If you are not aware that the topic of non-consensual sex has yet again found its way onto the front page of Pittsburgh’s local news, then perhaps you should stop re-watching the Stanley cup finals on your DVR and check out a newspaper or two. The topic is again, as always, drenched in controversy and contorted by the gender biases of male verses female sexual stereotypes. The current conversations, from barrooms to boardrooms, continue to demonstrate the lack of understanding so many people have regarding non-consensual sex, sexual assault and rape.

First let’s clear the air regarding high profile athletes and celebrities and the accusations that can occur as the culmination of bad situations, bad decisions and a dose of malicious intent. Previous instances include the Kobe Bryant case and the Duke Lacrosse team. Celebrities and athletes are highly subject to all kinds of false accusations and frivolous lawsuits ranging from copyright infringement to criminal activities. Sexually charged accusations are simply another form of these occurrences. Yet sexual charges, which typically stem from an event that occurred in a private setting with few to no witnesses, seem to yield a he-said-she-said argument and consequently more media coverage and open debate, making them more explosive and subject to personal bias and interpretation. It is important to consider that what happens to celebrities in these situations is not necessarily representative of what might occur in the general population. It is also worth mentioning that most people assume that celebrities are less likely to commit rape because “he could have any girl he wanted, he doesn’t need to rape anyone.” However, it may be the very consistency of getting “any girl” one wants that makes that one rare rejection more intolerable and increases the likelihood of a more violent response such as rape. This possibility may increase when you are dealing with people who are aggressive and competitive in their very nature.

So what is “rape”? Merriam Webster defines rape as “sexual intercourse forced on a person without his or her permission.” This definition can be easily manipulated by the wide interpretation of the words force and permission. The legal definition of rape according Pennsylvania law, however, leaves little to interpretation.

Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Crimes and Offenses (Title 18) Part II, chapter 31 states the following.

A person commits a felony of the first degree when he or she engages in sexual intercourse with a complainant:

1. By forcible compulsion.

2. By threat of forcible compulsion that would prevent resistance by a person of reasonable resolution.

3. Who is unconscious or where the person knows that the complainant is unaware that the sexual intercourse is occurring.

4. Where the person has substantially impaired the complainant's power to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering or employing, without the knowledge of the complainant, drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance.

5. Who suffers from a mental disability which renders the complainant incapable of consent.

6. Who is less than 13 years of age.

The word “compulsion” in regards to rape is often misconstrued as physical force or violence in general discussions. Many people, when hearing the word rape, associate the term with someone being violently held down against her will, screaming in agony and begging for their perpetrator to stop. This stereotypical prison scene notion of rape is incorrect as demonstrated in the PA statute’s definition of forcible compulsion, which it defines as, “Compulsion by use of physical, intellectual, moral, emotional or psychological force, either express or implied.” By this definition, a person does not have to “fight back” when a perpetrator is aggressively pursuing a sexual encounter. Furthermore, if a woman refuses sex, but is compelled by emotional or psychological force (such as when a man chastises her for “teasing him” or calls her names), the act may be legally construed as rape.

The gender biased perception of coerced sexual encounters is also often misunderstood and leads to inconsistencies on how rapes are viewed. Men often associate the act of rape as something that is done when a man cannot obtain sex through traditional, consensual encounters (i.e. the aforementioned “he can get any girl” syndrome). First and foremost, RAPE IS NOT ABOUT GETTING SEX. Rape is an act of violence that has more to do with dominance and power than it does sex.
If you have never heard this definition of rape before, it is likely that the previous few paragraphs have provided an expanded view of how your state views the crime of rape. This also would suggest that, by this definition, rape occurs more often than most would think. In the U.S., 1.3 women are raped every minute—that’s 78 rapes per hour and 1872 rapes each day. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

The Coalition Educating About Sexual Endangerment (CEASE) reports “the U.S. has the world’s highest rape rate of all the countries that publish statistics on rape.” CEASE also states that 1 in 12 male students surveyed reported committing acts that met the legal definition of rape, yet 84% of them felt their acts were “definitely not rape.” They also suggest that 75% of male students involved in acquaintance rape were under the influence of drugs or alcohol and only 16% of all rapes are ever reported to police.

Since so many people often mischaracterize the type of person who perpetrates rape, it is useful to examine the traits of U.S. rapists. RAINN cites government statistics stating that the average rapist is 31, over 50% are white and 34% are intoxicated at the time of the act. Rapists are characterized in a number of ways by psychologists and doctors, but most agree that they are typically very dominant with alpha male traits. Not typical of the guy who is regularly shot down after some tawdry pickup line in a bar. However, a more aggressive demeanor is perhaps in line with the classifications many would apply to the average athlete.

Buckness University Professor Chris O’Sullivan, Ph.D. studied alleged gang rapes over a 10 year period and determined that fraternity groups committed the most with athletic teams coming in second. A USA Today article examined 168 sexual assault charges against athletes. Of those charges, the article reports that only 22 of the cases went to trial and only 6 received convictions. Yet national statistics show that regular Joe defendants receive over a 50% conviction rate for rape and 14% for some other crime. Some women feel that rape committed by athletes is a silent terror because they fear speaking out against a high profile athlete and enduring horrific public scrutiny. The National Coalition Against Violent Athletes (NCAVA) is an advocacy group that helps rape victims whose perpetrators are athletes. The group was started by Kathy Redmond, the alleged rape victim of New York Giants nose tackle Christian Peter , after she received a civil settlement out of court in 1997.

There is a common tendency to discount an accusation of rape by diminishing the character of the alleged victim. While some accusations, particularly when high profile celebrities are involved, may engage a purely false claim of sexual assault as a result of mental health issues or even plain greed, these instances are not likely to constitute the majority of nearly 250,000 rapes reported each year. Often victims are labeled as liars, crazy and having mental health problems and regarded as “obsessed” with their alleged perpetrator. But the NCAVA cites the Federal Bureau of Investigation with a statement declaring that more people fake their own death than file a false report for sexual assault. It is important to note that number 5 of that PA statute mentioned earlier suggests that mental disability may actually reinforce the validity of the charge of rape if it is determined that the victim was unable to offer consent due to mental incapacity. Regardless of what mental health issues occur prior to a rape, it is a violent and traumatic act that can result in mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and suicidal ideation after an incident (RAINN).

Today rapes continue to occur at the hands of male perpetrators who are often not aware that they are committing this illegal act. This is mostly because men still play a very dominant role in sexual relationships, especially with younger women. Most men cannot empathize with the feeling of being alone in a room with a man who passive-aggressively ignores light hearted efforts to convey refusal like “I have to get back” or “I can’t my friend is waiting”. Many women have reluctantly endured the “Oh don’t be that way, it’ll be fun.” And the “alright just a little longer and then I’ll take you home” before feeling obligated to comply with a sexual act that was not desired or permitted. But any man who is not sure as to whether something he has done in the context of a sexual encounter meets the legal criteria of rape need only make a simple consideration. Imagine the very scenario you were in but place your daughter in the role of the female and a strange man in the role of yourself. If you feel that the man in the scenario disregarded your daughter’s efforts of dissuasion or the man unfairly coerced her through implied psychological or emotional force, including calling her a stuck-up, teasing bitch, then it is very possible that you are legally guilty of rape.

Ultimately, there are a few things we all need to keep in mind when considering and discussing a sexual assault charge regardless of the case’s context. 1) Watch how you view the issue from each side when discussing it because you never know the background and experiences of the person sitting next to you, and your harsh criticisms and uninformed judgments can be very hurtful. 2) Just because a girl is in a hotel room with a big guy does not mean she asked to be raped and is therefore guilty. 3) Lack of a police report does not mean that someone was not raped, it means that they, like the more than 80% of rape victims throughout this country, did not file a report for any number of reasons. 4) Yes there are sick people out there that make false claims against people every day. These instances are unfair, unfortunate and very damaging to the person they are made against. However, no one should be quick to assume that every accusation is the result of an insane woman changing her mind in the morning. 5) Stop calling women who allege rape as crazy, even if they are lying. Even the women who make false allegations may be greedy, manipulative and con artists, but that does not make them crazy or mentally unstable. 6) At the end of the day, none of us were there and we all need to consider the sensitivity of the situation for everyone involved.

Author's Bio: 

Erin McClelland has over 15 years of experience in the addiction field and has worked as a counselor, program director, researcher, process improvement specialist and entrepreneur. She started her career researching alcohol and smoking addiction at the University of Pittsburgh and substance abuse wrap around services at St. Francis Medical Center. Her clinical career includes addressing addiction in methadone maintenance programs, outpatient drug-free programs and specialized services such as women, family and prevention program development. In 2002, Mrs. McClelland began a private practice in which she developed a community based prevention program designed to reach parents and educators through school and community seminars and home sessions. She also began developing a more holistic treatment approach that included diet and exercise evaluation. As a certified personal trainer and certified lifestyle and weight management consultant, she believes diet and exercise are paramount to attaining a true, maintainable recovery. In 2003, she was hired as the Practice Improvement Collaborative Manager at the Institute of Research Education and Training in Addiction (IRETA). In her time at IRETA, she was trained by the Pittsburgh Regional Healthcare Initiative (PRHI) to implement the Toyota Production System in healthcare settings in order to reduce waste and errors and improve performance. This training consisted of the case method training approach of Harvard Business School (HBS) and TPS case studies created by HBS professor Steven Spear, who wrote the first article interpreting the TPS for implementation in the US. In 2006, she conceived and developed Arche Wellness, the first licensed orthomolecular addiction treatment program in Pennsylvania. Together with Dr. Ralph A. Miranda, they have created an intense biochemical recovery approach that begins with the body’s fuel system, the gastrointestinal tract. By starting repair in the GI tract, they are able to quickly and efficiently help their patient’s overcome the severe physical damage caused by years of addiction. The GI concentration in the Arche Wellness model is now one of the most advanced and intensive addiction treatment processes in the world. Her experience and unique education in process improvement strategies have helped to make Arche Wellness a state-of-the art learning organization dedicated to achieving perfect patient care.