From the Left



When women stand up for one another, it's the man who ends up on trial

Susan Estrich on

"Did you know him?"


"Oh, then you were really raped."

The first time I had this conversation was in the back seat of a Boston police car in 1974. I've been having it ever since. What could it possibly mean to be raped but not really raped?

I answered that question myself. As a young professor at Harvard, I read every single rape case that had ever been reported up to that time. The answer was very simple: When you are forced by someone you know to have sex without your consent, much less someone appropriate, it's not really rape because the police won't treat it that way; prosecutors won't treat it that way; and juries won't treat it that way.

Which is one of the reasons rape has traditionally been one of the most underreported serious crimes in America in repeated national crime surveys. And it's why, when asked whether they have ever been forced to have sex without their consent or without being capable of giving consent, 1 in 5 women say yes, even when they themselves don't count it as rape.


"Rape Not Rape to Most of Its Victims," one headline screamed after yet another survey revealed enormous gaps.

To be raped by someone you know, by someone who has power over you, by someone who could destroy your life, is rape, and the injury it inflicts for the future may be even greater because we've all been taught to blame ourselves. Blame the victim.

In fact, non-stranger rapes comprise at most 15% of all reported rapes. So for much of our history, we have spared appropriate men from accountability as long as it wasn't black-on-white rape (for which death was imposed) or gang rape.

"Is there anything about your past that you wouldn't want some defense attorney throwing at you in court?" That conversation also began in the back seat of the police car. It infuriated me almost as much. What does that have to do with whether this man raped me?


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