Todd Akin, what exactly is ‘legitimate’ rape?

Published: August 30, 2012

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

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.