The news this week is littered with discussion of rape culture, yet no one wants to go near the topic. While Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan try to distance themselves from the issue of Todd Akins “legitimate rape” comment, I would like to delve into the issue.
The six-term member of congress from Missouri, in an interview with KTVI-TV described his stance on abortion by explaining: ‘“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Mr. Akin said of pregnancies from 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: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”’ Here is the link to the article on NY times, source of the above quote: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/20/us/politics/todd-akin-provokes-ire-with-legitimate-rape-comment.html
The obvious issue here is the incorrect claim that women will not get pregnant from rape, but I’d like to focus on his use of the term “legitimate rape.” We can assume from the congressman’s past political record, that Akin means forcible rape. Forcible rape is defined in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” (http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/violent_crime/forcible_rape.html). The media has defined this term for us, just watch an episode of Law and Order SVU: in the middle of New York City a woman cries out because a man has forced his way into her life with a knife/gun/any other weapon to commit forcible rape. We as viewers can identify this act as wrong. We as a country can identify this as wrong. The congressman can say in an interview that this is wrong (and that apparently a woman shouldn’t get pregnant from it).
It does not take a weapon or physical force to qualify as rape. Rape is not limited to the act of a stranger jumping out of the bushes to surprise another stranger on the streets. Rape is the violation of another’s consent to partake in sexual intercourse. Consent can be given verbally or assumed through actively partaking in sexual activity. No means no, silence means no, laying still and not doing anything means no, and saying no, no, and then yes because of coercion means no.
By using the term “legitimate rape” the congressman limits the scope of rape to a specific scenario that the congressman and our country is comfortable with accepting. This exclusion is delegitimizing the suffering of victims all over the country who have experienced a violation of consent.
I am currently going through Resident Advisor training at my college. Today we had a long group discussion about sexual assault and our country’s attitude about rape. Congressman Todd Akin came up in conversation, all of us disheartened by a man in such a high position in our country delegitimizing the rape of millions. This led to being disheartened by the general lack of support for our victims of sexual violence. We then realized that the only option is to change our culture one person at a time.
While the presidential candidate attempts to refocus on health care I become even more resolved to be an ally to victims of sexual violence, a resource for women in rural Alaska, and an advocate for a new culture; a culture that values respect, equality, and choice.
-- Hannah Atkinson