victim of date rape why they didn't beat their assailant with their fists. Sometimes, most of the time, life is more complicated than that. If you're in a position where you've been overpowered and violated, antagonizing your attacker can put you at greater risk. It's one thing to be raped, it's another to be raped and murdered.
But the idea that a victim must be complicit in their attack is at the center of rape culture.
There are many cases where a judge has ruled that a woman couldn't have been raped, because a man wouldn't have been able to remove her jeans without help. The fact is rapists make victims into accomplices. "Do what I say or I'll kill you," is often implied, if not said outright, and there's a phrase for that too: "Consent under duress." And you know what "consent under duress" means? It means rape.
It could have been worse. This is something victims say to themselves all the time, and it is insidious. Of COURSE it could have been worse. Anything that has every happened to any human being on the face of the earth could have been worse. But victimhood is not a competition. Trauma is not a competition. And the fact that somewhere, somebody has or does have it worse than you does not invalidate your own trauma.
The fact that things could have been worse is irrelevant. Something unacceptable happened. Comparisons be damned, that's all that needs to be said on the matter.
At least you weren't REALLY raped. No, I was. To say my experience of sexual assault was invalid because it didn't involve penis-in-vagina penetration invalidates the experience of anyone anally raped, raped with a foreign object, raped while they were unconscious, and so on.
Having been raped more than once, in more than one way, having shared these experiences on behalf of the RAINN Speakers Bureau, and having listened as dozens of survivors bared their souls to me about their own violations, I assure you — rape is rape is rape.
Somebody thrusting their penis into your mouth while you cry and hope they don't kill you is no better than having somebody thrust their penis into a different orifice while you cry and hope they don't kill you.
Just as putting a penis into a vagina isn't the only way to have sex, putting a penis into a vagina isn't the only way to rape. Victims of oral rape can experience a lifetime of psychological trauma and sexual dysfunction, they can contract STIs and other physical injuries. They are at higher risk of additional rapes. They are at higher risk of suicide. Oral rape is rape.
There are countless acts people can perform together for sexual pleasure, whole Urban Dictionaries full of them. But when consent is absent, those acts all become assault. A threesome without consent is a gang rape. Doggy style without consent is vaginal rape. Pegging without consent is anal rape. A blow job without consent is oral rape.
And all rape, any rape, is the fault of the perpetrator.
Don't downplay the trauma of people who experience oral rape. Their pain is valid. And if anyone sticks their parts into your parts without your enthusiastic permission, that is not OK. You are entitled to your pain, your outrage, your trauma, and the language that describes it.