That Time My Cab Driver Asked Me The Difference Between Sodomy And Rape

Sure, I've voluntarily discussed rape, but being a captive audience when a stranger unexpectedly brings it up is a bit disconcerting.
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Publish date:
October 29, 2014
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Tags:
rape, new york, sexual assault, cab drivers, Sodomy, Male Rape

In an effort to save money, I haven't been taking cabs much lately. Last Monday, however, I'd picked up some hot food on my way home from choir practice, and instead of letting it inevitably get cold by getting back on the subway for several stops (after waiting who-knows-how-long for the train to arrive) and then walking four blocks and an avenue from the closest station back to my apartment, I decided to hail one of the many taxis passing by and pay a relatively small fare for a quick ride right to my door.

A fancy new Nissan NV200 cab picked me up -- one of those minivan-type things with the moonroofs that let you gawk at all of Manhattan's amazing skyscrapers. Except I was in Brooklyn, so after asking the driver to take me to my destination, I just watched Taxi TV.

I know what you're thinking: Someone actually watches Taxi TV? Yes, and that someone is me. It's not that I'm particularly riveted by local newscasters' movie reviews and "Live! with Kelly and Michael" clips, but I tend to get motion sickness in the back seat of cars, and focusing on the screen in front of me keeps me from spewing chunks.

"Have you been paying attention to this?" the driver asked me when we were about a mile from my place. He was referring to the radio talk show he'd been listening to.

"No, sorry, I haven't," I replied.

"Do you know about sodomy?" he asked.

I wasn't sure what he'd just said, partly because of his thick accent and partly because "Do you know about sodomy?" is more or less the last question I'd ever expect to be asked by my cab driver.

"Do you know about sodomy?" he repeated.

"Oh, sodomy!" I half-shouted upon understanding what he'd said. It was a first for me.

I wasn't sure if I should feel endangered. I was a woman alone in a car with a male stranger, and the first thing he said to me after his earlier "Hello!" was a question about a sexual act. I fleetingly thought, I'm just 20 blocks from home -- should I jump out at the next red light? But the tone of his question wasn't at all ominous, so I stayed calm and replied circumspectly.

"I know of it," I said, channeling Ramona Flowers.

"This woman -- the host -- is talking about a young man in prison who was sodomized there," he said, "but she keeps saying he was raped."

"Yeah, unfortunately that's been known to happen a lot in prison," I replied.

"But I thought men couldn't be raped," he said. "I thought sodomy, yes, but she keeps calling it rape."

I was getting uncomfortable, not because I felt threatened, but because I was surprised by the topic. Having been assaulted in college, I don't particularly enjoy being caught off-guard by rape chitchat. Sure, I've voluntarily discussed rape, sometimes very willingly, but being a captive audience when a stranger unexpectedly brings it up is a bit disconcerting.

"Can men be raped?" he asked, quickly followed by, "What is the difference between rape and sodomy?"

I could've asked him to pull over so I could walk the rest the way or just feigned ignorance, but his questions didn't sound combative or incredulous; he seemed genuinely interested in grasping a standpoint with which he wasn't familiar. And while I didn't have male-rape statistics conveniently folded up on a piece of paper in my pocket (at least not that evening), I felt I could give him a fair explanation in the couple of minutes left in my ride.

"Well, sodomy itself isn't rape. It's penetration of the anus or mouth, and that can be consensual," I said. I saw him nodding along, listening. "But it can be used as a tool of rape on both women and men."

"But I thought rape is a man forcing sex on a woman," he replied.

"I think that's how a lot of people defined rape in the past," I said, "But nowadays, any forced sexual penetration on anyone is pretty much rape."

I know, it didn't sound very academic; I was ad-libbing in the back of a cab. But in case you'd like a longer and more eloquent explanation than the one I gave the driver: After almost a century of the federal government designating rape as forced vaginal penetration with a penis, the definition was expanded in 2012 to include forcible oral and anal penetration regardless of the victim's or the perpetrator's genitalia. For the sake of tracking the crime, the FBI now counts "penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim" as rape. And in 2011, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a survey that explained to participants that unwanted sodomy is a form of rape, one in 71 men said they had been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

That study didn't even include men raped in prison, which is what got the driver talking in the first place.

When he pulled over to my requested corner, I paid with my debit card, and with the 20% tip, it came to about $10. He pulled out a pen.

"Do you need me to sign?" I asked. Usually, you don't have to sign for a charged cab ride in New York unless it comes to more than $25.

"No, I was wondering, could you tell me how to spell sodomy?"

The bizarreness of the moment wasn't lost on me, but I didn't hesitate; I spelled the word for him as he wrote it down in a small notebook.

"Thank you," he said, smiling. "I like to learn."

I hadn't gotten into the cab intending to teach anyone anything, but I got out glad that I had. Entirely weirded out, but glad.