Once again a well intentioned politician proved how out of touch he is with society by stating, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” (Here is a link to the story.) In other words, according to Rep. Todd Akin, if a woman is raped legitimately, her body has a way of rejecting the sperm and avoiding pregnancy. His answer came in response to a question about abortion in the case of rape. Mr. Akin is a strong pro-life advocate. To his credit, Mr. Akin admitted his statement was wrong (click here).
I am struck by many things here, first and foremost, what did he mean by the word “legitimate”? Mr. Akin doesn’t define what he means and so we are left to guess. I think he meant one of two things:
1) A “legitimate rape” is a rape where the women does not know the attacker. It’s the “traditional” view of rape by a man, breaking into a woman’s home, or abducting her at knife point, or something like that, and sexually assaulting her. It’s “legitimate” because there is no question the sex was not consensual.
2) A “legitimate rape” is a rape that is not a his word vs. her word type of thing. An “illegitimate rape” would be where the sex was “consensual” and then, for whatever reason, the woman changes her mind and cries “rape.” This definition, if it is what Mr. Akin meant, makes it sound like that rape is only rape if there is no way that attacker (not the victim) can claim it was consensual.
By using the word “legitimate” in the first definition, the victim is forced to prove that it was an actual rape, and not a false accusation. The fallacy of the second definition needs no explaining.
Either definition is horrible and somehow shifts the blame of the assault to the victim, especially the second definition, which is, from my understanding, what Mr. Akin actually meant. There is no good explanation, and no acceptable excuse, for the comment!
The official government definition of rape is “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” Basically, when it comes to sex, consent is up to the woman, and anytime, up to and even during intercourse, if a woman says “No” and the guy keeps going, it is rape!
Unfortunately, Mr. Akin’s words reinforce three common myths about rape:
1) The victim doesn’t know the attacker.
The majority of rapes involve people who know each other. It’s called “date rape” or “acquaintance rape.” This is one of major reasons why most rapes go unreported.
2) The victim did something to deserve it.
Most of the time, people will point to how the woman was dressed, or what she was doing to entice the perpetrator. The idea is that somehow it was the woman’s fault; and if it was, even partially, the woman’s fault, then, apparently, it is not a “legitimate rape.”
Rape is never the woman’s fault! It doesn’t matter how she was acting, or how she was dressed, or what she was saying, or what she may have done in her past, if sex is against her will, or forced, it is rape. Another reason most rapes go unreported is because the victim is scared she is going to be blamed somehow and through the process be victimized again. Now, according to Mr. Akin, I guess the woman has to prove the rape was legitimate.
3) Rape is only a physical attack.
If rape were only physical, the scars would soon heal. But more than physical, rape is emotional and some of those scars never heal. If you have ever heard of a woman waiting several years to report a rape and then thought to yourself, “If it really happened, why didn’t she report it sooner,” you have swallowed this third myth. Since most of the time a woman knows her attacker, and since she assumes she is going to be blamed if she reports it, she tries to suppress it, hoping it will be over once the physical scars heal. Decades later, the emotional scars are still there and she finally breaks down and reports the crime. For the victim, 20 years later is just like it happened last night.
With his statement, Mr. Akin highlighted his ignorance about biology and rape. I am glad he apologized. I am glad people are talking about this today. I don’t think he should step aside from his campaign. But if I lived in Missouri, there is no way I would vote for him.
That my two cents worth.
What do you think?