Todd Akin, what exactly is ‘legitimate’ rape?

Published: August 30, 2012
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Justifying an anti-abortion stance on the basis of the degree of severity or ‘legitimacy’ of a crime, as vile and traumatic as rape, is in itself a far cry from any system based on morality.DESIGN: ERUM SHAIKH

Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, a conservative Republican candidate running for the hotly contested US Senate seat, recently made some crass comments on ‘legitimate’ rape. He also gave insight into the female reproductive system that have instigated much outrage amongst Republicans and Democrats alike.

His statement was meant in defence of his anti-abortion stance and with regard to pregnancy as a result of rape. It poorly attempted to render the question of abortion irrelevant by asserting that

“It seems to me 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.”

This statement, not only scientifically inaccurate, is an insult to women everywhere in general, and victims of sexual assault and rape in particular.

The way I see it, it is one thing to take a stand against abortion, as part of an ethical or moral belief system, but completely another to determine what forms of rape might constitute as ‘legitimate’ and what forms are less so. The decision to legally allow or disallow abortion in cases of rape is one of grave importance and should not be based on myths such as the one Akin believes in. Moreover, justifying an anti-abortion stance on the basis of the degree of severity or ‘legitimacy’ of a crime, as vile and traumatic as rape, is in itself a far cry from any system based on morality.

First, one cannot simply claim some ‘forms’ of rape as more severe than the others. And no one can be given the right to decide what kind of rape is more legitimate and which one might not be ‘severe’ enough!

Who is to decide that a woman who gets ‘date’-raped is somehow more or less severe than a woman who is a victim of, say, marital rape?

According to statistics in the United States, one in every seven women in college has been raped and nine out of ten women raped on campus have not reported the crime to anyone. In fact, 61% of all rape victims in the United States are females under the age of 18, and one in fifteen rape victims become pregnant as a result.

The question of legitimacy in the case of any form of rape does not even arise. In fact, just using the word “legitimate” with rape, even if it is based on an inaccurate fact, seems to imply that if a woman does get pregnant as a result of rape, on some level she might have wanted to, which is why her body did not “shut that whole thing down”.

Even more so, it assumes that an ‘illegitimate’ rape would typically involve a woman’s consent on some verbal or non-verbal level, or that she may not have resisted enough or on some disturbing level might have wanted this to happen. This, or any equivalent assumption, made by men on behalf of all women who have been victimised by men is so far off from the standpoint of morality that it cannot and should not be granted any merit.

What I fail to understand, is how men in positions of power continue to make decisions regarding women’s bodies and their lives based on medical myths, half-truths, and degrees of severity of a crime; as if rape as a crime is not traumatic and life-shattering enough for a woman.

Even though Akin later admitted that he “misspoke” when making that statement, he did not clarify what part of his statement might have been unsympathetic to victims of rape, nor did he modify his claim, which only goes on to show the insincerity of the public apology.

What men in power don’t realise is that if it is a woman’s body, it is not the state’s property but hers and hers alone to decide for.

Sarah.Afzal

Sarah Afzal

A recent undergraduate from Lums, who majored in Humanities. Sarah has a keen interest in classical as well as contemporary literature.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Nandita.

    Brilliant ! Well written article …I hope Todd Akin is listening…Recommend

  • Ms. Rizvi

    Spot on! Exactly how I felt after hearing this on the news!Recommend

  • Usman

    Bravo !Recommend

  • Abdul basit

    Instead of pointing fingers overseas we should first take a look at our ownselves,we require the rape victim to produce 4 male witnesses to her rape as if the rapist brings along 4 men with him when he rapes a woman.It’s time we moved out of the medieval times and stopped treating women as inferior.Recommend

  • Naveed Khan

    @Abdul basit:

    No,it’s much easier and much more popular to shine light on the infidel bigots in the West rather than conront the sexism and misogyny present at home in our own society.Living in denial about one’s own society is more comforting because it’s tough to take a critical look at the misogynistic mentality of our own people.

    Our society excels in blaming the victim and not the rapist in rape cases and it’s not just men who do so,our women also excel in blaming and degrading victims of rape and sexual harassment,men in our society are never blamed for raping women,our mentality is that ” It’s always the woman’s fault” and we never fail to find out new ways of laying the blame for the rape on the raped woman.Recommend

  • Maheen

    What men in power don’t realise is that if it is a woman’s body, it is not the state’s property but hers and hers alone to decide for.- couldn’t agree more!Recommend

  • Love

    I dont get what the big deal is… He meant actual.Recommend

  • Haseeb

    @love, you have missed the whole point here. Its people like Todd who abuse office and power and thousands of Ramisha’s are deprived off their childhood. As a Pakistani especially we should be more sensitive to such issues since women here face much more than an average american woman.Recommend

  • Kamran

    Rape has been too common in the US to be news to us. The issue however is not the rape itself and how it is perceived and dealt with in other countries but the idea of “legitimized rape” that has been raised by congressman Akin. Besides being hilarious, the concept could lead to an increase in the number of rape victims per year.
    This guy knows how to make an idiot of himself. Reminded me of our Lollywood actresses.
    Nice article Sarah.Recommend

  • Nayla

    Akin is so ignorant, he probably still thinks that the sex of a baby is determined by the mother…Recommend

  • Vikram

    Author “one in every seven women in college has been raped and nine out of ten women raped on campus have not reported the crime to anyone. In fact, 61% of all rape victims in the United States are females under the age of 18, and one in fifteen rape victims become pregnant as a result.”

    A rape in US is quiet different from a rape in Pakistan. Most of these rapes are “DATE” rapes. Most likely girl is naked with the guy in his room and decides to stop penetration, but guy does it any way. In other cases the girl may be too drunk to know what she is doing and can claim she was raped.

    A rape in Pakistan is when a woman is forced to have sex with a man she is not friends with, but has to submit for fear of shame.

    Certain activities/movements happen in a woman’s body when she is excited and ready for sexual intercourse that lead sperms in the direction of the ovum that help in fertilization. These movementsactivities may be missing when a woman is raped by a stranger when she is not expecting anything.

    I don’t support rape in any way. I am just trying to figure out how rape under different circumstances can lower incidence of pregnancy.Recommend

  • MichaelC

    “According to statistics in the United States, one in every seven women in college has been raped”

    Oh that is such BS.

    GIRLS, LISTEN UP!!!
    If you hit the club and get wasted then have sex with a stranger in the bathroom and end up regretting it later, that is NOT rape. That is you making a bad decision while intoxicated. Being drunk doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of making smart decisions for yourself. Women have played the rape card so much that the word rape is becoming diluted. I have great sympathy for people who are actually raped, but that happens far less than the fear-mongering media would have us believe.Recommend

  • Haseeb

    @Love you have missed the whole point here. Its people like Todd who abuse office and power and thousands of Ramisha’s are deprived off their childhood. As a Pakistani especially we should be more sensitive to such issues since women here face much more than an average american woman.Recommend

  • allaisa

    Legitimate rape is when you require 4 pious male adult muslims to prove the rape. All other rapes are illegitimate. Recommend

  • Un-Happy

    Rape is legitimate in Pakistan for quite a few years “like 65 years” and with every Rape, victem is thought to be instigater. I am sorry but more women are made pregnent against their free will and its very common and very legal think about that too.Recommend

  • 1/7 college women has been raped? So you’re saying there are millions upon millions of rape victims just in colleges? I’m sorry but I find that difficult to believe.Recommend

  • Javed from chicago

    Sounds like the author is a typical democrat schill. Get over it, Akin does not represent the republican party at large. Your savior obama will lose big time this coming election! Then you occupiers can go back to pakistan and occupy pakistan! lolRecommend

  • Nobody

    @Vikram
    I’m gunna assume that comment was a joke because you couldn’t possibly be serious.

    @MichaelC
    You seemed to have missed the point entirely. And assuming every girl who claims rape in college just made a bad drunken decision is weak and a bit insulting.

    Regarding the piece, very well written and mirrors my thoughts exactly!Recommend

  • Hala

    @Vikram:
    where have you studied biology? none of those things are true
    no kind of rape has lower incidence of pregnancy
    and even in pakistan cases of being raped by someone you know are more common than being randomly attacked by a violent stranger Recommend

  • Hala

    @MichaelC:

    Men, LISTEN UP!!!

    If you hit the club and get wasted then have sex with a stranger in the bathroom and if the other person is not into it or is asking you to stop or you purposely intoxicate them to lower their inhibitions, that IS rape.

    That is you making a bad decision. Being drunk doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of making smart decisions for yourself. Men have dismissed rape so much that the women are afraid to report rape because they will be blamed for it. I have great sympathy for people who are raped, and it happens far more than the hate-mongering misogynistic society would have us believe.Recommend

  • Hala

    @Love:

    and what is a non-actual rape?
    he was saying that if you got pregnant due to rape you were not actually raped because rape does not result in pregnancy
    that is ignorant and insulting and untrue. Recommend

  • Hitokiri

    @Haseeb: Sheikh sahab is that you???Recommend

  • Zana Borisevic

    Great article. Takes care of all important aspects of the argument in a very objective way. I just wanted to add a reflection, that it is stunning how America in the 21 century is being held captive by principles & ways of thinking of 18 century. It’s really time to move on. Women are not treated equally- obviously, when men decide on such issues as abortion and sexual assaults on women and their definitions, consequences, etc. Many countries in the world elected women as their presidents or prime ministers & they think of it as a natural course of events and many are proud because women are great leaders. United States-the country of freedom & American dream-somehow cannot clean its closet of scelletons of racism, homophobia and gender inequalities and let go of guns, bible belt and cowboy-mucho attitude. No wonder we are in crisis-its time to think of what really matters and act accordingly with dignity and humanity. I am from NY and I love this city and State. I wish good luck for America to be brave and humane in their policies and laws.Recommend

  • Zana Borisevic

    @Javed from chicago:
    Your answer is even more moronic that that of some republicans. You missed the whole point on women’s freedom of choice. Recommend

  • Lianne

    I find some of these comments quite unbelievable.

    As a silent victim myself when I was at the age of 18 and at College, I felt as though some of the opinions in these comments were exactly the reason I couldn’t reach out to anybody. Yes, I had been drinking but the word ‘no’ is a strong one and should not have been ignored like it was, any human with morals should recognise this. Until you have been in such a soul-crushing situation, or God forbid a daughter, niece, friend has, you have no idea what occurs.

    I hope this gives you more food for thought.Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Lianne: What advice you have for girls about drinking and dating? If it is weighing heavily on your mind you should talk to some one about it. Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Un-Happy: “I am sorry but more women are made pregnent against their free will and its very common and very legal think about that too.”

    Are you talking about married women? Little confusing.

    Powerful men, men with guns rape poor girls at will in most third world countries. Problem is worse in some Muslim countries because “rape” is considered loss of honor for the victim and her family, so some times women get killed, just for getting raped.Recommend

  • Vikram

    @Nobody:
    @Hala

    I tried to explain things in my 2nd comment, but my comment was not approved I guess. A rape by a stranger is unexpected and lot more traumatic, stressful. Victim may be afraid of being killed.

    Well stress, trauma, fears can have great impact on sexual functioning. In men the effect can be very apparent. In women it may be some thing one can’t see but these things interfere with normal functioning and fertilization of the ovum.

    IRecommend

  • Zana Borisevic

    I just would like to see how this whole conversation would be going if men could get pregnant..men just imagine for a sec you got pregnant & you cannot or do not want to have that child & then you are being judged by the whole society upon your action- circumstances can be very complex & traumaticRecommend

  • Larry Linn

    The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) reports someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every two minutes, and on average there are 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault every year.

    How many become pregnant? A 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reported that “among adult women an estimated 32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.” This study said the rate of becoming pregnant after sexual assault is considerable, estimating that “the national rape-pregnancy rate is 5.0 percent per rape among victims of reproductive age (aged 12 to 45).”Recommend

  • RK Singh

    Legitimate rape?

    Rinkle kumari case. Rings any bells?Recommend

  • Turbo Lover

    He is their Munawar Hassan.Recommend

  • Muhamamd Owys

    Well written article… excellent Recommend

  • ThePsychedelix OfMahamness

    @Love:
    Dude, I surely missed where he corrected himself….. All I see is him reiterating the whole thing word-for-word.
    So before you ask “What’s the big deal?”… well, the big deal is that such incidences are never granted an overt support since I would never want my child, or for that matter your daughter, go through the same agony…. which would then be “legitimized” like this.Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Before this statement i thought America was free of fanatics……Good Luck Mr. Akin…..keep Raping the Greatness of America legitimately or illegitimately :)Recommend

  • Wolfie loves Kulfie

    Todd Akin, what exactly islegitimate’ rape?

    I would like to pose this question to the author Sarah Afzal….

    It is very easy to criticise others but what about the condition of rape victims in Pakistan ?

    is there any provision for a rape victim to get justice without fear of being ostracised ?

    is there a law to prevent woman and protect them from marital rape ?

    is there a law to prevent corrective rape of woman cause someone of her family married another woman and by tribal law she is forced to marry older men ?

    is there a law which allows DNA evidence to be used by a victim in a court of law to strengthen her case ?

    i think the author should introspect instead of bothering about what is the condition of statements in the US on rape before taking a moral high ground.

    and worry more about her own people and other sister who have to fight the system just to get their voice heard just my 2 cents on that if i have said something wrong I Apologise.Recommend