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a sensitive subject

November 8, 2010

***TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses rape and describes an incident of sexual assault***

I have discussed rape and sexual assault on this blog before and, while the topic always instigates discussion and debate, the most hotly contested statement I have made is that human practices inflicted on nonhuman animals to force reproduction is rape. Because some rape and sexual assault victims are offended by this comparison, I am told it should not be made. However, while many people are offended that I label the actions of forcing male animals to ejaculate or shoving objects into the vaginas of female nonhuman animals rape, I really can’t imagine calling it anything else.

When I call what we do to thousands of nonhuman animals on a daily basis in the name of food production rape I am not belittling human women, nor advancing the experience of the nonhuman animals simply for the sake of hyperbole. I am just identifying what is happening. I understand that if a person believes humans to be more valuable or have more meaningful experiences than nonhumans, then this would be insulting. I, however, do not think the suffering is unequal and so to me this comparison is far from insulting—it just is.

In saying this I do not intend to diminish the feelings and knowledge that any victim or survivor has about his or her own experience. At the same time that I believe rape is rape, regardless of the species, I also believe that each experience of assault is unique and that no one’s voice should be stifled. While some victims and survivors think my perspective diminishes their experiences, other victims and survivors do not.  Though I am not necessarily silent about my own experience of sexual assault I never put it front and center and rarely speak of it in my daily life, but today I want to because of this belief that only victims and survivors can have a voice or an opinion on this matter. I am a survivor, this is my voice and my opinion is strongly informed by my experience of abuse.

I feel that it is in allowing any instance of assault to be normalized that our society reinforces and perpetuates the rape culture and misogyny that has made sexual assault commonplace. Unfortunately, our culture accepts rape

A mainstream ad that glorifies and sexualizes rape

and sexual assault in various ways. We reproduce and glorify it in our advertising and other media, it is an acceptable topic of humor and it remains an unaddressed social problem. And, when it comes to nonhuman animals, we simply ignore it. The act of forcing something into the vagina of a female-bodied individual and impregnating her against her will is NOT something we call rape but it IS something we rely on for the way we choose to produce food. To me this is a problem. And it I this sort of mislabeling that helps to perpetuate rape culture. If as a society we can look at a clear act of rape, but refuse to define it as such, we are allowing rape to be devalued. We are saying that if it is done by those in power to those who are powerless, then it is not rape.

As a culture, we have created a story of a rapist bogyman, a stranger popping out of the dark to attack an unsuspecting woman who dared to walk alone at night. This story, which is only true in a fraction of sexual assault cases, allows us to ignore the very real social problem that sexual assault stems from—the idea that violating the bodies of the women and other minorities is a mechanism of control regularly used in our society. Sexual assault goes under-punished in our society and the dialogue surrounding it is filed with misinformation and a tinge of shame and blame directed toward the victims. This allows rape and sexual assault to remain prevalent. However, if as a society we identified sexual abuse when we saw it and refused to tolerate it on any level, it would cease to be the tool of abuse and control that pathologically invades our culture.

People tell me that that shoving an apparatus into the vagina of an unwilling nonhuman animal is not rape just because that animal is not human. This apparently doesn’t fit the “definition.” But I know that definitions are wrong. What I experienced didn’t fit the definition and so I had no recourse, no way to call for help, no way to say no and for many years no way to heal. No stranger leapt out at unsuspecting me and attacked me. No one ripped off my clothes or forced his penis into my vagina. I never screamed. In fact, what a cow faces on a rape rack is much more similar to the “standard” definition of rape than what I experienced. As a teenager, I took drugs my boyfriend offered me trusting he would not give me too much, though he intentionally did. Once I was incapacitated, he demanded sex. I had very little physical control over my body, so all I could do was say no. My refusals continued and his behavior became more erratic and scary so to protect myself I decided concede to, or at least not to fight, some very unwanted and unenjoyed sexual contact. I felt this was the only way I could avoid vaginal rape or physical harm so I made a decision to be assaulted in one way because I feared being assaulted in another. I know I was assaulted and it was much less cut and dry than what happens to cow on a dairy farm.

Some moments of that night I have worked not to remember. Other things I remember with crisp clarity; it is the things I remember that let me know what happens to anyone who is assaulted or raped (species irrelevant) is important, needs to be named, and must be stopped. For me, the experience of being assaulted does not set me apart from others; it brings me closer. My experience is unique but it is not uncommon. In experiencing what I did I joined an unfortunately large number of women, men and children in this country who have survived sexual violence.

If we lived in a society that refused to allow the bodies of women and minorities to be abused by those in power, I wonder if I would have ever had that experience. When I was told of the intentional overdose that night I tried to throw up the pills, hoping to prevent my total incapacitation. My boyfriend’s friends held me down, refusing to let me throw up, laughing the entire time. If we lived in a world in which our entire food system was not based on rape and violence, would a bunch of teenaged boys have the notion that it was remotely socially acceptable, much less funny, to control my body and physically subdue me?

I know what helplessness is because that night I did not have the capacity to scream for help. I know what fear is because that night I knew if I continued refusing something else unknown and more horrible might happen to me. When I think of the cow or the goat on the dairy farm or the pig on the hog farm I do not think about how much worse what I faced was than what they faced. I do not imagine all the ways my emotional and intellectual life might or might not differ from theirs to make my experience more salient. What I do imagine is how, like me, each one of them must feel scared. I feel empathy through the similarity of our experiences, not supremacy because of the differences.

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23 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 12:15 pm

    Thank you for your courage in speaking out…..and thank you for speaking on behalf of those with no human voice. We all must speak on behalf of victims and against violence…..for all living beings.

  2. November 8, 2010 12:16 pm

    Well written. Thank you for sharing.

  3. November 8, 2010 1:14 pm

    Thank you for writing this difficult but important article. It is so critical for every woman to become aware that rape is not generally cut and dried. An assault can come in many ways. I believe that a woman knows if she was raped, she feels the effects of it in her soul. It is very difficult, I think, for some women because we hear that rape involves ‘vaginal penetration’ and anything else isn’t rape. I don’t believe that this is true.

    Thank you again for writing this. I will share it with the strong, wonderful women around me, and hopefully this world will become a safer, more beautiful place for women of all species.

  4. November 8, 2010 1:18 pm

    People who deny the similarities, in the sexual violence committed against non humans by humans and humans by humans are doing just that…they are being in denial.
    There is so much pain, loneliness, fear, suffering and terror involved.
    These are the similarities, these are the experiences of sameness involved.
    The animals live in horrible factories, they never see the light of day until they are taken to slaughter. They are denied companionship, exercise and they are left without any recourse. Here are the similarities again… but added in for the animals is the killing floor. Added in for the human victim who makes this comparison is too be assaulted again by belittling the crime as nonsense.
    If you talk with most humans about this aspect of animal exploitation the responses are usually to downplay the violence and sexual assault as mere economic realities or animal rights peoples anthropomorphic delusions.
    Or….if you are a male making the analogy it can be thrown back at you by non animal rights feminists as an anti woman, misogynist bit of moralizing…even if you might (possibly) be referring to human male on male sexual assault, which many people do not even consider when the discussion comes up.

    If you were to talk with these same people about the horrors of antibiotics, growth hormones and chemicals which all animals are assaulted with when being raised for consumption… then they are all about listening to you and gasping in horror.
    Yet make a comparison to the suffering (fear, pain etc..) and you’ve crossed the exploitation relevance line.

    There is a major disconnect here and it’s very disturbing and depressing.

    Your courage is appreciated. Thank you for writing this and I hope you can influence the many people who may be able to relate (have some empathy) rather than deflate what you have to say.

  5. Susan permalink
    November 8, 2010 3:53 pm

    Well done, Vegina!

  6. November 8, 2010 4:02 pm

    Very courageous and thought-provoking post. Thank you so much.

  7. November 8, 2010 6:19 pm

    Thank you Vegina for being brave enough to stand up for the animals while also sharing your own personal experience. I am inspired by your article that speaks up for a population that can’t escape the everyday violations due to profit and greed.
    I personally have become very empathetic and proactive in advocating against animal suffering over the years due to my experience as a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault.
    I have come to realize that the trauma and recovery I experienced is NO different then what an animal experiences. For any person to actually DENY that animals have the capacity to feel complex emotions is uneducated nonsense.
    Look into the eyes of a scared dog, cow, pig and so on and you will NEVER be able to deny the reality of BILLIONS of animals’ pain. Every living being has a flight or fight response to stress. No female animals or human wants to be strapped down against her will to then be inseminated which will lead to the baby being taken away due to her MILK BEING MORE VALUABLE then feeding her baby.
    Thank you again Vegina for being the voice for the voiceless. I know that our history books will show the future generations how twisted our values were in these times of nightmarish practices being done just for profit and greed.

  8. November 8, 2010 7:30 pm

    One of my favorite quotes about this subject, taken from The Art of Herbivore-
    “Dairy and eggs are industries built on the exploitation of the female reproductive systems. I wish more people wishing for equality and fairness, when it comes to feminist issues, sould see the unity of oppression and advocate for all females, including the non-human ones.” It is rape; it is bullying based on hierarchy and greed. It is female oppression. Do not support it!

  9. November 8, 2010 8:17 pm

    Vegina, I think it is very brave of you to talk about this. I have no trouble saying “meat is murder” to people, but I’m wary of saying “dairy is rape” because rape so prevalent that I’m never sure whether the person I say it to is a survivor. I have known many rape survivors who were open about their experience, and probably many more who will never tell anyone. It breaks my heart to think about how widespread rape is, how deeply ingrained it is, how even I — who calls himself a feminist and tries to stand outside this male supremacist way of thought — sometimes succumb to the genderizing and see women as “mine.”

    Bless you for standing tall and strong. The voiceless thank you, and I am inspired by you.

  10. November 10, 2010 1:03 am

    Thank you for your courage in sharing your experience of sexual assault and for speaking out and for standing up for humyns and for non-humyns, who experience sexual assault and rape.

  11. November 10, 2010 9:29 am

    Thank you all for such positive feedback. I was very worried about how people would react to this but I felt it a very important topic that needs to be addressed. Your support is so meaningful and your thoughts and stories are so appreciated.

  12. November 10, 2010 11:06 am

    powerful!! thank you so much for sharing this profound reality that many refuse to believe.

  13. November 14, 2010 8:49 am

    You are so brave.
    I thank you for writing this and speaking out against the injustice of sexual assault- in humans OR non humans.
    This must be stopped.

  14. November 15, 2010 5:08 am

    “I feel empathy through the similarity of our experiences, not supremacy because of the differences.” It had to be said – Thank you for the courage to do so!

  15. November 18, 2010 8:56 pm

    Vegina,
    I’ve followed some of your writings before but this one moved me to comment. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences as a way of illustrating your “animal rape” position. Sharing sometimes helps healing.– What happened to you clearly was rape and hopefully the perpetrators were punished. (I assume you were smart enought to break up with that boyfriend!) You found the power to say “no” but it was too late. You had the power to say no to taking drugs, regardless of the potency, but you did not. It is hard to “teach” young people about consequences and so many end up learning the hard way.– Regarding the animals, I get what you are saying. It is a form of rape, perhaps. But I’m not convinced that human sexual values are easily transfer to non-human instincts. Many animals in the wild randomly jump each other. Should we humans view that as rape? Yeah, I know it is not the same thing as captive insemination, but it might indicate that human values regarding sex (forced or invited) might not exactly apply to the non-human animal kingdom. Separate from the discussion and debate on captivity, do we really know if an animal is more satisfied having an offspring via artificial means than not having one at all. I honestly can’t answer that unless I try to judge by the apparent love and protective instincts given to that offspring, regardless of how it came about. – I enjoy your writings. Thanks for letting me participate!
    Tru

  16. November 19, 2010 2:58 pm

    Thanks for writing this. It’s moving and true. I really think that everyone needs to read it, whether they agree or disagree with your perspective.

    I really wondered if there might be some correlation between the amount of dairy farming in a country and the frequency of sexual violence, so I searched online for an answer. I didn’t come up with much, but I did find this World Report on Violence and Health, which you can download at http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/sexualviolence/index.html. I think that in “less-developed” countries as well as Asian countries (where I assume dairy farming is less), the statistics are too difficult to obtain for various cultural reasons, so who knows how underrepresented the numbers are. One idea I did have, though – because I really do think you make a good point about dairy farming perpetuating the acceptability of sexual violence – is that *regardless* of what the stats are in other countries, the stats for sexual violence in the US are MUCH higher than what you’d expect, given that we’re supposed to be a “developed” country. Maybe one of the inhibiting factors *is* the prevalence of dairy farming. Someone, somewhere MUST be doing research on this question!!!! I hope so, at least.

  17. November 21, 2010 7:49 am

    I was moved to tears and I strongly agree with this message.

    I wonder, however, what do we do when we are presented with certain factors in which our species clearly are not similar. I am not being completely forthcoming with my views here, but I want to know what people think about instances of nonhuman species that have rape as a “normative” part of their reproduction cycle.

    Ducks, for instance, rape and are raped so commonly that females have actually evolved defensive mechanisms in their reproductive systems to force the male’s penis into offshoots of the normal tubes and the sperm into dead-end channels. Scientists used to believe that this allowed females to mate only when they chose to do so by controlling where the penis went when they were raped, but new studies seem to show that it is unlikely that females have this much control and that they actually mate voluntarily enough to perpetuate the species.

    I was strolling around the beautiful campus at Michigan State University one day when one male duck persistently assaulted a female. The male partner of the female would attempt to defend her, but he was not as strong as the assaulting duck.

    I was transfixed by this. It was a beautiful spring day, every waft of wind carried the grace of magnolias, and in front of me ducks were engaged in raping.

    A part of me screamed for it to stop, but another part of me, maybe the journalist, maybe the preservationist, told me that I could not intervene. A young woman emerged from her group of friends–she did not have the same reservations as I.

    She chased away the two male ducks, shouting at them, “Leave her alone! Stop! Go away you horrible ducks!”

    She had two male friends with her and she and they were laughing about it, but she was not leaving. Neither were the male ducks. It was a Texas standoff.

    At the time, I thought it was classic anthropomorphism. Could we really know this was rape? Is it fair to apply a human term to something which has emerged as an integral part of their species for hundreds of thousands of years?

    I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if she was right to interfere or if I was right to remain a bystander.

    Either way, if there is any gray area to this situation, there is not for nonhuman animals controlled by agriculture. There is no similar argument to make for the forcible impregnation–and rape–of cows, horses, chickens, etc. An acquaintance of mine tells me that chickens rape and murder each other at the drop of a hat, but he is yet to convince me that that gives humans the right to rape and murder them.

    Perhaps “rape” is somewhat of an anthropomorphism, but no matter what term you apply to it, if the female cow still experiences fear and suffering, it is a violation in EVERY sense.

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  19. May 26, 2012 8:06 pm

    Cool post . Thanks for, commenting on this blog dude. I shall email you some time. I did not realise that!

Trackbacks

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