A World of His Own: Akin and “Legitimate Rape”

By: Mali Irvin,  Program and Policy Intern

National Council of Women’s Organizations

As you may have heard, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) made a few, to say the least, insensitive remarks about “legitimate rape” Sunday in response to a reporter’s question about whether or not he supports abortion in the case of that heinous, lifelong devastating crime that we in America have pared down into a four letter word. Rape. His answer (emphasis mine):

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s (pregnancy from rape) really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

Today Akin apologized for his remarks: “I was talking about forcible rape, and it was absolutely the wrong word,” Akin said. While I acknowledge his “apology”, Akin’s justification shows he is disconnected from the reality of rape.

Even if Rep. Akin is misinformed on the physiology of rape, the truth is certainly not lost on our members and constituency.  According to the National Violence Against Women Research and Prevention Center,  in Missouri, one in seven women experiences ‘forcible rape’.  Nationally, that ratio is one-in-six (Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network, RAINN).

The first thing that comes to mind in the face of arresting remarks like these is, why? Why does Rep. Akin make such a declarative statement about a topic he clearly knows next-to-nothing about and whose sources are punitive and false?

I’m not sure we will ever understand what is meant by ‘legitimate’ here, but one in six women in this country will know what it is like to say ‘no’ and never be heard. Today, Akin adds to the wave of discouraging and controversial statements regarding women’s reproductive rights made this year by Rush Limbaugh (the Sandra Fluke controversy), Rep. Trent Franks (R-NJ), Gov. Bob McDonnell (he signed the complicated vaginal ultrasound bill in Virginia), and the list goes on. Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan also co-sponsored a bill to define ‘forcible rape’, that passed the House of Representatives in May of last year.

It strikes me that Akin and his cohort of latest reproductus interruptus men might be living in the Twilight Zone’s  A World of his own(1960). Note the date. In the famous Twilight Zone episode, the protagonist can describe anything to his dictation machine and it will appear.  If he describes an elephant, it will appear.  But what if the elephant in the room is women themselves?

The glaring point for women, however, made by The Nation’s Illyse Hogue is not to scowl with index fingers pointed at Mr. Akin, but to let his infamy be a lesson in speaking up. If we don’t provide an accurate frame for the discussion of gender-based violence, opponents of gender equity will supply their own imagined and misinformed version of the truth.

The trauma, pain and loneliness that people may feel in the event of a sexual assault and/or rape can never be explained away. We at NCWO proudly support a women’s right to her own sexual reproductive values. If you or someone you know has experienced a sexual assault, you can get help. RAINN’s online hotline provides anonymous crisis support for victims.

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