End Rape, Don’t Redefine It

Aug 23rd, 2012 | By | Category: Featured, Reproductive Rights/Women's Rights

By Suzanne York, www.howmany.org

It’s been quite a week for Rep. Todd Akin. He became front-page news after uttering the sentence “If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” What he called “speaking off the cuff” has led to moral outrage from both women and men, and even members of his own Republican Party are calling for him to drop out of his congressional race.

How anyone can put together the words “legitimate” and “rape” is mind-boggling and disturbing. The public outcry should not surprise people.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney

A recent poll puts incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill with a 10-point lead over her Republican rival, polling at 48 percent support to his 38 percent support. Yet a fund-raising appeal posted on Akin’s website raised $100,000 within 24 hours. That fact alone is frightening. Why would any caring, clear-headed person willingly give money to someone who makes a distinction between rape as being legitimate or not?

Playwright and performer Eve Ensler, a rape victim herself, said about Akin’s remark: “You made a very specific ignorant statement clearly indicating you have no awareness of what it means to be raped. And not a casual statement, but one made with the intention of legislating the experience of women who have been raped. Perhaps more terrifying: it was a window into the psyche of the GOP.”

It should be noted that Ensler is currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo, working with rape victims of the ongoing conflict in the region, where sexual violence is used a tool of war. Eastern Congo has been called the “rape capital of the world”, and a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 48 women there are raped every hour – that equals 1,152 women raped every day.

In the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, there is an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year.

Rape is a violent act. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual violence as:

any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting, including but not limited to home and work.

Also, according to WHO, the consequences of sexual violence include: unwanted pregnancy; gynaecological complications such as vaginal bleeding, fibroids, chronic pelvic pain and urinary tract infections; sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS; depression; post-traumatic stress disorder; suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Many Republicans, along with Akin and his supporters, would probably dismiss the World Health Organization as some socialist/Marxist tool for global government. They might even dismiss the consequences of sexual violence. Be that as it may, they shouldn’t disregard the emotional and physical trauma of rape. For many, it boils down to abortion, without much thought to the victim of sexual violence. It’s also, of course, about politics, in this election-charged year.

Americans should be shocked by the cruelty of the politicians who are trying to punish women who have been raped by forcing them to bear the child of the perpetrator of a violent, hateful crime. Apparently there is a lot of (willful) ignorance here and around the world about the horror of sexual violence.

To quote Ensler again, targeting her words to Akin and his supporters but a statement that could be applied globally, “Why don’t you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it? Spend your energy going after those perpetrators who so easily destroy women rather than parsing out manipulative language that minimizes their destruction.”

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