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(il)legitimate rape

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When US Senator Todd Akin was asked about abortion in cases of rape, he said, ‘From what I understand from doctors, that’s 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 on the rapist and not attacking the child.’

The doctor (singular) he received this information from, Dr John C. Willke, is quoted during this controversy as saying, ‘This is a traumatic thing — she’s, shall we say, she’s uptight, she is frightened, tight, and so on. And sperm, if deposited in her vagina, are less likely to be able to fertilise. The tubes are spastic.’ He also wrote an article about “forcible rape” pregnancies in 1999, which you can read here. (It is a “forcible” assault on science and statistical methodology).

For me, there are a few important points that need to be explored that stem from this controversy. The first: THIS IS NOT TRUE. Science says no!

A peer reviewed study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1996 estimates five percent of rapes of women of reproductive age (12 to 45 years old) result in pregnancy. And FYI, they also find that of the recorded cases of rape-related pregnancy the perpetrator was usually known and often related to the victim.

The second point that needs to be looked at is the use of the word “legitimate” in front of the word “rape”.

In a weekly video broadcast, posted online, British Member of Parliament George Galloway discussed his views on the rape allegations against Julian Assange.

‘Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true, 100 per cent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don’t constitute rape, at least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it. And somebody has to say this. Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him, claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again. This is something which can happen, you know. I mean, not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion.’

Oh right, illegitimate rape.

I think I understand. Legitimate rape involved being held at knife or gun point. It happens in the dark where no one can hear your cries. It is the type of rape that men feel comfortable with. Because it is the villains, the bad guys, the “rapists” that commit this kind of rape.

“Illegitimate” rape (for want of a better completely made up term) is the kind perpetrated by your friend, boyfriend, husband, father, acquaintance, or relative. The normal, everyday guy. It is the kind of rape that occurs when you are drunk or asleep. The kind where you were never given the chance to consent, because ‘not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion.’ It is the kind that victims are afraid to report or talk about because they carry blame and guilt in their hearts. They are told by our society that they “should have”. They should have been sober. They should have worn a longer skirt. They should have not been in bed with a guy if they didn’t want to have sex with him. They should have, as a child, known better than to do what their older relative told them to do. They should have avoided getting raped.

You know what? Now that I understand the difference between legitimate and illegitimate rape, I think I need to point out that IT IS THE SAME THING!!!!!!!! It is wrong, it is soul destroying, it will cause pregnancy. The only thing that separates these two “types” of rape is rape culture.

What is rape culture? ‘Rape Culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.’ For rape culture to thrive, ideas that excuse rape, such as the idea that there is legitimate rape and illegitimate rape, are prevalent and accepted by members of the media and, oh hey, let’s say politicians. A rape culture questions things like the clothes and sexual history of a rape victim in determining the guilt of the perpetrator. A rape culture only requires consent once – if you’ve had consensual sex in the past, well you don’t need to be asked “before insertion”. A rape culture teaches women to avoid getting raped; it doesn’t teach men not to rape.

People believe this. Todd Akin believed what he said. A doctor had confirmed it to him. George Galloway believes that raping someone in their sleep is fine. People believe that if a woman shows cleavage she is “asking” to be hit on, leered at and  raped (forcibly seduced?). While it is horrifying that these beliefs exist, they do. Getting angry at Akin and Galloway won’t change that.

So what do we do about it? Talk about it. When someone makes assumptions about a woman based on her clothes, pull them up on it. When someone trivialises rape, speak out. Communicate with sexual partners and never assume consent. Talk to men and boys and girls and women about rape – in all its forms. Remember that the perpetrator of most rapes is someone known to the victim, often a relative. If it doesn’t happen at knifepoint in an alleyway, it is still rape.

If one person hears you and reassesses their ideas about rape, that is one less contributor to rape culture, one less victim being re-victimised, perhaps one less trivialisation of rape.

This article first appeared on Sara’s blog.


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