The internet is abuzz with debate surrounding American politician Todd Akin's recent comments about "legitimate rape". In support of his viewpoint that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, including where the pregnancy is a result of rape, Akin claimed that in cases of "legitimate rape", the female body "has ways of shutting that whole thing down". He suggests that our bodies magically attack sperm that comes from rape in a way that they don't do with sperm that comes from a consensual encounter. As if this lunacy wasn't enough to undermine his already ridiculous argument, the term "legitimate" applied to some rapes isolates others as "illegitimate" or, in other words, not really rape.
This is a huge insult to the millions of people who have been raped and have struggled to accept what happened to them as actually being rape. Digging himself in even deeper, Akin went on to offer a weak apology, claiming that by "legitimate" he meant "forcible rape". Newsflash, old man: all rapes are forcible. Whether or not physical force was exerted, rape is by its nature a forcible act. When a person is intimidated into allowing themselves to be fucked against their will without fighting back, this is rape. If a husband fucks his wife against her wishes, this is rape. If you fuck a person who is unconscious, this is rape.
Five years ago, when I was raped, I froze. I let it happen. It started with him pestering and pushing when I had repeatedly said no. He got demanding and scary, he stopped me from leaving the room, and it got to the point where I wasn't sure whether I had a choice anymore. I decided that it would be easier to go along with it than to continue arguing, and to get it over with so that I could get out of there. I lay on my back, looked at the wall and waited for him to finish. It was rape at that stage. It was rape before it got violent. Before he held me down by my throat and forced his balls into my mouth it was rape, because I had made it clear that I didn't want it. Before he bit me, hit me, spat in my eyes, choked me, forced his cock into my ass without any lube, it was rape before any of that. Five hours in, when I was black and blue and covered in all kinds of bodily fluids, it was still rape.
I didn't fight back at the beginning. I didn't fight until it got really violent. Because of that, it took 2 years to realise that what had happened to me was rape. I thought it was just something that I had let happen, something that was my fault. Everyone knows that rape survivors blame themselves, but no one can see it in their own situation. Todd Akin's comments serve to reinforce those feelings of self-blame in survivors, suggesting that their rape was not a "legitimate" rape. This will regress thousands to a sphere of guilt and shame where recovery is not possible. I now live a happy life, I have a wonderful relationship with an amazing partner, I pole dance, I'm sex-positive, I go to kink events, I have kinky sex, hell I fucking love sex. None of that would have been possible had I not acknowledged what happened to me for what it was and stopped carrying the blame. This is why these comments are so damaging to so many. Many aren't as lucky as I am to be able to see them for what they are: an attack on women.
By the time I acknowledged what had happened to me, the DNA and the bruises and (most of) the other injuries were long gone. It will never be worth my while reporting it. Many survivors face this same sad truth. According to the Rape Crisis Network (England & Wales):
Only 15% of serious sexual offences against people 16 and over are reported to the police and of the rape offences that are reported, fewer than 6% result in an offender being convicted of this offence.
There are many reasons for this, one of the most important being that victims don't see what has happened to them as rape. This is why Akin's comments are so damaging. They reinforce the culture of victim-blaming that permeates our society (to say nothing of equally dangerous myths such as "She was raped because of what she was wearing" - I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt).
Barrack Obama's excellent response to the comments clearly stated his position and reassured us that he is on our side:
Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn't make sense to the American people and certainly doesn't make sense to me.
Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, founder of the charity V-Day, activist and lobbyist, wrote a beautiful and horrifying open letter to Todd Akin. She ends with a question that Akin would do well to consider:
Why don't you spend your time ending rape rather than redefining it?