A rape by any other name..

Surprise sex, wha?

There are a lot of books out right now that have rape as an integral element to the story. Some are rape fantasy where the rape is violent and graphic. It may or may not lead anywhere, it could simply be to reinforce an alternate universe where these things happen frequently. It could also be a way to create tension and later resolution. Many have suggested it’s the hurt/comfort trope from fan fiction finding its way into books.

There are too many reasons to count for why authors include rape in books from literature to horror to romance. I think it’s up to an author to decide if the rape belongs in the book and then up to readers to decide if they agree and like it or hate it. Everyone has different tastes and fantasies and hot buttons so there’s no question rape in any form is bound to be a polarizing element in books.

What gets me though is the rather mild warning of “forced sex.” Now of course I know what this means but I wonder why publishers use a mild term when they are speaking of rape. Is rape such a horrible word that it’s ok to use the action in the book for dynamic effect but we can’t warn anyone about it?

In the gaming group I play with there was someone that hated the word rape. We of course used it all the time. “That boss raped us!” “That monster raped your ass.” “I got raped at the auction house.” In deference to the player’s feelings the guys started calling it “surprise sex.” The context didn’t change and the usage if anything went up, but somehow calling it by something else made the term less objectionable.

I think using the term “forced sex” is somehow less objectionable and less true. If the story is going to rape someone for whatever reason, I think the warning should say rape. Not forced sex. Rape. Call it what it is.

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24 thoughts on “A rape by any other name..

  1. I definitely am more taken back by the word rape. Although I suppose it means the same thing, you are right – I see forced sex warning and although I know what to expect – if I saw a rape warning…it might make me do a double take.

    I have read some rape fantasy books and I can’t remember the wording they used..I will have to check.

    • Well what bothers me is that authors and publishers try to use a more mild word so as not to “scare readers off” yet shouldn’t readers have the option and information to say no if they dislike the content? I think calling something forced sex is trying to make it more mild and less objectionable. If you use rape in a book, the warning should say so.

  2. I guess I don’t read the warnings very often. I’m not sure where the difference would lie between forced sex and rape. I can’t really think of a difference unless there is an implied violence to rape which could be absent (but not necessarily so) in forced sex.

    I just read a fantasy where the straight(?) prince was given as a concubine to the warlord as a peace offering. He did not want to have sex with the guy (at first) but due to honour he agreed to and besides, the warlord wasn’t going to take no for an answer. So was THAT forced sex? He was forced into it in the sense that saying no wasn’t an option for a variety of reasons, mostly of his own, but he agreed to do it. Was he taken againt his will? Hmmmm. Of course he liked it. I’m not sure where the line stands. I suppose that’s typical dub con, because he never said no, he just didn’t want to do it. I don’t want to do this stupid stuff at work today, but I don’t say no. Is that forced labour?

    The line like most things in sex can be very blurry. However I think MOST of us are pretty clear about rape. We also tend to refer to kids being “molested” and often that means raped. It seems less nasty somehow. The other book I read had a young man telling his potential lover how he’d been raped repeatedly as a teen until he escaped. I don’t mind that kind of story because it explained his fears and the telling was not done to titillate but show a horrible situation, but I couldn’t read a story where the guy fell in love with a rapist, but maybe some would think the warlord was a rapist because he had no intention of NOT having sex with the guy whatever he said. Maybe it was just convenient the guys said yes.

    I don’t know. Too complicated for me.

    • It is a complicated issue for sure. I don’t have a problem with the forced sex warning. For example there is “forced sex” in yaoi and “non-con” but really the guys aren’t being raped. That’s the basis of sex in yaoi and rape isn’t a word associated with it.

      So I think that’s been carried over where rape situations are mildly labeled with non-con or forced sex. There’s a difference I guess you could say in implied consent or violence – though rape doesn’t have to have violence. In yaoi there is implied consent because the semi really wants it just says “no.” So when I see the warning on full out rape books, I think it’s a misnomer. Just my personal opinion though.

    • It does and it’s wrong IMO. I think readers are inured to non-con due to yaoi influences and the term implies something that the term rape does not. Publishers/authors use the terms and not rape for a reason.

  3. I feel equally squirmy about “questionable consent” in reference to warning labels on books. There is, in my mind, a huge gulf between “questionable consent” and rape. And, frankly, what is the motivation of prettying rape up by calling in questionable or even the slightly more accurate non-consensual sex? Perhaps I’m completely off base, but it seems that those types of labels strive to dilute the negative connotations attached to the word RAPE.

    • Exactly!! Thank you!

      That is exactly what I feel the intent is when other labeling is used to “disguise” the nature of rape. I feel that if a book will do the act, it should be honest and slap the appropriate warning.

  4. I think forced sex is rape, just as I believe the ‘non-con’ label is rape, but there are shades of gray with it that publishers use (myself included).

    When I think of the ‘forced sex’ term, I think more along the line of little to no violence. Date rape, coercive rape, etc. When I see ‘rape’ itself as a warning, I think of something completely violent. That might not be how every publisher intends the warning, but it’s what I think when I say ‘forced seduction/forced sex is okay’ in my submission guidelines.

    Rape isn’t something, I feel, that’s a middle-of-the-road topic/theme. From what I’ve seen, people either love it in their fiction, or they resent the use of a traumatic act in what is meant to be entertainment. I’ve met few people who just don’t care.

    I don’t mind rape/forced sex in a story so long as it isn’t there for shits and giggles. It needs to serve a purpose thematically for me to get behind it as a plot device.

    • I don’t want to get into whether readers like or don’t like rape as a plot device. Talk about controversial. Some like it, some don’t and I have my own strong feelings about the use of rape in all kinds of fiction.

      My point is merely the warning process where publishers/authors don’t want to scare people away with the use of rape in their stories so try to label it in another, perhaps less evocative way.

      For me non-con and forced sex are too close to the yaoi definitions and don’t really describe rape. I also don’t associate the term ‘rape’ with violence as date rape to me is rape and not forced sex. Forced sex (to me) has the implication of implied consent or perhaps the captor/prisoner role in romance.

      I would agree that it’s a complicated issue because every reader is going to view the subject and warnings differently. I think if publishers and/or authors weren’t scared of turning readers off, the warnings would be flat out rape for all of the above definitions. Yet people -are- scared of that and so they use other terms. The real question is why and is it appropriate.

      • Then again, I have a personal dislike of warnings for fiction anyway. 🙂 I think it’s something that’s bled over from fanfiction where readers demanded warnings be applied (though, even then, I resented it). When you pick up a Big 6 book, there isn’t a list of maybe objectionable material listed on the product page, back of the book, or on the book flap. I’ve never quite understood, or agreed with the reasons given, why professional online fiction (fiction sold to readers) should be held to different standards.

        I also dislike warnings because, usually, they spoil something in the story. If I place ‘rape’ a warning on Book A, then the reader will start their experience anticipating that moment when the rape will occur.

        I’m trying to work out a compromise for Storm Moon Press where the reader makes the choice if they are spoiled with warnings or not, but it’s taking a bit of time. I understand why some people want the warnings, but, at the same time, I have the personal disagreement that I, as the author or publisher, should have to apply them. 🙂

        • Well the warning discussion is another topic entirely. I agree that warnings are not on the big publishers but that’s because they’re not really niche fiction. Furthermore the fiction tends to be very specialized AND the biggest issue is that I can walk into a bookstore and flip through the books. I can’t do that online. I can’t flip through a book and decide if I like it or not.

          I can’t return an ebook like I would a real book if I didn’t like it or it had questionable content. Thus since the option of more information is taken away online, I think warnings are adequate. I can’t and simply don’t trust publishers and authors to be honest about their content. They’re trying to sell a book not please a reader.

  5. I think when I see “dubious consent” or “forced seduction” I expect something different than rape. Forced SEDUCTION implies that there’s seduction, ie pleasure, had by both parties. Likewise “dubious” consent is different than saying NO. Dubious might be wishy-washy, but it isn’t a flat out refusal – maybe more like emphatic persuasion?

    I don’t object to rape in a story when it serves a plot purpose. I do not, however, want to see my hero rape the other hero/heroine. I have a hard time, Luke and Laura aside, accepting a loving relationship that originated in violence. Because face it, if we’re talking true RAPE, it’s not about sex or seduction, it’s flat out violence. (Climbing off my soapbox now)

    • I don’t disagree about the nature of rape. It’s about control and power, nothing more, and I get that. What I’m saying is that publishers may view rape in various shades of gray where they mean something different with each word. As an author, I would be offended if I wrote a non-con situation where the heroine was coerced/blackmailed into sex and my publisher labeled it as rape. Yes, legally, in the real world, that is rape, and rape–no matter how you spin it–is always about control and power, but in the fictional world of romantic fantasy, that doesn’t matter.

      I think that’s what I’m seeing. Use rape when the act truly is the violent act of our nightmares, but use the non-consensual/forced sex/forced seduction wording when it’s more a romantic trope than a criminal act.

      >.> Though I am playing devil’s advocate here because, personally, I do not like rape in my romantic fiction when it’s meant to be a trope between the main couple. I don’t set out to read, I don’t get titillated by it, and I don’t fully understand rape fantasy, but to each their own. 🙂

      • I think you misunderstood me but I get what you’re saying. I don’t think EVERYTHING should be labeled rape. I do think rape should be labeled as such though.

        If you’re writing a forced seduction scene (like vj has said) that is seduction and implied consent. Rape doesn’t have to be violent and I personally don’t associate violence with the word rape. I associate an act without consent, implied or otherwise. Forced seduction or forced sex to me is a way of saying implied consent. So when a rape scene – flat out rape, no consent, no seduction, no falling in love – is mislabeled, that’s disturbing.

        I understand what you’re saying here and the opposite POV is essential. I’m not arguing that rape should be the only label. I just think that the term is not used out of fear when it actually should be applied.

    • I think when I see “dubious consent” or “forced seduction” I expect something different than rape. Forced SEDUCTION implies that there’s seduction, ie pleasure, had by both parties. Likewise “dubious” consent is different than saying NO. Dubious might be wishy-washy, but it isn’t a flat out refusal – maybe more like emphatic persuasion?

      This 🙂

    • I hope something I’ve said hasn’t made you think otherwise about the discussion. Yes, I do think some warnings downplay the content so that books will still be bought. It’s capitalism. Authors and publishers want to sell their stories, and if it means fudging what terms they use so they don’t put their readers off on a product, then I’m sure that’s what they will do.

      And I think that’s the answer to Kassa’s question. Why not use the term ‘rape’ for every act that is not 100%, above the board consensual? Because they want the book to sell and to use the term rape will probably negatively impact their sales. Publishers don’t want their sales down, so you pick a less offensive word for the offensive act.

      Please, don’t crawl back into your lurk-hole! 🙂 I think you’re right. Rape is rape is rape, and applying a shiny word to it doesn’t change the nature of the act… it only changes the potential of the sale.

      • Don’t leave, either of you! -clings and bribes-

        I love this discussion and it brings out strong emotions. I think we can all agree rape is bad and whether it belongs in fiction is up to the individual.

        My question is not why aren’t all books labeled rape, but why aren’t the more hard core books labeled as such. SL said the answer – they want to sell books. They don’t want readers turned off that there is rape in the story so they want to hide it and hope the story achieves the purpose and goal of the scene/s.

        I personally don’t have a problem with the “forced sex” label. I just don’t want it used with a broad brush over -everything-.

  6. Tam says:

    I just thought I’d check the book I read last night where the man described being raped as a teen, but he was not the main character, if there was a warning on the book. MLR press no warning, nor at ARe who carry it nor Fictionwise. It was not a long description but was fairly graphic and I suppose could have been a shock to some readers, but this gets into the whole labeling can of worms which is different than your issue of using a “euphemism” for rape where there clearly is rape.

    • I do think the labeling issue is a different post. I’m merely calling out the problem of using a less objectionable term for when they want to say rape.

      Perhaps I’ll restart the debate on labeling.

  7. SL said: And I think that’s the answer to Kassa’s question. Why not use the term ‘rape’ for every act that is not 100%, above the board consensual? Because they want the book to sell and to use the term rape will probably negatively impact their sales. Publishers don’t want their sales down, so you pick a less offensive word for the offensive act.

    I agree with S.L. In fact, the cynic in me thinks that this is probably one of the main reasons why publishers tend to avoid labels and categories in general; that is, because of the potential impact it could have on sales.

    Like them or not, readers do generally want to know what they are getting for their dollar and in all honesty why shouldn’t they, especially when it comes to confronting issues like rape and, I think even more importantly, when that theme is used in romantic fiction.

    What strikes me is that at the heart of this seems to be the matter of expectation, particularly reader’s expectations. What a reader expects in romance. What a reader expects when it comes to being informed enough to choose whether they want to buy a book or not. What a reader expects when they see the word rape in a blurb or label or whatever. And also what a reader expects when an author chooses to deal with sexual abuse and violence in a story.

    Getting back to the topic, though, like others I don’t like euphemisms for rape. It is what it is. Full stop. The end. For me, an attempt to make it less offensive a term is an attempt to make it less offensive as an act. And that makes me very fucking angry.

    • What strikes me is that at the heart of this seems to be the matter of expectation, particularly reader’s expectations. What a reader expects in romance. What a reader expects when it comes to being informed enough to choose whether they want to buy a book or not. What a reader expects when they see the word rape in a blurb or label or whatever. And also what a reader expects when an author chooses to deal with sexual abuse and violence in a story.

      Getting back to the topic, though, like others I don’t like euphemisms for rape. It is what it is. Full stop. The end. For me, an attempt to make it less offensive a term is an attempt to make it less offensive as an act. And that makes me very fucking angry.

      This.

      Perhaps we should make a post about reader expectations in romance?

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