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Rape is wrong

August 21, 2012

It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

— US Representative Todd Akin (Missouri 2nd District) (also Senatorial candidate)

I misspoke one word in one sentence on one day.

Todd Akin on Mike Huckabee’s radio show

The mistake I made was in the word I said, not in the heart I hold.

Todd Akin’s video “apology”

Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, defended Mr. Akin on his program “Focal Point”…: “In other words, ladies and gentleman, Todd Akin was exactly right.”

New York Times report on Bryan Fischer’s (American Family Association) defense of Todd Akin.

But here’s the problem. Mitt Romney may have called the Akin quote insulting and inexcusable, but how far is it really straying from GOP doctrine on women’s issues? … Rep. Paul Ryan, Mr. Romney’s choice as running mate, was co-sponsor of a bill that proudly used the term “forcible rape” in limiting the exceptions to the rule against federal funding for abortions. “Legitimate rape” and “forcible rape” sound pretty closely related, and both seem suspiciously like they must have been coined by people who believe women are prone to lying about being violated in the most humiliating way possible…. And just this week in Tampa, the party’s platform committee approved a plank calling for a Constitutional amendment [the “Akin Amendment”] banning all abortions with no exception for rape and incest mentioned.

Baltimore Sun Editorial, August 21st

Undoubtedly, Todd Akin is sincerely sorry that his statement got the attention it has received.  But it seems that he believes his mistake is limited to his using the phrase “legitimate rape” as opposed to “forcible rape.”  After all, as he went out of his way to say, his original statement only included “one word” that was misspoken; and his statement did accurately reflect the “the heart [he] hold[s].”  And conservative Christian groups are claiming that Akin was right on science.

Rape is the ultimate way of demonstrating male domination over females.  Culture has long endorsed rape as a “legitimate” way of forcing females to obey and even as a creative source of new societies, as in the rape of the Sabine women, the rape of Persephone, the rape of Draupadi, the rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13 – which led to the Davidic and messianic lines), or the rape of the unnamed concubine (Judges 19 – resulting in the rape victim being cut into 12 parts – one for each of the 12 tribes.)  Indeed, rape can even be a way for a man to claim a new bride – the biblical punishment for rape being forced marriage (Deuteronomy 22:28-29, Exodus 22:16-17).  At Yale, the frat boys boys at Delta Kappa Epsilon chant “‘no’ means yes; ‘yes’ means anal.”

The idea ultimately behind Akin’s sentiment – is that woman who is pregnant somehow must have willed the pregnancy: that she must ultimately bare responsibility for the act.  “Rape” is not necessarily rape – if the rape results in pregnancy, it is not really a “forcible” (or “legitimate”) rape but rather must have been approved – even if the victim was too young to consent or was violated by a relative. 

As for me, I prefer to focus on another biblical passage:  the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34).  In that story, Shalem, the prince of Shechem, raped Dinah.  In response, all of the males of the city were executed.  How can this disproportionate response possibly be justified?  There is midrash that all of the men of the city were judged guilty, because they condoned Shalem’s rape. 

To my mind, when a member of the US Congress condones some types of rape (distinguishing between “legitimate rapes” and other types of rape) and suggests that women bear responsibility for rape (as proven by the fact that they become pregnant) he places himself with the men of Shechem.  (This is of course, a metaphorical assertion: no one would ever advocate violence against Akin.  It would be sufficient that voters be made aware of his views.)

In a pluralistic society, we properly tolerate a wide variety of views – from libertarian to statist, from liberal to conservative.  I believe we can have serious discussions, and we are richer for the spirited back-and-forth of differing views.  And, I must admit, the belief that rape is often “legitimate” or that a woman bears responsibility for rape has a long history in Western (and Eastern) culture. 

But I do not want leaders for this country who casually talk about “legitimate rape” and make statements that are medically absurd.  I do not want religious leaders who defend those statements.  And I cannot begin to fathom how our national dialogue has been so disrupted that this statement has now become controversial:

Rape is wrong.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2012 1:33 am

    For those who are so insistent that a raped woman must not only face the trauma of her rape, but also carry the child to birth and beyond thus have to live with the fruit of it their whole life, should seriously find a new and radical way. Perhaps they should put their energies in developing the procedure of removing the fertilized embryo from the rape victim and implant it in their own womb or their voluntaring wife’s womb to show that they are willing to go to extremes for the sake of the live of the child.

  2. August 22, 2012 5:17 pm

    The rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 is the crisis event that sets David’s rule into a downward spiral culminating in Absalom’s rebellion. I find it a little odd that you have it on a list of “legitimate” rapes when the story seems to be making the opposite point – that David’s failure to punish Tamar’s rapist ended up coming back to bite him pretty hard.

  3. August 23, 2012 7:43 am

    In a pluralistic society, we properly tolerate a wide variety of views – from libertarian to statist, from liberal to conservative. I believe we can have serious discussions, and we are richer for the spirited back-and-forth of differing views.

    Thank you for this post.

    Our society, our tolerance, our discussions, can only begin to be better when women equally may speak. Here’s something Rebecca Solnit has said recently:

    “The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women — of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.”

  4. Steve Godfrey permalink
    August 30, 2012 11:53 pm

    He was right! Australian statistics show 94% of rapes are unsuccessful as the rapists are impotent. But here ‘digital rape’ i.e. with fingers, will earn you gaol time.

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