Should the word “rape” in the American term “statutory rape” be replaced with some other word?
I would argue in favour of replacement that it diminishes the perceived magnitude of the crime of rape in the ordinary sense (“rape rape” to use Whoopi Goldberg’s term, or “legitimate rape” to use Todd Akin’s) to use the same word for those cases of statutory rape where consent was present, or arguably present. It also makes calm discussion and clear thinking about the complex issue of consent much harder.
Incidentally, I think that most of the criticism that both Goldberg and Akin got for using the terms they did was unjust. They both deserved criticism for making public pronouncements about subjects of which they knew next to nothing. Goldberg apparently did not know that Polanski’s crime was indeed a particularly vile coercive rape of a minor. I suspect that she assumed that talented people from her own social milieu did not do that sort of thing. Akin had the silly belief that women’s bodies have the power to prevent conception by an act of will. However I do not think for a moment that when he said “legitimate” rape he meant that there were circumstances where rape should be permitted, and I do not think that those howling for his head really believe he meant that either. He just used the wrong word. He should have said “coercive rape” – but the very fact that people need to hunt around for a term that gets that across, and get into trouble when they get it wrong, is why I think the term of law should be renamed.
I am not arguing against the existence of such laws, although no doubt many of them could do with adjustment. I am told the term does not exist in English or Scottish law but it has certainly soaked into British public discourse, muddying the waters.