Thursday, March 9, 2017

What is Actually Considered Rape?


What is Actually Considered Rape?
Multiple Responses
What is Rape?
Definition of Rape.  The exact definition of "rape" differs from state-to-state within the U.S. and by country internationally.  In the US, it is often called "criminal sexual conduct in the first degree".  Generally, rape is defined as sexual contact or penetration achieved:
  • without consent, or
  • with use of physical force, coercion, deception, threat, and/or
  • when the victim is:
  • mentally incapacitated or impaired,
  • physically impaired (due to voluntary or involuntary alcohol or drug consumption)
  • asleep or unconscious.

One of the most critical issues regarding rape is consent. Sexual activity should not take place unless both parties have freely given consent, and consent is understood by both parties.
  • silence does not mean consent.
  • if consent is given under duress (physical or emotional threats), then it is not given freely or willingly and sex with a person consenting under duress is rape
  • if someone is impaired due to alcohol or drugs, that person is deemed incapable of consenting and sex with that person is rape (even if the impaired person says "yes")

Was it rape or not?  RAINN has a helpful three-part checklist to help determine if what happened to you was rape or not.

1) How old are the participants?
Depending on where the incident took place, a person under the age of 16 or 18 may not be legally capable of giving consent. Sexual contact with such a person is often considered "statutory rape", even if the perpetrator did not know the victim was a minor.  "Statutory rape" laws vary widely, so please consult a legal expert in your jurisdiction for more information.

2) Did both participants have the ability to consent?
If one party is somehow disabled, by age, disability, drugs, or alcohol, that person might not have had the capacity to agree to sex.  If the person lacks the capacity to consent, sexual activity with that person is rape.

3) Did both participants agree to engage in sexual conduct?
This area is often the hardest to determine. If physical force or threats were used to coerce someone into having sex, that sexual activity is rape. However, rape often isn't violent. No means no, and silence does not mean yes. It doesn't matter if you've had sex with the perpetrator before, or were married to him or her. If you've had sex before but do not consent the next time, yet your partner continues and has sexual activity with you, that is rape.  If you had already started, and then you say no, and your partner keeps going, that is rape. No means stop.

What if it was attempted rape, or there was no penetration?  This is likely covered under your state's or country's sexual assault law.  Even if you're not sure the law recognizes what happened was rape, if you were violated you have the right to hurt and the necessity to heal. No one should delegitimize what happened because there was no penetration. The violence involved in an attempted rape is legitimate and can have the same impact on the survivor as a completed rape. Also, remember that rape can include oral or anal penetration. This penetration is not limited to penile, but can include other body parts or objects. The legal definition of rape can be tricky, but remember that even if the law is not on your side, many others are.

If you are a rape survivor, or you think you may have been a victim of rape, peer support can be very helpful.  Remember that it was not your fault and you are not alone. Consider joining Pandora's Aquarium, a rape survivor message board, chat room, and online support group.

Is It Rape If You Say Yes? 5 Types Of Sexual Coercion, Explained
In recent years, there's been a lot of media discussion regarding rape culture, the boundaries of consent, and “no means no” — so why is no one talking about sexual coercion? With California's recent adoption of the nation's first Yes Means Yes law — which asserts that the absence of the word "no" does not constitute sexual consent — we seem to finally be grasping the reasons why a person might not be able to say "no" to sex, even though they want to. But what about people who say "yes" to sex under duress? Why aren't we educating people about the times when "yes" might not actually mean "yes"?

Sexual coercion is when tactics like pressure, trickery, or emotional force are used to get someone to agree to sex. It can be as as simple as encouraging someone to have a few too many drinks, or it can hide inside threats like "I'll leave you if you don't sleep with me." But no matter what form it takes, sexual coercion isn't just "a part of life" — it’s manipulative at best, and at worst, it’s abuse.

Sometimes, it even falls within the realm of rape; studies have documented that victims of sexual coercion can suffer from anxiety, depression, and PTSD at rates similar to to those who have experienced sexual violence. But because there is so little public knowledge about sexual coercion, many women who have been sexually coerced might not even be aware that what happened to them qualifies as sexual assault, and may instead blame themselves for their trauma.

Sexual coercion is a tricky thing to define — so it scares me that we aren't talking about it more. Because when it really comes down to it, we need more than just knowledge about what constitutes rape; we need a greater understanding of everything that can happen between "yes" and "no," so that we can feel confident that we are only saying "yes" to sex because we truly want to. At the end of the day, it’s your body, your choice, and no one has a right to persuade you otherwise.

If you have said yes when you didn't really want to, know that you may have been sexually coerced, that there's no excuse for what happened to you, and that what happened was not your fault. Here are five warning signs that a sexual encounter may be coerced.

1. You're Having Sex Because You've Been Told It’s Your Duty
“You’re my wife/girlfriend, you are supposed to be having sex with me.”

Many cultures teach us that sex is an inherent part of marriage. Many people take that a step further, and believe that being in a romantic relationship with someone makes you entitled to have sex with them. The problem with that skewed thinking is that it leads some people to act as if taking on the label of "wife," "girlfriend," or "partner" suddenly makes your body their property.

Being in a relationship with someone does not give them a right to your body; and if you are having sex because you are constantly being reminded by your significant other that it is your job and it is expected of you, that sex is not being freely given. It is being demanded.

We all want to please our partners, and sometimes we do have sex with them even when we aren’t particularly feeling it. But we do that because we want to. However, if you're having sex with your partner solely due to the expectations that they place on you, it’s time to reevaluate who is in control of your sex life.

2. You're Having Sex Because You Were Threatened
“If you don’t have sex with me, I’m breaking up with you."
"If you don’t sleep with me, I’m going to sleep with someone else."
"If you don’t sleep with me, I’m going to tell everyone you are a prude.”

If you are having sex with someone because you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t, not because you want to — if the yes was given out of fear for an implied repercussion — then that is absolutely sexual coercion. Ayes isn’t really a yesif you are just too scared to say no.”

3. You're Having Sex Out Of Guilt
“If you really loved me, you would have sex with me.”
"I wouldn't have taken you out to dinner if I knew you were just leading me on. If you didn't want to sleep with me, you shouldn't have been flirting with me either."

If he really loved you, he would respect you. Guilt is one of the biggest tactics used in sexual coercion. Every relationship has its dry spells, and while mutual respect and communication can help sort it out, a guilt trip is emotionally manipulative and unhealthy — and pressuring a partner to have sex using guilt is absolutely a form of coercion. Couples don’t grow closer by pushing each other into doing something they are uncomfortable with. A healthy sex life is built on a foundation of respect, not manipulation.

4. You're Being Pressured To Drink Before A Sexual Encounter
"Here, have a drink, have another, let me refill that glass for you. I want you to be relaxed.”

There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether a drunk woman can give consent to sex. But you don’t have to be fully drunk in order to be sexually coerced with alcohol. It is very easy for someone to try to ply you with alcohol as foreplay to a sexual encounter — because they know that if they can “relax” you enough, you may drop your resistance due to your impaired judgment, and agree to have sex. If your partner knows that you don’t want to have sex, and you find them repeatedly topping off your glass, be aware that you might be getting manipulated.

5. You're Having Sex To Avoid Angering Your Partner
If you know that turning someone down for sex might mean dealing with an explosively angry reaction, you are dealing with more than just sexual coercion — this is also a major red flag that you are in an abusive relationship. Sex should never be something that is done out of fear, or to protect yourself. Sex like that is not only coerced — it is assault, and most likely part of a larger abuse problem. If you find yourself saying yes to sex as a means to avoid harm, then there is no excuse for your partner's behavior; please consider talking to someone and getting help.

Legal Definitions and Possible Questions
Each state within the US and each country internationally have its own legal definitions of terms such as sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse. The verbiage and legalese can be confusing for most people. The fact that each state defines each of these words to mean either the same or different thing, depending on their laws, may make it even more difficult for survivors to understand and recognize what has happened to them. You should check the laws in your own state or country in order to know exactly how rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault are defined.

However, remember that no law can define your experience better than you. If you feel violated, betrayed and scared, you have the right to find support and to heal. No matter what type of sexual violence you experienced, and no matter how confused you are, please know that you are welcome in our message board, support group, and chat room for rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault survivors and we are here for you.

  • Sexual Assault: A sexual assault is usually described as an unwanted, violent or not, sexual contact that does not lead all the way to an actual vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. However, there are some states and jurisdictions that use sexual assault as an interchangeable term with rape.
  • Rape: A rape is defined as sexual intercourse that is forced on an unwilling victim. Any penetration can be defined as rape, no matter if it is vaginal, anal, or oral. Anyone can be the victim of rape, female or male, and at any age. Additionally, a victim of rape may be forced by threats of violence alone and it is still rape. In fact, most rapes consist of the rapist using no weapon other than the threat of violence and/or physical force.

Since it is impossible to create a definition that encompasses each and every possible scenario, here are a few of the questions survivors and victims may have:
  • What if I know the assailant, date, or used to date the assailant?
No matter how well you know a person, they do not have the right to touch you or have sex with you if you do not consent. Any unwanted sexual activity that you experience from another person is a sexual assault, sexual abuse, or a rape. This even holds true if you have had sex with a person in the past. If you refuse at the time of the incident, a rape occurred.

  • I never physically resisted the assailant.
Lack of consent can be communicated with a simple "no" and/or other verbal and non-verbal declarations (such as tears, fears, shaking, etc) that you do not wish to have sex. It may also be implied by the circumstances, such as your young age, mental capacity, intoxication, or fear of being physically harmed. Not resisting the assault does not automatically mean that you consented. In many cases the victim fears that fighting back might result in the attacker becoming more violent.

  • I was unconscious or asleep when the rape occurred.
If you are asleep or unconscious, then you cannot give your consent to sexual intercourse. Without your consent to intercourse, a crime occurred and it's called rape.

  • I don't remember the rape.
Not remembering the rape doesn't mean that the rape did not happen. Memory loss can be a result of date rape drugs like GHB and roofies, as well as drinking too much alcohol. When in doubt, talk to someone, contact your local authorities, or your local crisis center.

  • I was drunk/the rapist was drunk.
Alcohol or any other drug is no excuse for a sexual assault. In most states, both parties must be conscious and willing in order for the sex to not be considered rape. However, these laws can also vary by state so contact your local authorities or crisis center for the relevant local laws.

  • I never said "no," but I thought it.
If you were scared for your health, your life, or the life of your loved ones, then you did not freely consent to any sexual activity. Additionally, it is rape if there is a knife or gun used to threaten you if you say anything. It is also rape if the perpetrator threatens to retaliate against you, threatens to harm you if you say anything or try to fight back.

If you are not sure if you have been raped, sexually abused, or sexually assaulted, contact your local crisis center or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE for help and support.

This document is distributed for informational use only; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such.

Permission is granted to reproduce this article, provided that reproduction is for nonprofit educational use and that copyright is retained in its entirety as follow:

This page contains an evolving collection of prominent myths about sexual assault. Challenging myths about rape and sexual assault is one way to disrupt rape culture. Please feel free to use the comments to add additional myths and facts about rape that you know of if they are not yet included in this collection.

Myths about sexual assault:
  • MYTH:Most sexual assaults are committed by strangers. FACT: Seven in 10 sexual assaults are by someone the victim knows.
  • MYTH: Physical evidence never lies or misleads. FACT: Physical evidence may link a person to another but contact may have happened some time ago, and it does not explain the nature of the contact.
  • MYTH: Because a case was unfounded, it means the incident didn’t happen. FACT: A sexual-assault report can be determined to be false only when the evidence establishes no crime was committed. Only 2 percent to 4 percent of rape reports are false.
  • MYTH: What’s said by attorneys in court must be true. FACT: Defense attorneys can raise the possibility of an alternate scenario that has no basis in fact.
  • MYTH: Men always get sexual gratification from raping. FACT: Men committing sexual assaults may not get erections or ejaculate.
  • MYTH: A woman who was drunk or dressed provocatively was “asking for it, or reports of so-called “marital rape” or “date rape” are less credible or serious. FACT: Rape is rape. It is always illegal.
  • MYTH: If details of a story are changed, or someone waits to report a rape, it means the person lied about having been raped. FACT: Very few sexual-assault victims report the incident immediately, and details usually do get changed in the repeated telling.

Some additional facts:
– Women sexually abused as children are three times as likely to be raped as adults.
– Women who were raped before are seven times more likely to be raped again.
– Sixty-seven percent of reported sexual assaults collected by the government’s Bureau of Justice Statistics were to children, and 34 percent to children under 12.
– A woman who was raped has a more likely than not chance of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
– People who have been sexually assaulted, including as children, are more likely to develop eating disorders.
– For women, the likelihood of being raped on a college campus is one in four.
– An estimated 70 percent of sexual assaults are not reported.

SOURCES: Joanne Archambault, End Violence Against Women International; Susan Lewis, National Sexual Violence Resource Center; Monika Johnson Hostler, North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault; Wendy Murphy, New England School of Law.


Myths and Facts
Myth: Sexual assault is a rare occurrence
Fact: Although statistics vary for a number of reasons, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) 1 in 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape and 1 in 10 men has been the victim of sexual assault. Even more, every two and a half minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted and a rape is reported about once every five minutes. This is not a rare occurrence.

Myth: Women cry rape because they had sex and changed their minds, want to get back at a man or want attention.
Fact: Rape is not a regret, it is a crime! In actuality, according to the FBI, less than 2% of rapes are falsely reported. There is simply no benefit to reporting a rape (survivors are met with disbelief and accusations and cases are rarely prosecuted successfully). Furthermore, the attention gained by being raped is not something a person would want. Rape is a very difficult, traumatic experience to overcome with emotional scares that last for years.

Myth: If the victim has consumed alcohol or drugs then it is not a sexual assault
Fact: Whether the victim consumed alcohol or drugs prior to the offense is irrelevant. The assault is the responsibility of the offender—who CHOSE to commit a crime. Someone incapacitated by drugs or alcohol is not fully able to give consent.

Myth: Women who wear short skirts or tight tops are looking for sex.
Fact: How a woman dresses is not an invitation for sex.

Myth: It is impossible to sexually assault someone against their will. If they did not want to be sexually assaulted they could have fought or run away.
Fact: Any sexual act forced upon another person is considered rape. It does not matter if the person fought back or not. Submitting without a struggle does not mean the victim consented to the sexual assault. The victim is the best judge of whether or not it is safe to resist. The victim is NEVER to blame for the assault.

Myth: Husbands don’t rape theirs wives.
Fact: Being married does not mean a partner can obligate and force sex upon their mate. Rape can happen anywhere, by anyone.

Myth: Men sexually assault women because they cannot control their sexual urges (it’s about sex).
Fact: Sexual assaults are violent crimes committed by men who want to dominate and degrade women. Sexual assault is about power!

Myth: Women secretly want to be sexually assaulted
Fact: Women do NOT want to be assaulted. Sexual assault is a traumatic, painful, and fearful experience

Myth: “Nice” girls are less likely to be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Women of all ages, cultural backgrounds, social classes, and of all sexual lifestyles are equally likely to become victims of sexual assault.

Myth: Women who are sexually assaulted “asked for it” by the way they dress or act.
Fact: The notion that women “ask for it” is a classic way to displace the blame from the offender to the victim. If a woman is sexually assaulted, it is NOT their fault. A woman NEVER “asks” or deserves to be sexually assaulted regardless of how they dress or act.

Myth: Rape is the victim’s fault: “If she didn’t want to do it, why did she go to his place? She knew what kind of guy he was!” “You know how she gets when she’s drunk. ” “Oh, she sleeps around.”
Fact: Statements such as these put the blame on the victim and not on the offender. Rape is never the victim’s fault. Even if she did something that puts her in a vulnerable position, she did not ask to be sexually assaulted.

Myth: It’s not as traumatic to be raped by someone you know.
Fact: Just because the victim knows the rapist doesn’t make it any less a crime or any easier to deal with. Often the emotional impact of acquaintance rape seems greater than that of stranger rape. Also, the victim may have a strong feeling that no one will believe her. Her trust in others and in her own judgment is violated.

Myth: Unless a weapon is used, it wasn’t rape.
Fact: It is considered rape anytime someone uses force with intercourse or other sexual acts against a person’s will. The force may include weapons or intimidation, drugs, alcohol or any other tool to diminish the person’s judgment.

Myth: Women are sexually assaulted by strangers while they are alone in dark alleys or deserted places.
Fact: 80% of sexual assaults occur in the home and 49% occur in broad daylight. Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and trusts, for example a family member, friend or casual acquaintance.

Myth: Men cannot be sexually assaulted.
Fact: Men CAN be sexually assaulted regardless of age, size, strength, appearance or sexual orientation.

Myth: Only homosexual men are sexually assaulted.
Fact: Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transgender men are equally likely to become sexually assaulted. Being sexually assaulted does not have anything to do with your sexual orientation.

Myth: Only homosexuals sexually assault other men.
Fact: Most men who sexually assault other men are heterosexual. Sexual assault deals with violence, anger and control over another individual and not lust or sexual attraction.

Myth: Erection, ejaculation or orgasm during sexual assault means “you really wanted it” or “enjoyed it” or consented to it.
Fact: Erections, ejaculations and orgasms are physiological responses that may result from mere physical contact or even extreme stress. These responses do not imply that you wanted or enjoyed the assault and do not indicate anything about your sexual orientation.

Myth: Men are always in control of their sexual experiences.
Fact: This is not true, either for young boys or for adult males. Men can be victims of rape/sexual assault.

Myth: Men do NOT experience the same degree of emotional pain associated with sexual assault like women do. If a man experiences emotional pain, he should be able to deal with it.
Fact: Factors such as alcohol, drug abuse, family violence, sexual offending, suicide, and social dysfunction may be a result of sexual abuse of males when not acknowledged or treated.

Fraser Health, 2002, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, 2005

Legal Role of Consent
The legal definitions for terms like rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse vary from state to state. See how each state legally defines these crimes by visiting RAINN’s State Law Database. No matter what term you use, consent often plays an important role in determining whether an act is legally considered a crime.

The legal role of consent
There is no single legal definition of consent. Each state sets its own definition, either in law or through court cases. In general, there are three main ways that states analyze consent in relation to sexual acts:
  • Freely given consent: Was the consent offered of the person’s own free will, without being induced by fraud, coercion, violence, or threat of violence?
  • Affirmative consent: Did the person express overt actions or words indicating agreement for sexual acts?
  • Capacity to consent: Did the individual have the capacity, or legal ability, to consent?

Capacity to consent
A person’s capacity, or ability, to legally consent to sexual activity can be based on a number of factors, which often vary from state to state. In a criminal investigation, a state may use these factors to determine if a person who engaged in sexual activity had the capacity to consent. If not, the state may be able to charge the perpetrator with a crime. Examples of some factors that may contribute to someone’s capacity to consent include:
  • Age: Is the person at or above the age of consent for that state? Does the age difference between the perpetrator and victim affect the age of consent in that state?
  • Vulnerable adults: Is the person considered a vulnerable adult, such as an elderly or ill person? Is this adult dependent on others for care?
  • Developmental disability: Does the person have a developmental disability or other form of mental incapacitation, such as a traumatic brain injury?
  • Physical disability: Does the persona have a physical disability, incapacity, or other form of helplessness?
  • Unconsciousness: Was the person sleeping, sedated, strangulated, or suffering from physical trauma?
  • Intoxication: Was the person intoxicated? Different states have different definitions of intoxication, and in some states it matters whether you voluntarily or involuntarily became intoxicated.
  • Relationship of victim/perpetrator: Was the alleged perpetrator in a position of authority, such as such as a teacher or correctional office?

Remember: each state’s law is different. If you are unsure how a state law applies to specific circumstances, consult an attorney.

Help is available
Regardless of what happened, know that you are not alone. To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE(4673) or chat online at You will receive confidential, judgment-free support from a trained support specialist and information about local services that can assist you with next steps.

It can be challenging to come to terms with what happened. If you are unsure about whether a crime legally occurred, or have further questions about a state’s law and how it applies to a specific event, you can consult an attorney or reach out to local law enforcement for help.

What is Rape? Was I Raped?
Rape is a heinous act performed when one party wishes to exact complete power and control over another. The definition of rape, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network is:

". . . forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object."

Rape is a crime of power that can be perpetrated against anyone. Learn the definition of rape and the answer to: was I raped?

Rape is often known as "sexual assault" or "sexual abuse," particularly in the law. However, sexual assault and sexual abuse are defined more broadly whereas the term rape specifies intercourse.

Threats of violence or weapons may be used during rape but in about 8-out-of-10 cases, nothing but physical force is used. Weapons or threats are not required for an act to be considered rape.

It is important to know that either gender can be the perpetrator or the victim of rape. Additionally, both heterosexual and homosexual rapes take place both inside and outside of relationships. It's critical to understand that rape is never okay and that no matter the circumstance, rape is never the victim's fault.

Sexual Assault
It's also important to know that sexual activities short of rape performed without consent are also a crime. These crimes are generally known as "sexual assault." Sexual assault is defined as the following, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network:

". . . unwanted sexual contact that stops short of rape or attempted rape. This includes sexual touching and fondling."

Was I Raped?
Some victims of rape wonder about their specific circumstance and wonder if it constitutes rape. Chances are, if you're wondering, "was I raped?" you probably were. Rape happens any time sexual intercourse takes place without your consent. Note that many circumstances can indicate your lack of consent including:
  • An inability to give consent due to age
  • An inability to give consent due to diminished capacity (perhaps due to a disability)
  • An inability to give consent due to inebriation (typically due to ingesting drugs or alcohol)

And, of course, any time you say, "no" to intercourse and it is forced on you, that is rape. It doesn't matter if you said "no" in the middle of the act, it is still rape if the other party doesn't immediately stop and respect your wishes. You have the right to rescind consent at any time, under any circumstances.

Sometimes it is considered rape even if you do not say, "no" such as in the case where a weapon is used. Sometimes you are too concerned for your life or safety to say, "no." This is still considered rape. Threats against others may also constitute too grave a threat.

It still is considered rape even if:
  • You didn't physically fight back
  • You used to date or were friends with the perpetrator (read about: What is Date Rape?)
  • You are married or engaged to the rapist (read about: Marital Rape)
  • You do not remember the rape
  • You willingly ingest drugs or alcohol

It is critical to remember that rape can happen to anyone in many situations but it is never the victim's fault – it is always the fault of the rapist.

Question: When is rape not considered rape?
Answer: When you live in Pennsylvania.

I always believed – naively as it turns out – that I knew the various manners in which rape could occur. Specifically, I thought that when something was forced inside a woman’s vagina against her will and without her proactive consent that it was rape – regardless whether it was a penis, a finger, or an object. That seems pretty standard and uncontroversial and correct, right?

Wrong. Dead wrong.

After reading news reports from reputable media sources about the Steubenville rape case, I kept hearing the same disclaimer over and over again: “Under Ohio law, digital penetration is considered to be rape.” That made me wonder: “Under Pennsylvania law, was digital penetration considered rape?”

The short and incontrovertible answer is: No, it is not considered rape in Pennsylvania.

To me, that is disturbing and shocking. It may be to you, as well.

I went to the experts, starting with the man I consider to be the best criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, Charles Peruto Jr.

“I did my research, and can tell you in Pa., 'penetration' with the fingers, is Aggravated Indecent Assault, as opposed to outside of the panties/pants, which would be Indecent Assault," he explained. "Aggravated is a felony of the 2nd degree, carrying a max sentence of 5-10 years in prison."

It is not Involuntary Deviate Sexual Intercourse, which would be a felony of the first degree and carries 10-20 years in prison, he said.

West Chester attorney Sam Stretton echoes the law in Pennsylvania. “Rape is defined as involving a penis,” Stretton told me, adding that several other states have amended the definition of rape.

In fact, as some states have amended their laws to include non-penis penetration as a form of rape, the federal government has broadly expanded its definition of rape.

Philadelphia Weekly staff writer Tara Murtha, who has written some important articles on rape, made me aware that the FBI has revised its Uniform Crime Report’s (UCR) definition of rape as "the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Of course, that’s for statistical reporting of rape nationwide, even if a particular state’s legislature doesn’t define rape that way.

Chris Miller, of counsel to the Law Office of Harper J. Dimmerman, explained Pennsylvania’s sex crimes legislation to me.

“Every state legislature can set the law as they see fit. I think having different gradations and clear definitions is better for a jury. When a jury thinks of rape, they think of unwanted sexual intercourse. I think by having clear definitions of other unwanted sexual contact that a jury is able to understand exactly what it is.”

And that’s the current situation in Pennsylvania, where you might spend up to two times the amount of time in prison if you use a penis instead of a finger.

Is the gradation and sentencing differential for digital penetration fair, or should we be mimicking the Ohio statutes?

I put that question to Dr. Maria McColgan, who serves as a pediatric adviser for Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania.

“It's a form of sexual assault. It is just as unwanted, and can be equally damaging - both physically and mentally - but I don't see harm in separating the kinds of sexual assault, as long as it's seen a sexual assault,” McColgan said,.

“It's a very big problem," she added. "I see it very often. It may not seem as bad as other forms of rape, but it can be equally stressful and upsetting for the victim."

McColgan, who also is the director of the Child Protection Program at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, said that “people are talking about it more and have stop treating the victim like a criminal so they will speak about it, as it’s unusual for a child to lie about sexual assault.”

To that end, McColgan will be leading a child abuse prevention event at St. Christopher’s on April 24th at noon, at 3601 “A” St, Phila PA 19134. For more information, please email

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