Monday, August 20, 2012

I’m Sorry, Rep. Akin, But Your Apology is Just Not Good Enough

It was only a matter of time until Republican Senatorial Candidate Todd Akin made a public statement about the firestorm created by his controversial comments about “legitimate” rapes not resulting in pregnancy. He chose to do so Monday morning on Mike Huckabee’s radio program. During the interview, Rep. Akin acknowledged making mistakes in his statements to KTVI’s Charles Jaco. He affirmed his belief that rape is “an evil act that is committed by violent predators,” a statement on which he and I agree. We agree, as well, that the consequences of rape go on for many years.

Like Rep. Akin, I know people (both in my personal and professional life) who have been raped. Although, unlike Mr. Akin, I don’t believe that makes me singularly more able to sympathize with them. I also believe most people know someone who has been raped, they just may not be aware of that fact because it’s not exactly something that is talked about in polite society. Rep. Akin has yet to specifically refute his claim that the female body can shut down to prevent pregnancy, but he did acknowledge that women do become pregnant as a result of rape. While these are steps in the right direction, Rep. Akin’s apology is still not good enough.

At the prompting of Mr. Huckabee, Rep. Akin stated that when he used the term “legitimate” rape, he was actually referring to “forcible” rape. This distinction just reinforces more myths about rape in our culture. Myths like “it is only really rape if the victim struggled or screamed or was tied up” or “it’s not as serious if you’re in a relationship with someone and they use coercion to force you into sex” or “a victim who was drugged or too intoxicated to give consent doesn’t count as much as someone who was physically forced into sex.” As if there weren't enough fears of the questions they will receive when coming forward after a rape, victims now must also worry about how much force is enough or whether they fought hard enough.

Making the “legitimate vs. illegitimate” distinction in an off-the-cuff remark may have been a mistake. Following it up with the distinction of “forcible vs. non-forcible” rape, presumably even after coaching from the campaign and on the friendly turf of Mr. Huckabee’s radio show, is absolutely inexcusable and undermines any hope that I had that he would use this opportunity as a learning experience on the realities of rape and rape myths in our culture. Instead, he is playing on semantics that only make the problem of combating rape in our culture more difficult. 

I’m sorry, Rep. Akin, your apology was not good enough. Your constituents and all victims of rape deserve more.

Comments by Jessica Meyers, Director of Advocacy Services

The Myth of the “Legitimate" Rape

Rape is sometimes reported falsely. To claim otherwise would be to ignore highly publicized instances like the Duke Lacrosse case. Statistics on the prevalence of false reports vary, but they are generally found to be the exception, not the rule. These exceptions, however, have only strengthened the cultural myth of the “legitimate" rape. More important to victims, however, is the flip side of the coin, the perception of the “illegitimate" rape victim.

The definitions for these terms are somewhat murky, but you will hear echoes of illegitimacy in the public discussion of rapes where the victim was in a relationship with the attacker, where the victim was intoxicated, or where the prosecution did not file charges. Legitimacy questions follow some standard scripts- Was she/he just mad at a partner? Is this a ploy in a divorce case? Did the victim know and trust the perpetrator? Was she/he drunk? What was she/he wearing? Why didn’t she/he report the crime immediately? Why was no one ever charged with the crime? Now, in the wake of comments by Missouri Republican Senate Nominee, Todd Akin, you can add “Did she get pregnant?” to the list.

From my perspective, the greatest problem with Mr. Akin’s statement is not that it shows a lack of understanding about the female body. Instead, it is his promulgation of the myth of the “legitimate rape,” as if all rape victims must somehow pass a public- not police or courts- scrutiny before being deemed “innocent” enough to be worthy of our sympathy. The more of these types of questions that are asked about rape victims in the public discourse, the narrower the definition of legitimacy becomes. It becomes not just a question of if the rape occurred, but the circumstances under which it occurred, as if a stranger rape is somehow more legitimate than marital rape or an intoxicated victim is more to blame for his/her victimization than someone who was sober. These questions and subsequent degrees of legitimacy and illegitimacy only serve to promote societal myths and to make reporting rape more difficult for the victim than it already is.

Comments by Jessica Meyers, Director of Advocacy Services