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Blog: "Legimate Rape"?


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Todd Akin, Republican Senate candidate in Missouri, holds the view that when women are "legitimately" raped we are able to block conception by an implied magical ability of the female body. He's not just conservative; he wants to take us back in time to the early seventies, when there were passionate public debates over what rape "really" is.

I was a teenaged girl in the early seventies. The women's movement was just bringing women's concerns to public attention. I read with alarm the arguments of people who claimed that a woman had to have bruises, broken bones, and the scraped-off flesh of her assailant under her nails for a rape to have been "real". This belief was enshrined in law in a majority of states. If a woman could not prove in court that she had strongly fought, even against an assailant who threatened her with a gun or a knife, she often saw her assailant go free.

At the same time, it was a new and controversial idea to have rape kits in hospital emergency rooms and not many had them. This made it difficult and often impossible to present physical evidence in court of having fought against a rapist, or even of having been raped. Emergency birth control to treat a rape victim to prevent pregnancy was also controversial and therefore often not available.

I remember well what it felt like as a young woman to be entering a world that proclaimed through its laws that if I were raped I would not have justice. If I were raped there would be no protection against becoming pregnant, although that protection existed. I could be victimized many times over, first by an attacker, then by police questioning whether I should be taken seriously, then again in court where essentially I would be on trial to prove the rape had been real, and possibly by being forced through lack of preventive care to carry an unwanted pregnancy with my attacker being the father, or find a way to have an abortion. Fear of rape is stultifying and confining enough; fear of a system that repeatedly victimized women who had been attacked was systematized oppression of women.

Akin is a throwback to that misogynistic, paternalistic time we thought was past. Of even more concern is that despite the fact that leaders in his party are telling him to quit the Senate race; Akin isn't quitting. Apparently no retrogressive, repressive attitudes towards women are beyond the pale in the Republican Party these days and even when the party leaders try they have no control over ideologues like Akin that spout them. Neither are they willing to make a strong statement in support of respectful treatment of rape victims and full access to preventive birth control in case of rape. The most alarming aspect is that Akin must be pretty sure he is expressing views that will get him elected.

We must send a strong message to those who would push us back to the bad old days. It's time to revive a saying anti-war protesters used to chant back then: Hell no, we won't go!

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