Thu | Mar 22, 2018

Garth Rattray | Only rape says rape

Published:Monday | June 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM

This is my last-ditch effort to lend my voice to the debate on the definition of rape. I had two patients who were very close friends. They were walking together on the sidewalk of a major thoroughfare close to their homes. Three armed men jumped out of nearby bushes, accosted them, dragged them into the bushes, ripped off all their clothes, and forced them into oral, vaginal and anal sex. The two young ladies were left naked, bleeding, in pain and emotionally devastated.

The most demeaning, the most painful, the most damaging part of their experience was when the men had anal sex with them. One of them became a recluse and the other, stripped of all self-esteem, embarked on a life of sexual excesses that led to multiple sexual partners and nine abortions.

Then there was an elderly grandmother who lived alone. One night, her sanctuary was invaded by a depraved, knife-wielding excuse for a human being. He decided to humiliate this quiet and dignified lady by threatening to cut her throat if she did not perform oral sex on him. Then he turned her around and violated her vaginally and anally. She took her shame to her grave.

Currently, using the correct parlance, all three women were raped (in their vaginas) and grievously sexually assaulted in their mouths and anuses. How does someone try to help a human being (male or female) experience some degree of psychological healing when one is constrained in expressing the true violation that they underwent?

Rape - to seize, take by force, to despoil, to plunder - is an apt description of sexual violence. Even if we seek to assign possible equal punishment to both crimes, serious physical attack of a sexual nature (grievous sexual assault) just does not cut it. Grievous sexual assault can mean that someone was coerced or forced unwillingly into participating in a sexual act, or it can mean forced sexual contact or just touching. The phrase is incomparable to 'rape'.




God forbid, but, what if a little boy is being held down by a male pervert intent on violating him anally, must he shout for help by screaming, "Grievous sexual assault! Grievous sexual assault!"? The same holds true for female victims. Only rape says rape.

This conundrum comes about because of our Offences Against the Person Act (1864, yes, 1864). The anti-buggery section falls under Unnatural Offences (76. Unnatural crime). I find it strange that other abominations are not afforded equal attention in our laws. Furthermore, that law speaks to the 'buggery' of males, even though we all know that some heterosexual couples engage in said act. And, how can it be an offence against someone when that someone is of legal age, of sound mind, and a willing or eager participant?

It's argued that to ascribe 'rape' to forced oral sex or anal penetration is to invite conflict by tacitly acknowledging the existence of oral and, more specifically, anal sex. News flash! Those are well-established sexual practices among some heterosexual couples.

We already have serious legal conflicts. This same Offences Against the Person Act forbids terminating pregnancy at any stage, for any reason. If a seriously ill woman is certain to die if she carries her pregnancy to term, by law, she must continue with that pregnancy and die, taking her foetus with her. I am not a proponent of terminating pregnancies, but that's just ridiculous.

However, if she is at full term and about to deliver, and if an assailant were to shoot or stab her in the abdomen, and in so doing kill the foetus, he could be charged for assaulting the woman, but not for killing the foetus. Strange as it may seem, a foetus is only considered a 'life in being' after the first breath is taken and the umbilical cord has been severed. So, 'abortions' are always illegal, but killing a foetus is not prosecutable. Go figure.

My point is this: We already have blatantly conflicting laws. There is no excuse for diminishing the impact of rape by confining this horrendous crime to vaginal penetration. No degree of 'assault' can convey the physical and permanent psychological impact of 'rape'. This is terribly unfair to all those who have been horribly and brutally violated in that way.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to