There have been a lot of almost-rapes on Buffy - never a literal rape that actually succeeded, but a lot of attempts and a lot of things that were similiar and could be used as a parallel to rape. First off, I want to be clear on my definitions. When I say rape, I mean literal rape - forced sex.
I mean, in a way, the siring of every vampire is a rape. There's penetration and there's destruction and pain. It's a rape of the soul.
But the first actual attempt at addressing the topic is in The Pack. When Buffy drags Xander in ("He tried his hand at felony sexual assault."), Willow is immediately horrified at the idea that 'the hyena' in Xander might have raped Buffy. Buffy shrugs it off, similiar to how she moves past Spike's attempt, I think, though it certainly isn't an exact comparison. Both situations are hopelessly complicated. And in both cases, it was the fact that they weren't the monster who'd done the rape that let her move past it. It took her longer with Spike, because she'd known him as the monster for longer. But the situations are similar enough for comparison. I can understand both why he'd say he didn't remember and why they wouldn't tell him - it's not something that they want to think of Xander being capable of. Ever. Therefore, it isn't and should be pushed away. Do I think Xander capable of rape? Well, certainly not after The Pack, which brought home to him that he could be as dangerous to the people he loves as his dad was. He's given the opportunity to prove this in Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered when he turns down a smitten Buffy because it wouldn't really be her. She wouldn't really want it, so he isn't willing to let her.
The second attempted rape was in Go Fish, where the coach threatens to have the entire monsterfied swim team gang-rape Buffy. And in turn, he almost certainly got what he threatened to her, which I place firmly in the realm of poetic justice. But those were mutated kids and monsters. Buffy probably chalked that up to another icky fight. It was a monster attack. Scary but something she can handle.
The next explicit rape threat is from Faith, who holds Xander down and switches to trying to kill him half-way through. Before the rape/murder attempt happened, he was a big cheerleader in trying to help Faith. He's pretty quiet on the subject of helping her after that, as I recall. Before that, he really was into her. After, not so much. In fact, he pretty much avoided her. Was there any real Faith/Xander interaction in Season Seven? I can't think of any. Yeah, he wouldn't say anything. In some ways, he's very stereotypical guy-like. But his silence speaks volumes. When they speak of helping Faith in a late-season episode, he's facing away from the rest of the group. I don't think that he got over it at all. He got past it, but he didn't get over it. After all, when Buffy went after Faith, he was only concerned about the state of Buffy's soul, not about Faith getting hurt. I may be wrong about some of these things - as someone's borrowed my S7 tapes, so I don't have them on hand. But yeah, again that was a rape attempt - she didn't succeed. And you know, I think that was the first time that I ever applauded the appearance of Angel. He saved my guy.
Dracula, who definitely screwed with our guys' minds. Violation, yes, but no literal rape. Though Giles got close, being felt up by the three whatevers (were they sisters?). Xander was the closest to what I would consider a victim (well, I do consider him a victim of Dracula), as his mind was definitely violated and twisted - akin to what Glory and Willow later do to Tara. Foreshadowing?
While we're talking about minds, we could mention about the insertion of Dawn into everyone's memories - a type of violation as well. One that got quite a few people angry at the time.
Next rape threat - Season Six, Bargaining Part 2, the monster who says that his boys have 'parts that tear up little girls'. And he gets axed by the lesbian. Her first axing. Good for her.
Then comes the mind-wipe, which does lend an unseemly air to the Willow/Tara interactions, as Tara no longer can provide informed consent. Once Tara does get informed, she gets away from Wills, which I do also commend her for. But I also don't blame her for going back. She didn't say it was all forgiven and she didn't say that it was magically healed. She said she wanted to forget about the tough stuff and get back to the good stuff. Type of woman Tara was? She would have gotten back to the talking eventually, I think. But she loved Willow too much to stay away. Her choice. Informed consent.
Then there's Spike. Wow. The Spike issue is a big one. But Buffy didn't rape Spike. What she did wasn't anywhere near rape, though it was also aeons away from healthy. It's not rape if it's wanted and Buffy never forced sex on Spike. She withheld tenderness and caring, but she never pretended that that was on the menu. She informed him ("This isn't real, but I just wanna feel..."). He consented. And he chose to believe that she loved him when she'd told him she didn't. And when she beat him up (which was horrible for her to do), he encouraged her ("Put it on me!") because he thought it would tie her to him. No, she didn't rape him. The one time that came close (Gone), she leaves when he tells her to. Well, she does cheat a bit in the beginning, but if she'd wanted to rape him, she could have. She didn't.
But he tried to rape her. Physically, she could throw him off, no problem. But mentally and emotionally, she couldn't for a while. He told her that he would never hurt her and she'd believed him. Afterwards, she sits in her bathroom for we don't know how long. And Xander comes in on her and he's horrified. He was ready to stake Spike then and there. And Buffy stops him. She covers her bruises up and beats up the bad guy. Cathartic. Violence has always been her comfort food. And when she's looking for a place to stash Dawn, she tries to go to Spike. Why? Well, for starters, he can't physically hurt Dawn. She's human. And she does still trust him. She trusted Spike far more than he deserved, pre-souling. Was it her Slayer instinct? We don't know.
We know that Xander and Dawn never treat Spike the same way again, after they learn of the rape. Once upon a time, Xander lit a cigerette for a Spike who had hands too bruised and bloody to use. Once upon a time, Dawn was the only voice defending Spike in a sea of hat, saying that a chip was as good as a soul. After, the best Xander ever treats Spike is as an annoyance, a danger, or an idiot. Sometimes all at the same time. They never have back the comradery that they occasionally shared in the past. The closest they get is Him, and there, Spike's smart enough to stay silent and out of Xander's way the majority of the time. Quite a turnaround from his behavior around Xander before. And Dawn threatens to set Spike on fire if he ever touches Buffy again. She never looks at him as a hero or even an equal again. Again, the closest she gets to her old feelings towards Spike are in Him, when she compares his misdeeds to Xander's. She's never his 'little bit' again.
As far as we know, Willow and Giles never knew about the rape attempt. One was too absorbed in her own agony and one was absent. And as Buffy didn't mention the rape in our hearing, I doubt she mentioned it at all. So, their lack of response is attributed to that, and not to any lack of feeling.
Buffy's response to Spike is... incredibly complicated. She did trust him. His act of violent want destroyed that trust. So, Season Seven shows us the process of her rebuilding that trust, based on the fact that the soul makes a difference. Which she has to believe. This is the woman who was terrorized by the soulless version of her greatest love. She, above anyone else, must believe that the soul makes the difference. And she sees Spike's remorse, his pain, when no one else does. She sees his moments in the cold dark.
Buffy separates the monster from the man. Always has. In order to fight vampires, she has to believe that killing them is the only possible course of action. Otherwise, each dusting would damn her soul as a murderer.
But it does take her time to make that adjustment with Spike. She sees his remorse and still can't comfort him at first, because her pain is too close (Beneath You). And over time, she trusts him more and more, because she believes that a soul makes a difference. Buffy's always held a great belief in the soul ("Someone with a soul did this? - Gingerbread). Her reiteration of the phrase "He has a soul now" annoyed many, especially people who were bugged by the fact that that was her entire argument, but to Buffy that is the whole point. You don't kill people who have souls if you have a choice. The only time she ever does is in direct defense of her life or the life of a loved one.
She says it herself - she saw him change. She saw his remorse and his willingness to die for his sins.
So, overall, I don't actually have a problem with ME's treatment of rape. It's a huge, horrible big deal and they treat it as such. At least, I think that's my conclusion. Hell if I know. The whole Buffy/Spike thing kinda came out of nowhere for me.