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Alexis Sciuk

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Why Calling it "Rape" Matters

Posted: 11/12/2012 11:37 am

In advancing women's sexual rights in Canada we have made a critical error. We have deleted the word rape in public discourse and done a disservice to society as a result.

Rape was reclassified as a type of assault in the Criminal Code of Canada in the early 80s. Prior to this, sexual assault was referred to as rape, indecent assault or gross indecency, depending on the type of crime.

There was a need to broaden the definition of rape to include other sexual acts which didn't include penetration but were a violation of a person's sexual integrity. The law also made the wording more gender neutral to reflect the reality that women were not the only one's being violated, but men and children could be victims as well.

Fast forward to 2012 where there are now a few categories of assault: sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threat to a third party or causing bodily harm, and aggravated sexual assault. This continuum of violence as it is referred, can include inappropriate/unwanted touching, forced kissing and rape.

As a result of these amendments, lawyers cannot bring up a woman's sexual history or reputation to use against her in trial, husbands can now be charged with sexual assault and men can get equal treatment under the law. Personally, I could never argue against these changes.

However, I believe society has a case of disassociation when it comes to the term "sexual assault." It is problematic when ten people give you ten different definitions of a crime. I want details. I want specifics and I want the word rape brought back into the lexicon of everyday discussions.

I want this change because rape means something different to me than inappropriate touching. I may change my route home or mode of transportation if I know there is a rapist on the streets. But more importantly having those details gives me a sense of the gravity of the crime.

I want to hear the police describe the crime as a sexual assault: rape. Sexual assault: inappropriate touching. Sexual assault: forced kissing.

Sexual assault seems like the last frontier when it comes to divulging details. We discuss at length how a person was murdered, tortured or bullied. Regardless of our comfort level we are told the excruciating details of the crime.

We describe murder as first or second degree, what instrument used to kill them and how. We describe fires in terms of five or three alarm. We describe the severity of earthquakes on a richter scale. All across our vernacular we give the level of severity. Yet for some reason, I never know when someone has been charged with sexual assault, what that actually means.

Although this topic is more complex than what I have described, I believe by providing society and frankly providing women with more details about sexual assaults, we impart
more control. We allow women to control how they use the information. Ultimately, isn't this issue all about control?

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