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Even when women are victims of a rape, they don't always acknowledge it to themselves.

"If the person is drunk, is it rape?"There has been much focus in the media about sexual assault and rape at colleges and the question about intoxication come up regularly. It seems to still confuse both men and women alike and it certainly should not.


As a psychologist I have talked to many women who report that among their earliest sexual experiences was an incident where they had sex not by their consent or choice-OTHERWISE KNOWN AS RAPE!  Yet most of those women have never thought of themselves as being raped. The excuses are many, “I got too drunk….I shouldn’t have gone to that party….I shouldn’t have gone out with that guy.”  Even when these women had no sexual experience, no desire to have sex and no willing cooperation the fact that there was no violence on the part of the perpetrator or themselves leads them to believe the incident was their fault and that it “wasn’t really rape”.  They never think of it as rape. But it is.

Here is the dictionary definition of rape:

1.the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.
2.any act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.

In the past many countries or states defined rape legally as requiring force on the part of the perpetrator or physical resistance on the part of the victim. The women’s movement helped us understand how limited that definition was. If a perpetrator has a weapon; a knife or a gun, would you resist physically? If you are unable to give consent due to lack of intellectual understanding (the severely mentally challenged or demented elderly) or physical state such as drunkenness or unconsciousness is violence necessary? Does physical resistance become meaningful?

Young children who are sexually abused do not have enough knowledge or independence to resist a perpetrator. We have come to clearly understand that this is unlawful and morally indefensible.


In the case of young women who are raped while drunk I believe the lack of awareness that it was, in fact, a rape is related to the desire to not perceive oneself as a victim. When I hear these stories, it is usually from women who are younger and sexually inexperienced. This early drunkenness is part of adolescent experimentation, the desire to be more adult and independent. They are usually women who would not admit to their parents that they are drinking heavily or that they “had sex.”  It is far easier and more typical of young women to feel guilty and responsible rather than think about facing parents, the legal system, undergoing a medical examination. It is easier to just think, “I got too drunk.”  I have talked with many middle aged women who describe a rape as their first sexual experience but they have never thought of it as a rape. That has much more to do with how society defines women’s sexuality and men’s privilege than it does with the reality of the situation.


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Standards are changing. For years when women accused men of rape they found themselves questioned as if they were the criminals. “What were you wearing? How much sex have you had? How many partners? Did you get drunk?”  We have only recently begun to accept that a woman has the right to dress how she likes, go where she wishes, get too drunk or misbehave in other ways without “deserving to be raped.”  Rape, even of children will always be a difficult matter to handle legally as there are rarely witnesses. We should not add to that by blaming victims and making them feel responsible for bodily violence that is done to them without their consent and against their will. Read more at