Animal Rights & Veganism

Can You Rape An Animal?

This is not spacing my paragraphs after the quote correctly. askl;dfja;dsfj I made it “work” by putting dashes between them. Fucking WordPress. Or really I’m just awful at technology. Honestly it’s more likely the latter. OH WELL!

How’d my first clickbait title go?

I hope the title is not too much in itself, but here is a trigger warning for anyone who happens to be a survivor: there is going to be some discussion about the act of rape and its effects on the raped. There are not going to be any stories about rape or anything of that nature – it’s just going to be an objective discussion of what constitutes rape.

I’m going to do what all of my elementary teachers told me never to do and start this by quoting the dictionary. Yea, fuck you Mr. Perlieto! The esteemed reference source provides the following definition of rape (yea I’m cutting the quote maybe that will fix the spacing afterward).

Well this seems pretty easy. We can play the oldest internet argument game in the world and pick a definition that allows us to say raping an animal is possible – and surely we can penetrate an animal’s sex organs without its consent. I’m ignoring an important word here, but we’ll get to that in a second. But let’s take for granted that something along the lines of (1) is a solid definition; some sort of non-consensual penetration of a sexual nature.

There is an unfortunate amount of rhetoric among animal rights activists that loudly, and mistakenly, says that artificial insemination is rape. The above makes that seem inarguable… until we notice that little word thrown into that first definition: “person.” Luckily I am not going to turn this into the very complicated argument of what constitutes personhood, whether non-humans can possess it, etc; let’s take it for granted that many non-human animals have capacities that make them moral patients (it’s easy to take for granted things that are true BTW!) – that’s all we need for them to qualify as persons in the sense the definition requires. Now we look at the above and begin to wonder if Chris is a moron who is incapable of reading dictionaries but, giving him the benefit of the doubt, we wonder what disqualifies this term from being accurately applied to animals.
It’s very simple: words are a lot more than their dictionary definition. Language carries with it an enormous amount of social baggage. As an example, let’s look at probably the most offensive word in the English language: nigger. Most readers might have an immediate reaction that I’ve done a horrible thing by not censoring it, making it a little lighter by referring to it as the n-word, or writing n****r. It makes me uncomfortable to have even written it down in full form – and this is an enormous clue. While a dictionary definition might say that this word is a racial slur, an extremely disparaging remark, etc used to refer to a black individual that clearly does not capture the essence of the word. It has the historical baggage of racism that itself has resulted in a very, very strong societal disapproval for using the word. So let’s go look again at rape.
Rape is not a word that carries with it the power of a slur – there’s no horror or cringing in using it. But it does have the weight of being an incredibly terrible thing; if someone is raped they have suffered tremendously. This is a clue that there is much more to the horror of rape than an act of non-consensual penetration, and this is also where we need to reflect back to that word “person.” Rape is a violation of an individuals space, body, self, etc, and what sets it apart from other such actions is the effects it has on the raped. The rape survivor will frequently feel great shame – shame that discourages reporting. There are also feels of guilt – maybe if they had done something differently it would not have happened, so it has to be their fault. There is the possibility of pregnancy and the decision of whether or not to get an abortion. There is, unfortunately, the societal stigma and the Mens’s Rights Activists (not just them, even more sad) who are so quick to bring up that (a) men get raped too and (b) she might be making it up. The list could even grow. The point is that rape is such an awful thing because of the effects on the victim. 
Now the question gets more difficult: are animals capable of experiencing those effects to a degree that justifies calling what happened to them rape? Is artificial insemination something that creates those feelings in an animal? I think the answer is a resounding no – there simply is not the societal structure and the degree of metacognition that these responses require. And let’s not beat around the bush: animal rights activists use that word specifically because of how loaded it is, how much we know it is a terrible thing, so if what makes it so loaded does not apply to animals then not only is the comparison wrong, it trivializes the experiences of rape victims. This is not simply a matter of rhetoric not exactly matching up with the facts (a very, very common situation) but that the mistake devalues individuals that are already greatly suffering from negative social attitudes and psychological trauma. It goes past being wrong and becomes damaging.
There is a quote from a concentration camp survivor that comparing factory farming to the Holocaust only trivializes the experiences of survivors if you consider the suffering of animals to be trivial. Usually some appeal such as this follows. But the reason that works is because the Holocaust is comparable to factory farming in the relevant ways; even if one treats the suffering of humans are much more severe the sheer scale of factory farming, billions upon billions, weighs heavily. They used cattle cars to shuttle Jews into the camps for crying out loud! Now there are definitely pragmatic reasons to not use an analogy to the Holocaust, but there is nothing about the analogy that neuters it and makes it nothing more than an attack on the experiences of survivors.
Anyways the takeaway is that animal rights activists, or just vegans in general, need to stop using this comparison because it is not just wrong, it is wrong in a way that is greatly damaging to actual rape victims. And let me throw in the disclaimer that I am vegan – this isn’t simply some meat eater’s rationalization (I mean, acknowledging the legitimacy of the Holocaust comparison should speak to that by itself).

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