The Legitimacy of the Rape Debate (Trigger Warning)

It is hard to know where to begin with the wretched “legitimate rape” comment from Todd Akin, Senate candidate from Missouri.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV. “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.”

So let’s start here. I was legitimately raped. I was 24 years old and I did not become pregnant. That’s not a factor in why I consider myself a survivor of rape. I survived being sexually assaulted by a man I knew intimately. He raped me and it’s really not up to Akin or anyone else to assess the degree to which I was raped.

It hasn’t been a fun summer in terms of disclosures from my personal life (see transvaginal ultrasound and pedophiles), but this morning I was prompted to disclose this fact because … well, I’m just tired of these out of touch men trying to define my narrative. So I like so many women need to put our stories out there so you have a chance to compare the truth with this uninformed claptrap spewed by evil men.


Tobias Barrington Wolfe, Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, has this to say …

Some of the misinformation that folks are pointing to is based upon a particular model of rape — perpetrated by a stranger and accomplished through the use of serious violence in addition to the rape itself.  There may or may not be some basis in fact for the proposition that, on average, rapes of that type result in pregnancy less frequency.  (The claim in such cases has been that rapists are less likely to ejaculate when they commit this kind of attack.)

But that is not the point.  The point is Representative Akin’s use of the term “legitimate rape” in referencing stranger rapes perpetrated through the use of serious violence.  By using that term, Rep. Akin asserts by negative implication that other forms of rape — perpetrated by attackers known to the victim, or committed by drugging the victim or by the “mere” threat of violence or other forms of coercion — do not constitute “legitimate rape”.  That is not just a poor choice of words.  It reveals a mindset of deep disrespect toward women, women’s bodily integrity, and women’s sexuality.  It is that same mindset of deep disrespect that has informed the obsessive efforts to the GOP to make women feel shame about their sexuality and their bodies through the enactment of forced ultrasound laws and bans on access to contraception.


Yes, and this is particularly true in Pennsylvania where women are under an unrelenting assault by the right wing. Consider that just this weekend the Post-Gazette allocated far too many column inches gleefully celebrating that the Knights of Columbus donated $30K to buy an ultrasound machine for a “clinic” less than a mile away from Allegheny General Hospital – home of multiple ultrasound machines. The Post-Gazette never contextualizes these sorts of man-control tactics with salient facts like the number of “already born” children living in poverty between that there clinic and the existing technology. Nope, they just go for the glossy photo op of the Bishop sprinkling holy water over the machine. Sigh.

The danger of this type of rhetoric is not simply that Missouri might elect a genuine idiot, but that he has kept legislative company with the man running for Vice-President. From my friend Pam Spaulding via Facebook:

My body shut down after I was raped, but that’s because I spent months consuming a lot of alcohol to avoid thinking about it. My body shut down because I gave in to the horrible belief that it was my fault, it wasn’t really rape because I knew the man and that I wasn’t pregnant or dead so I should be grateful. Of course, I was and continue to be grateful I was not impregnated by a rapist or dead, but … what does that have to do with it?

The problem with Akin’s comments is that it reinforces these little memes so entrenched in our culture, these little memes that women carry in our hearts and struggle to overcome … so fuck him for that.

I hear rumors that Akin is pulling out of the Senate race which would be good news for Missouri. But let’s remember that Akin is not an anomaly … he’s part of the culture that brings us Paul Ryan and millions of other voters (male and female) that want to exert complete control over our lives.

Redefining rape should mean we stop blaming women and start holding rapists accountable – morally, ethically and criminally.

We should also start holding rape apologists accountable politically.



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