COLETTE BROWNE: It’s time we finally dispelled the myth of legitimate rape

CONTEMPTUOUS remarks from a Republican Senate nominee, in which he stated it was biologically impossible for “legitimate” rape victims to get pregnant during their attack, is just the most extreme example of a pervasive blame culture that believes women are, deep down, begging to be sexually assaulted.

Giving credence to the suspicion that many archconservatives in the United States are devolving at an exponential rate, the views expressed by the odious Todd Akin are, literally, medieval.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” he said, in an interview on Sunday.

Implicitly, any woman unfortunate enough to endure a pregnancy as a result of a rape must have enjoyed their assault and consented on some level because if they were true victims then their own bodies would somehow spare them from the torment of carrying their rapist’s baby.

Unfortunately for Mr Akin, it appears that he was born in the wrong century because the last time his archaic views were the consensus opinion was back in the medieval era, when physicians believed that women could only get pregnant if they derived pleasure from sex.

It hardly needs stating but actual non-made-up medical evidence has completely debunked his wildly stupid assertion that trauma acts as some kind of innate biological birth control.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1996, which collated data from a three-year longitudinal survey of 4,008 women, the rape-related pregnancy rate is equivalent to the rate from consensual sex, 5% — or 32,101 pregnancies in the US alone each year.

Digging a hole when he attempted to distance himself from his own remarks on Monday, Mr Akin, clearly a master of understatement, said that he “misspoke” and what he actually meant was that women could not get pregnant from “forcible” rape.

While most of us would deem any rape forcible, because it implies involves forcing someone to have sex against their will, Mr Akin apparently believes that women have to be violently attacked before that assault can truly be regarded a “real” rape.

So, women shouldn’t bother showing up at an emergency room crying rape unless they have an arbitrary number of broken limbs, bruises and black eyes to back up their hysterical assertions. Meanwhile, if a subsequent pregnancy test proves positive then any allegation of rape can quickly be discounted.

While it would be nice to simply dismiss Mr Akin as the right-wing religious zealot that he patently is, his differentiation of rapes into those that are demonstrably real, by virtue of the use of extreme force, and imagined, everything else, is alarmingly commonplace among many in our society.

In fact, this is the same view that was this week espoused by British politician George Galloway when he claimed that raping a sleeping woman wasn’t really rape at all.

Railing against the allegations of sexual assault that have been levelled at Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently holed up, and evading extradition from the UK, in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, Mr Galloway said the charges, if true, amounted to nothing more than “bad sexual etiquette”.

“Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you’re already in the sex game with them.

“It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said: ‘Do you mind if I do it again?’ It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette but, whatever else it is, it is not rape,” he said, adding, charmingly, “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion”.

What Mr Galloway, whose moniker Gorgeous George now deserves to be changed to Grotesque George, singularly fails to grasp is that without consent, which is clearly impossible to get from someone who is unconscious, then sexual intercourse is, by definition, rape.

Having sex with somebody once doesn’t confer an automatic right to have sex again and a woman retains her right to say no. Or, in his coarse parlance, yes, actually, you do have to ask before every insertion.

Cretins like Mr Akin and Mr Galloway may not classify this type of assault as “forcible” rape but, despite their pathetic rationalisations, that’s clearly what it amounts to — a determination to invade someone’s bodily autonomy and have sex with them against their will.

Regrettably, according to a number of different opinion polls, there remains a large Neanderthal demographic that would agree with the antediluvian opinions expressed by both men.

A 2008 survey published in this newspaper revealed that one in four people believe women who have been raped are partly to blame for the crime because of how they dressed, their sexual history or how much they had to drink.

The Red C opinion poll revealed 30% think a victim is in some way responsible if she flirts with a man, one in three think a woman is either partly or fully to blame if she wears revealing clothes, 38% believe a woman is partially to blame if she walks through a deserted area and 10% believe a woman is entirely to blame if she previously had an unspecified number of different sexual partners — presumably, more than one.

BASICALLY, unless women are hit over the head and dragged down an alley before being violently attacked then it isn’t really rape — and, even if they are, then the likelihood is they were asking for it by the way they were dressed or the fact that they dared to have a drink.

This endemic “rape myth“, that any so-called serious rapes are perpetrated by violent strangers, is at complete variance with statistics which consistently reveal that approximately 90% of rapists are known to their victims and just 5% result in serious physical injury.

Is it any wonder then that, despite the pervasiveness of this insidious crime, in a country where an estimated 120,000 women have been a victim of rape according to the 2002 Sexual Abuse and Violence report, just a tiny fraction are reported? Rape, despite the stereotype, is not the preserve of bogeymen recidivist violent criminals but, as any prosecutor will attest to, is an act that is capable of being carried out by those, invariably described in fulsome character references as, respectable and upstanding members of the community.

The fact that this reality, the rapist as an everyman, is deeply uncomfortable to consider is the reason that the myth is so hard to dispel and the reason that society prefers to instead delude itself into thinking that women who are attacked must have been willing participants in their own assault.

Mr Akin and Mr Galloway may be among the most vocal of the troglodyte shills perpetuating the myth of legitimate rape but they are by no means alone and, in fact, represent a sizeable minority.

Unless these pre-conceived and self-serving prejudices are challenged, and the reality of rape is accepted, then nothing will change.


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