Earlier this week, Representative Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, was discussing his views on abortion when he said, “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy from rape] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
Understandably, a bunch of people flipped out. We’re not talking “take shelter until this blows over” freak out, we’re talking intense, election losing freak out, and rightfully so.
Just for the record, the body does not have any “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” What methods does Mr. Akin imagine the female body might have to avoid pregnancy? I’m curious. Click here for an article discussing the science behind rape and pregnancy. You’ll note that around 32,000 pregnancies occur as a result of rape each year.
So, realizing that this comment wasn’t just going to be hidden under the rug, Mr. Akin responded. From the New York Times:
Mr. Akin quickly backtracked from his taped comments, saying he “misspoke.”
“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Mr. Akin, who has a background in engineering and is a member of the House science committee, said in a statement. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life, and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”
I highly doubt that’s going to make it any better, Mr. Akin.
As a country, we spend an awful lot of our time and energy discussing and fighting about abortion, but I’m not entirely sure that we spend enough time trying to understand abortion. If you’re feeling curious, why not go over here and check out some stats?
But let’s skip the abortion debate, because we’ll get trapped into that abyss of conversation and lose our way.
Let’s talk about rape.
I am guilty of spending a large part of my life believing that rape was just uncomfortable, like bad sex. I didn’t understand. I still don’t, since it’s not something I’ve experienced, but I have a much better idea now.
I knew about rape as a child because I spent so much time buried in magazines like Time, Newsweek, and Reader’s Digest. During the 90s, I feel like there were a lot of news stories focusing on rape – particularly during and after political conflicts and wars abroad. That, coupled with the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal, really cemented the idea of the vulnerability of women during times of war and the idea that rape is tied in with power and masculinity.
But my understanding of rape was still clinical and journalistic. It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven or twelve (somewhere in there), and received a book of murder mysteries for Christmas that I started to understand. In one of the stories, there was a rape and murder of a young girl. I won’t go into detail. It was graphic. It terrified me. I wrapped the book and hid it in the bottom of my desk drawer because every time I looked at it, I had nightmares. That was my first visceral reaction to the idea of rape.
Then came high school, followed by college. We were in a feminist class, I think, and the professor showed this scene from the movie A Time to Kill, which really put it in perspective for me. I don’t know why it was this that did it, or why it’s haunted me ever since, but in that moment, somewhere in a dark classroom, I felt my heart tear open and begin to ache as the understanding spread through my body to settle deep inside my mind.
Rape is not just bad sex. Rape is destructive, violent, painful, terrifying, and scarring. We as a society do so little to protect and comfort victims. You’ll notice that it’s comments like this one by Mr. Akin, or the one by the officer in Toronto who said that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being raped, that really set us off. They’re the comments that create awareness, promote discussion, and prompt change.
But even so, the change comes too late for so many. The rapists take shelter in the gray areas of the law, and often walk away without having to face consequences due to lack of evidence, or a “he said, she said” argument. Rape is covered up, hidden, made a secret. The victims are left shattered and alone, abandoned by their peers due to lack of understanding and social stigmatization.
Instead of working to protect the result of rape, why are we not working to end rape? Why are we not trying harder to educate our children about the consequences of rape, about the actual definition of rape, about date rape, about assuring consent? Why are we not working to provide a save haven for victims? Why are we not working to end the shaming that we put on the shoulders of victims?
I was the result of a one-night stand. I could just as easily have been the result of a rape. Am I glad that I exist? Of course. But imagine what might have happened to my birth mother had she struggled to support herself and her child (baby me!). Where would we be now?
Something that these lawmakers (so often male) neglect in their utter dismissal of the magnitude of rape as a crime is also the magnitude of the aftermath. Personally, if I were to be raped and become pregnant, I would be furious if I were to be suddenly expected not only to carry that child to term, but then take on the financial burden of raising that child. Would I be able to be the best mother possible for that child? Would I be able to provide for us adequately? Would I need social services like welfare to help me?
Let’s not regress to where we’re arguing about what counts as “legitimate” rape. Let’s focus on eliminating rape. Let’s focus on providing services to the victims. Let’s move forward. Let’s provide choices and options, but most importantly, let’s remember that rape victims are so much more than their reproductive organs. They are people who deserve our respect, rather than our insistence that we not punish the child. (It’s an argument that gets made over and over again, along with “so and so was the result of rape, and look at them.”)
And for god’s sake, is this not THE prime example of why we need more science and sex education in schools?!