Warning: Discussions of rape, rage-inducing comments about what constitutes real rape.
Missouri Senate nominee Todd Akin managed to offend a lot of people with the following comment:
It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy from a 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.
He tried to backpedal later, but his “apology” for his comments wasn’t much better. You can read the whole article here.
There’s been enough backlash that I don’t want to waste my time (and yours) attacking Mr. Akin. I don’t believe that his comments are a political thing; there are plenty of Republicans who disagree with him and have gone out of their way to say so publicly. I don’t believe Mr. Akin is the real problem here. The real problem is the underlying belief that there is such a thing as “illegitimate” rape.
I care far less about arguing over whether or not a woman should terminate a pregnancy if she was raped. That’s not the real issue. The real issue is the phrase “legitimate rape.” On another article regarding Mr. Akin’s remarks, someone posted this comment:
There are illegetimate [sic] rapes, It’s sad but there are many women who lie about being raped for various reasons. It is mean, awful, and worse even when proven false and admitted false that other person is forever branded a rapest [sic].
That wasn’t an isolated comment. There are far too many people who hold this view. (I’m sure some of them will find their way to the comments on my blog; rest assured, any comment defending the concept of “illegitimate” rape will be deleted. You’ve been warned.) This underlying belief about what is or isn’t rape is what contributed to Mr. Akin’s thoughtless words.
It isn’t just about people supposedly lying about rape. There is also an element of victim-blaming. Some actual things I’ve heard people say about what might make the rape “illegitimate”:
- She knew her attacker
- She had previously been intimate with her attacker (he thought he had “permission,” even if she said no)
- He was her husband (i.e., no such thing as marital rape)
- She didn’t yell for help, say no, or attempt to fight back
- She was dressed provocatively, therefore inviting unwanted contact
- She was drunk
- She was out alone late at night (and ought to have known better)
- She “puts herself in these situations” and “creates drama”
- She didn’t prove it in court (he wasn’t convicted)
- She was lying about it, which happens “all the time”
Apparently, I can now add, “she got pregnant” to that list. I admit, this is the first time I’ve heard that one. But I’m not really surprised.
What disgusts me even more is that it’s people who claim to be Christians who have said all of the above. The very people who are supposed to be standing up for and protecting the marginalized and the victimized.
Church, changing these attitudes has to start with us. We have to start with mercy and compassion for the victims, without resorting to blame and disbelief. We need to lay aside any judgmentalism toward those who have been raped and first care for them. We need to stand up for them and protect them. Most Christians I know pride themselves on being “different” from ordinary social culture. Let’s prove it. Let’s start by removing all traces of victim-blaming/shaming from our language and actions.
We can be the change.