The War on Women Redux: The National Rape Conversation

As a woman who often labels herself a feminist, and who mostly spends time fighting, tirelessly, for equal rights, I’ve long dreamed for a day where rape would become a major talking piece that the political bigwigs had during election season. And while my dreams have recently turned to reality quite recently, I have questions and concerns about the circumstances surrounding how these conversations happen. Unless you have been hiding in a cave and your big fancy smartphone’s have been dead, you know all about Rep. Todd Akin’s comments regarding women’s bodies and legitimate rape. If you have, in fact, been hiding under a rock with a dead smartphone battery, Rep. Akin’s comments, in response to asking whether there should be an exception for abortion in cases of rape, were:

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

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Imagine! Now, while I do think that there are many layers of wrong embedded in the comment in and of itself (and the shit-storm hit the internet just as soon as the comments escaped Rep. Akin’s mouth), there are several other problems with the conversations we are having on women’s bodies and what we can do to protect our rights and secure our freedoms.

Foremost, I think that most of the faithful readers of this blog (and the people who may be new and jumping on) know better than to even use the phrase “legitimate rape”. For those of you who don’t, though, I’ll address this very briefly: this phrase is bad. Got it? Unfortunately, there are people who believe that women’s bodies just magically sprout microscopic sperm-fighting Xena Warrior Princesses as a last-minute saving grace when they are raped. I regret to inform you all that, while I am no doctor (and neither is Mr. Akin), this is incorrect. In fact, I would like to invite Mr. Akin to do research on the Black women who were raped during slavery (often by white slave owners) to “breed” more slaves.

However, the weight of those words go far beyond the correlation between rape and pregnancies.

The idea of “legitimizing” rape is something that every single victim of rape and sexual assault face throughout the aftermath of the event; whether or not the rape/sexual assault is reported to law enforcement, family, friends, or kept within, women who are raped/sexually assaulted often face issues with having to make the case for whether or not the rape is legitimate. The phrase is troubling, and it makes it incredibly clear that the people who use it do not know what victims of sexual assault and rape experience. Moreover, the governments already set standards which decide (for them) whether or not certain rapes are valid, which further traumatized victims of rape and devalues women’s bodies and worth. If you don’t believe this, I would encourage you to read your state government’s statute on rape/sexual assault (because they are not often considered the same thing) and then contact your local DA’s office and rape crisis center to see what the prosecution rate is for rapes locally. I’d be willing to guess that it may be 10% or less.

This often surprises people but some prosecutors, while under an obligation to see justice served, only take cases which they have a chance at winning. So, when Mr. Akin, in his apology and clarification, says he meant to say “forcible rapes” and that rape is a “violent” act, there are a number of rape victims whose rights, needs, and situations are being completely overlooked. There are victims, Mr. Akin, who would not classify their rape/sexual assault as “violent” because they did not sustain bruises or injuries, or because they did not scream but survived through it. There are victims, Mr. Akin, who would not classify their rapes as “forcible” because they may be married to their rapist, and though they’ve said no, they have been told on different fronts that they’ve had no right. Mr. Akin, you have no right to define the experiences of women who have been victimized by rape/sexual assault.

Additionally, I have some problems with the foundation of the conversation in general. Why do we perpetually have to bring up rape in order to discussion abortion and choice? It gets tiring to hear “what if so-and-so was raped and needs an abortion” every time we have a conversation with political hopefuls on the issues. I’d like to see a day where we can say “what if so-and-so has made a decision to have an abortion and her reasons are none of your business.” I have a dream.

We also shouldn’t have to bring up, by extension, “what if your sister/daughter/mother/cousin” was raped when discussing issues of rape. I understand why people attempt to make rape (of women) an issue that hits close to home that will, hopefully, open the eyes of some cranky Right-Wing Scrooge, but I’ll tell you why this entire argument is so silly to me: because everyone knows a woman. Whether or not they are family, every person on the planet knows a woman. The hypothetical situations should not matter because if it was Shaneeka-down-the-street-who-you-used-to-go-to-school-with, her body is her body, she does not deserve to be violated or disrespected, and if she is — you should be repulsed. Period.

I really appreciated President Obama’s response to Rep. Akin’s comments. I think they were right on, and I completely agree (because he kinda said everything I just said.)

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A conversation about like this, more about rape than abortion, should make people angry. The country is very split on the issue of abortion but I am of the opinion that we may be less divided when it comes to forcing a victim of sexual assault/rape to carry a child that resulted from the rape. I would like to hope that this conversation furthers, but not only because it could ultimately cause a bit of dissension within the Republican party. If we continue to hit the volley and further this conversation on rape, women’s bodies, (and subsequently, I suppose, abortion), we must discuss the lack of resources available for victims of rape and sexual assault, and even intimate partner violence.

Yes, I have a dream where the (mostly male) politicos discussion what happens to women’s bodies will also discuss the budget cuts rape crisis centers and domestic violence agencies face. I have a dream that Planned Parenthood will receive funding so that women who don’t have access to affordable healthcare can receive the assistance provided by them. Oh, readers, I have a dream.

It gets exasperating to hear language as expressed above, and then hear the denial of a war on women. The entire government can miss me with that.