CeeLo Green Tweets It's Only Rape If Victim Is Conscious: A Timeline Of Laws and Attitudes About Rape
For some reason, people still don't understand the definition of rape. This week, when CeeLo Green implied on Twitter that women can only be the victims of rape if they’re conscious, it was yet another painful reminder that rape culture is alive and well. The now infamous tweets, which have since been deleted, came after Green pleaded “no contest” to slipping the woman he was accused of raping Ecstasy without her knowledge. The next morning, the woman allegedly awoke to find herself in Green’s bed without any knowledge of the night before.
Due to lack of evidence for the rape, CeeLo Green got offscot-free, except for the felony drug charge that led to 45 days of community service and three years probation. Green tweeted, “If someone is passed out they’re not even WITH you consciously! So WITH implies consent,” adding, “People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!” Yes, CeeLo, please explain that to the thousands of women who have been raped while unconscious.
Green’s comments — and luckily, the backlash to them — are indicative of the way rape is viewed today, both legally and morally. It's time for some context: Here's a brief timeline of the evolution of what was once considered rape — and what wasn't. Because, unfortunately, it turns out men have been trying to define the phrase "It's only rape if . . ." for centuries.
1780 BC: It's Only rape if the victim is a virgin
In 1780 BC, rape was defined as something that could only happen to a virgin, and the rapist's crime was damaging the property of the rape victim's father. While the rapist would be executed for his actions, trying to prove that a rape occurred was never easy. In the same Babylonian Code of Hammurabi laws, if a woman was married and raped, both she and her rapist were, of all things, thrown into the river to drown.
1855: IT’S ONLY RAPE IF IT’S NOT YOUR PROPERTY
Since slaves were considered “property,” white slave owners could legally rape their female slaves without any fear of prosecution. And if we look at Thomas Jefferson, for example, this happened a lot.
1859: IT’S ONLY RAPE IF the victim is a WHITE PErson
In George vs. the State of Mississippi, a black man, although convicted by a jury of all white men, saw his conviction overturned because at the time there were no laws that “recognized” rape between African slaves.
After Emancipation in 1863, the government enacted The Black Codes laws in order to keep the now free black community “regulated." Not only was interracial marriage made illegal, but the rape of a white woman by a black man was punishable by castration, if the lynch mob didn’t get him first. Still, there were no laws to protect black women from rape from any man, no matter the color of his skin.
1900: IT’S ONLY RAPE IF IT’S a VIOLENT attack
Although it took some 60 years to get reform as to what was considered rape, by 1900, “seduction by an acquaintance, regardless of consent or force" was deemed "a lesser crime than rape but still punishable by fines and imprisonment.”
This meant that a “licentious man” who pressured a woman into sex through false promises of marriage could be held accountable for his actions. Rape, however, was defined as involving physical violence. The idea that it couldn’t happen without violence dated back to the 19th century gynecologist, Dr. Lawson Tait, who famously quipped on the topic of rape that, “You cannot thread a moving needle.”
As for a violent attack, or what's most commonly known as "aggravated rape," there was still no law that protected women from being raped by men. Even now, there is still no federal law prohibiting rape — (but don't worry, there is still a federal law against issuing false weather reports, so . . . you're welcome). Instead, the law about rape still varies depending on the state in which the crime occurred.
EARLY 1900S: IT'S ONLY STATUTORY RAPE IF THE VICTIM IS UNDER 10 YEARS OF AGE
Until about 1900, the common law standard for statutory rape was girls under the age of 10. But by the early 1900s, suffrage advocates managed to convince 32 states to up the legal age of a girl's ability to consent from 14 to 18. The Southern states were very lax on changing the law, saying that such reform "would enable negro girls to sue white men."
1927: IT'S ONLY RAPE IF IT'S VAGINAL
The FBI finally took a stance, albeit a very weak one, on rape: "the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Carnal knowledge, although archaic, is just another term for sexual intercourse, and since only the female gender is mentioned in this definition, the forcible penetration of a man was still not considered rape.
1976: IT'S ONLY RAPE IF IT'S NOT YOUR WIFE
Up until 1976, there were no laws prohibiting marital rape on the books. Nebraska was the first state to make it illegal for a husband to rape his wife. The last state to pass the same law was North Carolina in 1993.
1990S: IT'S ONLY RAPE IF THE WOMAN IS 'PURE' (IN MISSISSIPPI)
Always late to the party, Mississippi refused to regard statutory rape as rape if the woman in question was "impure." An impure woman was one who was no longer a virgin, had a sexual past, or was a prostitute. That law was abolished in 1998, making rape of all women, no matter their sexual history, illegal.
present day: it's only rape if...?
It wasn’t even until 2012 that the FBI finally updated its definition of rape to include the forced penetration of the “anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person,” without consent as the legal definition. Before then, it just included vaginal penetration, which did a huge disservice to men who were the victims of rape. When the update happened at last, anal rape and oral rape had already been prosecuted in many cases.
Still, as we all know, there is much work to be done — both legally and socially. Many perpetrators, and even judges, often fail to see sex with an intoxicated or unconscious person as rape. CeeLo Green does not seem to see what he did as wrong, nor do the high school students in the Steubenville case.
There is something fundamentally wrong with a society that can't see that forced penetration of any kind without consent is rape — no matter who the victim is, no matter how much she's had to drink, no matter her sexual past, or her affiliation with her rapist. There is no gray area when it comes to rape. The sooner we realize it, the sooner comments like CeeLo Green's can become just another ignorant historical footnote.