This August, a member of the Republican party hit the headlines worldwide for all the wrong reasons. Although this is not an uncommon occurrence as far as politicians are concerned, right-wing senate candidate Todd Akin has caused offense to millions of women worldwide.
Todd Akin was recorded as stating that victims of “legitimate rape” would not fall pregnant, insinuating that those who do fall pregnant have not actually experienced rape. Akin claimed that women who have been “legitimately” raped would feel so traumatised, that their bodies would develop biological mechanisms that would reject any potential pregnancy. While it has been scientifically proven that stress has the potential to cause miscarriages, there is no evidence at all that a woman will feel so traumatised after rape that she will absolutely miscarry. It has been suggested that Akin’s poor understanding of the biological mechanisms that occur after rape have been inspired by pro-life groups like ‘Physicians for Life’ which contort biology and epidemiology to scare women into not aborting.
Since making these claims, Todd Akin has retracted them, but maintains his belief that women who fall pregnant as a result of rape should not “punish” the “child” (aka foetus) by aborting, and should instead continue with the pregnancy. The initial idea that any rape is not legitimate is highly offensive. Since the Rwandan genocide, over 20,000 women there have been recorded as delivering babies that are products of rape. Note the word ‘recorded’, this number could be much higher, as many women will not come forward about their rape due to the shame and terror they have felt as a result. In addition to this, women across the northeastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are still subjected to systematic rape on a daily basis. It is estimated that for every five minutes in the DRC, four women will be raped. In the DRC, The City of Joy acts as an emotional rehab for rape victims, while women at the Panzi hospital seek medical care for the fistulas they have endured as a consequence of being raped multiple times. I wonder if Todd Akin would visit either institution to let the women there know they weren’t actually raped?
Todd Akin’s statement belittles the harrowing experiences of women who have suffered across the world. One visitor to the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has described being raped by 30 or 40 men, after which they brutalised her with their fists and sticks. She had to suffer from infections, before giving birth to a child. Disturbingly, her case is not uncommon in the country. Could Akin really claim the horror she suffered was illegitimate? What’s more, can he honestly deny any woman who has been through her experience the chance to end her physical connection with it by aborting a resulting pregnancy? While I don’t doubt there are mothers worldwide who love and cherish the children they have delivered from rape, there are also many who cannot look into the eyes of someone who reminds them of the person who took their dignity. Those women deserve the chance to abort, without fear of social or legal consequences.
Until men like Todd Akin no longer have a say in the world’s most powerful political systems, it is unlikely that women worldwide will escape the brutalities they face every day. For as long as they are allowed to make the statements they make, and push for the legislation they want, women will continue to suffer at the hands of men who use gender based violence to suppress them. Even when statements like Todd Akins are retracted, they still cause damage. Not only do such statements delegitimize the horror of rape, they will allow the crime in itself to continue. Until the world’s political system is filled with men and women who are prepared to end sexual crimes rather than redefine how they occur and what should happen afterwards, rape will continue en-masse.
Written by Laura McKeever