The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Sunday, Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) had this to say about the correlation between rape and pregnancy:
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. “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 (emphasis mine), I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist…”
While most people are talking about the ignorance of such a statement or wondering what kind of “doctors” Akin has been talking to, I’m left shaking my head in disbelief and anger. I need to make it very clear that neither my outrage nor this article have anything to do with the context in which Rep. Akin made his statement. His lack of understanding of basic female physiology, aside, what he said was incredibly painful and offensive to rape victims.
“…that’s really rare.” A study released by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1996 showed 5% of rapes – over 30,000 of them – resulted in pregnancy. They concluded that, “Rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency,” and that it is “closely linked with family and domestic violence.” His assertion that rape resulting in pregnancy is “rare” is a slap in the face of the tens of thousands of women for whom this is a reality.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s 2005 National Crime Victimization Survey concurs with the percentage, though it shows a lower number overall of rapes. RAINN notes the following reasons why there may be a lower rate of pregnancies among rape victims:
- Some victims may be using certain birth control methods to prevent pregnancy;
- Some rapists wear condoms in order to avoid detection by DNA evidence;
- Victims of rape might not be able to become pregnant due to medical or age-related reasons.
To this list I would add that rapists don’t stop to ask their victims if they are menstruating before continuing with their act. Even if they did, an affirmative answer is not likely to stop them.
RAINN also cautions that the number of rape-related pregnancies may actually be higher, but factors not accounted for include pregnancies which occurred during a second or third incident, and the victimization of Americans age 12 or younger.
“…the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” We all know this isn’t true. But where his statement is so horrendously offensive is in the assumption that a rapist’s ejaculate has nothing to do with pregnancy, that it is entirely up to the rape victim to prevent conception, it’s not his fault. The only animal with the ability to prevent pregnancy by rape is a duck.
Biology aside, by prefacing it with “If it’s a legitimate rape,” Akin effectively told every rape victim who has ever been impregnated by a rapist that because she allowed herself to become pregnant, she must have wanted it and, therefore, it wasn’t rape. It wasn’t a horrifying, traumatic experience. Rape victims should have fought harder to prevent the act from occurring in the first place. This attitude – deciding what is or isn’t “legitimate” rape – plays into the myth that if a rape victim didn’t fight back, she must have wanted it. She had sex, regrets it, and is crying “rape” out of revenge. It doesn’t take into consideration being held down or drugged. There may be a weapon involved, in which case “fight or flight” can give way to the less frequently talked about “freeze” for self-preservation.
“But let’s assume that didn’t work, or something…” Wow. How blasé. Let’s assume? Something? He may as well have said, “But let’s suspend reality and pretend she got pregnant even though she really didn’t want to have sex, then it might have been a ‘legitimate’ rape.”
“…the punishment ought to be of the rapist…” No one would disagree with Rep. Akin on this point. No one wants rapists to go unpunished. But the truth is, we live in such a victim-blaming culture, it’s hard to imagine reporting a rape when a victim knows she’s going to be bombarded with questions and statements about what she was wearing, why she was alone, why she was in the wrong part of town. No one wants to sit through accusations of being a tease or have her sexual history dredged up as a means of proving she has an insatiable sexual appetite and, therefore, brought this on herself. Rape victims are threatened by their assailants. They may have been told harm would come to loved ones. Whatever the reason, the majority of rape victims are too terrified or filled with shame to even report their rapes. When they do, only about a quarter of rapists are arrested. Of those arrested, about 3/4 of them are convicted, with fewer than half receiving a felony conviction. In the end, only about 6% of offenders in reported cases will spend a single day in prison. And now Rep. Akin would see that number shrink even smaller because, in his view, a rape resulting in pregnancy is not a legitimate rape.
Representative Akin did issue a statement later on Sunday.
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.
This is not an apology. An apology actually contains the word apology or apologize or sorry. He “misspoke”. Which part, exactly, was misspoken? Why would anyone make off-the-cuff remarks on issues this serious? Had he not thought this through before throwing his hat in the ring for Senate? It’s interesting that now he’s mentioning “deep empathy” for victims of rape and abuse. Frankly, I don’t buy it. He may feel bad to know rape victims exist, but anyone who empathizes with them in the least, let alone deeply, would have never excluded them from his original statement, reducing them to rape receptacles and holding tanks for rapists’ progeny. It’s abhorrent and unacceptable.
I also can’t help but wonder if he will issue a statement saying he misspoke when he said his deep empathy is for the “thousands of women who are raped and abused each year.” In December, 2011, the CDC issued a statement that each year over a million women report being raped. Given the fact that more than half of all rapes go unreported, the number of women raped each year is likely closer to 3 million.
Later on Sunday, Akin clarified his statement on Mike Huckabee’s radio show. He meant “forcible”, rather than “legitimate”. For millions of us, those two words carry the same connotation, and trading one word for another doesn’t change the rest his statement. “Forcible” or “legitimate”, if your assault doesn’t meet certain requirements, it doesn’t count as rape. This is incredibly insensitive and traumatic to hear for women who were raped under circumstances not considered “forcible” by Akin.
Akin offered, “What I said was ill-conceived, and it was wrong. I really just want to apologize to those I’ve hurt.”
Apology not accepted.