IN THE Rape Crisis Network of Ireland’s latest figures (2011), of the 2,036 female survivors of sexual violence who attended rape crisis centres (RCCs):
- 90 girls and women had become pregnant as a result of rape.
- 17 survivors, pregnant from rape, had undergone an abortion.
- 60 took their pregnancy to term.
- Two survivors became pregnant more than once as a result of rape and had different outcomes in each pregnancy.
What these facts about the small proportion of rape survivors who come to rape crisis centres, cannot tell us is under what circumstances those outcomes came about.
Rape crisis centres are in contact with the complexity of pregnancy after rape. These include women and girls who continue with the pregnancy or supporting parents who adopted a child born of rape and now the child is seeking contact with their birth parents, and people who know they were born of rape or incest.
Invariably the survivor’s situation, beliefs and relationship to the abuser weighs heavily on options, choices and decision around a pregnancy which resulted from rape — assuming the survivor has a choice.
Imagine what it is like to be pregnant as a result of rape when it is your Leaving Cert year; the year of your wedding; your first year in college; when you are a full-time carer for your parent; or have young children. What do you choose?
What is it like to be pregnant as a result of rape, when you have previously lost planned and wanted pregnancies through miscarriage?
And the man who raped you is your sister’s husband, you are godmother to their eldest child, and your sister is also pregnant? The rapist is your boss, your first boyfriend, your uncle, your father, your sports coach, your husband and father to your three children, whom you have left? What are your choices now?
What is it like to be an asylum seeker in Ireland, living in direct provision where a man also living at the hostel, raped you. You are pregnant as a result and living on €19:10 a week. You have no money, you cannot leave the country as you have no papers and your English is poor. You know nobody and find it hard to trust authority figures as you fled your country because you were raped by the security forces there. If you want to eat you must share the communal dining room with the rapist. You cannot live with this pregnancy but who do you turn to? You know abortion is illegal in Ireland. Does that mean you cannot speak to officials like the social worker and if you do are they allowed to help you? What are your choices now?
When you are a 14-year-girl pregnant as a result of incest and a family member induces you to miscarry at home. What were your choices?
Women respond in different ways to rape. Many girls and women respond by going numb, and almost pretend it never happened. Pregnancy is a physical reality that does not allow that retreat.
For some girls and women, choosing an abortion can become a focus on getting life back together, getting control back over my body and life. It can be an empowering experience, after an experience of complete disempowerment. Some women may be matter-of-fact — they did not want or choose to be pregnant at this point in their life and choose not to continue with the pregnancy.
For others, the termination and the process of organising it, in secret and with all the added difficulty of going abroad, prolongs the trauma of the rape, a further humiliation, a further violence, a further taking over of the body, a further experience of having no control. Dealing with strangers on the phone, her body being handled again, her body invaded again, her body wounded again.
Every experience of sexual violence is an experience of isolation. Being forced to travel abroad to access an abortion, sometimes alone, can deeply add to the feelings of isolation. Now you have two secrets to keep from everyone.
For some women, the fact that the pregnancy was the result of rape might mean that they will feel free to tell others about the choice to terminate. Some people are more accepting of abortion if it is the result of rape. They might feel sullied about this “reward” for being a rape victim. For others the fact that the pregnancy was the result of a rape may mean never telling anyone about the pregnancy. Yet some survivors of rape will feel that, however unwanted the pregnancy, they still grieve. They may be shocked by these feelings; they may experience hostility from others for those feelings towards the pregnancy.
Survivors of rape may choose to keep the pregnancy and raise and love the child but find the consequence of that choice is that they can never tell anyone about the rape.
Rape does not automatically simplify feelings around a pregnancy and any decision to have an abortion; rather it adds incredible complexity to a pregnancy and that demands our greatest compassion.