Maybe It Wasn’t Rape After All
That’s what many rape victims are going to try to convince themselves, in the light of Rep. Todd Akin’s insensitive remarks Sunday.
I know I sure am: I’m wondering if I was wrong after all, about being raped. Maybe I should go back and apologize to all those nice doctors and social workers I just spent two Fridays helping to educate about this very topic. And I guess I’m going to have to refund all of my readers’ money, while I’m at it.
Rep. Akin’s highly publicized gaffe came during an interview that we’ve all heard about. But just in case you missed it, here it is.
“Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Yeah, his comments are pretty outrageous. Legitimate rape? What does that look like? Is that where a woman doesn’t scream? Or where she doesn’t scream “Help!” loud enough so that passersby will come to her aid? How about Jerry Sandusky’s victims—were those legitimate acts of rape? (Because in case you missed it, Rep. Akin, a jury found Sandusky guilty of
45 such acts.)
Most of Sandusky’s young victims didn’t scream. Some of them did, but most didn’t. Because that’s what children do when they’re being faced with an authority figure who towers over them. But wait, the Sandusky victims can’t really qualify for inclusion in this discussion: they were children. And, they were boys.
Rep. Akin’s comments were directed at women like me. Women who may or may not have screamed, but who did get pregnant from an act of rape. (Not once but four times.) Because I’m pretty sure what Rep. Akin really meant to say is this: A legitimate rape is one in which violence occurs. Not one where the woman got up, brushed herself off, and went merrily on her way, without almost being beaten to death.
What I personally cannot wrap my head around is his comment that women can’t conceive a child if the rape wasn’t violent. Where was this man when they were showing that old sex ed film during health class? You know, the one that made everyone uncomfortable, back when we didn’t talk about sex. (The important details begin four minutes into it.)
Let me refresh your memory, in case you’ve forgotten: it takes a penis, semen (the “guy’s part of a baby”) and a female egg. Oh yes, and the eggs live inside a woman’s body. Guess how the semen gets to them? Through the penis. The vagina acts as a conduit for the semen to reach the eggs.
Rep. Akin’s attitude is outrageous because his comment was captured in public. (And because he has two daughters, which makes me wonder how many family dinners they’re shared together, or if any father-daughter talks ever took place in their home.) But here’s two other comments that cause consternation for women like me, and enlightened people at large: “You can’t rape the willing.”
I heard this while I was growing up. Repeatedly. And it’s similar to this one: “You can’t rape your wife.”
That came as a surprise to “Eddie,” too, when I informed him in 1990 that this was exactly what he had done to me. It was the last time he raped me, but it was the first time in 10 years of marriage that I actually called him out for it.
The fallacy that continues to surround the act of rape, even today, is that if you come away from this by definition an act of violence without black eyes and other bruises, it wasn’t real rape. You know, rape that is legitimate. That actually happened.
Try telling that to married women like me—like I once was—who rarely sustained bruises and never once had a knife held to her throat. Try telling that to the 60-percent of female victims who never report the rapes they experienced. Those rapes went unreported because of the shame and guilt the victims felt. They also weren’t reported because of the ignorance the victims know still exists, when it comes to how we as a society define rape.
Try telling that to the men who won’t report their rapes. They don’t report being a victim much more often than women, yet it’s believed they make up 10-percent of all victims.
Oh yes and the “can’t get pregnant” part of Rep. Akin’s now deeply regrettable remarks? I wish my body had known that at the time. Maybe all I had to do was flip a switch somewhere in my mind (or maybe in my belly button), and it wouldn’t have happened. Because I did get pregnant, Sir, four different times.
These are some other things Rep. Akin should know, while we’re giving him a modern class on human sexuality and what rape is. The most important thing he should remember is that 32,000 pregnancies occur every year in this country—the one he lives in—as a result of rape. (That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control. It’s located in Atlanta, Ga., Mr. Akin.)
And rape victims are four times more likely to have a mental breakdown than non-victims. (Yep, been there. Done that.) They are also 50 to 90-percent more likely to develop PTSD. (That’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but you, Sir, probably thought only war veterans were susceptible to this trauma-induced illness.)
But wait a minute. I know I heard somewhere you can’t get PTSD if you were a male veteran just out for a Sunday drive in a Humvee when it was attacked by a tank. It didn’t matter that you were trapped for hours and had to sit there with three other dead or dying soldiers. It only mattered that when you were rescued, you didn’t have a mark anywhere on your body.
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Daleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Daleen Berry will join a Sept. 16 discussion about the topic of child sex abuse at Webster’s Bookstore in State College, Pa. Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.
Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.