Because in an era when issues of consent are at the forefront, I am having increasing problems with books that feature relationships built on “consensual rape.” As a lawyer, I would argue that legally, rape cannot be consensual. And I would argue further that it is irresponsible for authors to intentionally portray it in that way.
The stories always begin innocently enough. The young maiden, let’s call her Abrella, recently abducted by pirates, finds herself alone in her cabin with the hot handsome “Pirate King.” She is horrified by this man. He is a barbarian. He has murdered her parents and many others, claiming her as “the spoils.”
He moves toward her with intent, stealing a kiss. Then he paws at her, squeezing her breasts, his hand reaching underneath her gown and slipping into her knickers. Abrella is terrified and she tries to fight his advances. She is a virgin, you see, and she is saving herself for marriage. So, as his hands roam her body, she kicks and struggles, but he is too strong and she is too weak. Then he kisses her again, his kiss passionate, filled with tongue thrusting, sucking, biting. Abrella the innocent is overwhelmed. She has no experience in such things. She lacks the maturity necessary to divorce hormone driven impulses from reality. So, she stops fighting.
But when the Pirate King begins to undo the buttons on her dress, Abrella again attempts to pull away and declares, “Unhand me. I’ll not be granting my virginal charms to the likes of you. I must save myself for a proper man, the man who shares my marriage bed.”
The Pirate King growls and rips the dress from Abrella’s body. He will not be denied. Abrella screams and attempts to run. “No, stop, please stop,” she pleads. When he captures her, she begins to cry.
The Pirate King throws her on the bed, stripping away her underclothes, leaving her naked and helpless before him. He stands and removes his clothing, then moves between her legs. He, of course, possess an unusually hefty penis, the size of which terrifies the young maiden. Abrella kicks and claws, trying to prevent the sexual assault, but the Pirate King leans in and kisses her again. Abrella loses all willpower, her common sense abandoned to the heat building between her loins. When the Pirate King spears her, the pain is excruciating, but no matter. Ultimately, she bucks and squirms, then collapses in ecstasy.
Wait. What? She said “no,” repeatedly. And in my world, “no” means “no.” So Abrella was taken without her consent. She was legally raped. By whose definition is that even appropriate?
Let’s take the story a step further. After Abrella recovers from the brutal rape, she slowly realizes she has fallen in love with her captor and he with her. WTF? How can any true healthy, loving relationship be built on sexual assault?
Now some of you will argue that this type of behavior was acceptable in days gone by. But in reality, it wasn’t. Men were entitled to force their wives to have sex, but it was never legal to force sex on anyone else. Sure, people looked the other way. And in an incredibly sexist society, they also tried to justify it in ways that made it more palatable. Note, however, that in “polite society,” besmirching a girl’s/women’s virtue required that the besmircher marry his victim or face considerable consequences. In addition, claiming historical accuracy as justification for a rape scene is credible only if all other information in the book is historically accurate.
My conclusion? “Consensual rape” scenes in romance novels are a plot device used by lazy writers to justify inappropriate titillation. They are intended to mask the real issue: That rape is never acceptable and certainly never consensual. Do you want to get your readers all hot and bothered? There are much more creative ways to do that without glorifying a brutal crime.
Now, I could do the lawyerly thing and quote all sorts of laws, legal articles, and other commentary on the elements of rape and informed consent, but I won’t. I suspect the offending writers are well aware of the lines they have crossed. Instead, I will ask a few questions:
· . What responsibility do romance writers have when writing rape scenes? Do they have a responsibility to portray it as the crime it is? Is it ever okay to glorify and mask it as a romantic event?
. And what about issues of consent? Do writers have a responsibility to incorporate informed consent into love scenes, much like they have embraced safe sex and the use of condoms?
. What about the influence of such writings on young, unformed minds? Teens and young adults, who as impulse-driven individuals, have little experience with sex, much less utilizing their right to grant or deny consent? For the younger population, in particular, portraying forced sex, i.e. rape, without consequences seems very unwise.
I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions. But I do know they are questions writers must answer, and soon.