What is “legitimate” rape? Congressman Todd Akin stated: “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” First, let’s clarify: all rape is legitimate and all rape is forcible rape. Akin’s comments are not only offensive, they are factually, medically, and morally wrong.
Rape is rape. Stating that one form of rape is more legitimate or valid than another narrows the definition of rape. In doing this, you reduce the severity of all forms of rape and silence survivors of sexual assault, because their experiences do not fit within the proposed narrow definition of rape. More frighteningly, it excuses perpetrators that commit rapes that don’t fit that narrow definition and does not hold them responsible for the crimes. Lastly, it doesn’t allow for the complexity of sexual assault to be understood by society. Rather than trying to redefine rape, our elected officials and political leaders should emphasize the importance of prevention through education and of providing services to survivors of sexual assault.
Given that Akin’s comments have received national attention, it’s the moment to talk about rape and to take action. Let’s talk about holding perpetrators accountable, ending victim-blaming; and let’s look at the institutions in society that continue to support sexual violence. It is also important to understand that attacking reproductive choice and sexual assault are both about controlling a woman’s body. Ripping away one’s right to govern one’s own body is the ultimate degradation of the value of women.
As far as taking action, let’s give rape and sexual assault survivors our national support through the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Reauthorization of VAWA would reaffirm our national commitment to ending violence against women. Let’s make it a point to educate our community and focus, not on how many women get pregnant from rape, but rather let’s draw our attention to addressing sexual violence so that the number of rapes is zero.
Erika Martin del Campo is the community education coordinator for the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center!