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Understanding What "Illegitimate" Rapes Are

competing conceptions of "rape" is at the core of the gaff

In a discussion about Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Todd Akin's remark about how "legitimate" rapes do not cause pregnancy...

Forum: CFI Portland Listserv
Date: 08/22/2012

On Aug 21, 2012, at 12:56 PM, Sylvia wrote:

Maybe liberals are missing this distinction because they live in a world where every rape accusation is true (we have our own alternative reality at time, as well), while conservatives probably overestimate the percentage of false allegations, believing that a lot of allegations are a result of "immoral behavior" and people "playing victim".

It's not that liberals tend to believe rape allegations more than conservatives do. We disagree as to what rape is, at least on a subconscious level. To liberals, rape is a violation of one's sexual integrity and self-determination; to conservatives, rape is primarily a violation of one's sexual purity.

Conservatives are not suspicious of all rape allegations equally. For example, the allegation that recently emancipated former slaves are raping white women, or are about to rape them, was extremely believable to Southern whites after the Civil War. Rape allegations they question follow a specific pattern: the victim is married to the alleged rapist, is dating him, has slept with him before, is promiscuous, was flirting, was drinking, was dressing provocatively, is a sex worker, is poor, is of color.

It is not specific victim's inability to be forcibly penetrated or sexually exploited, but their perceived inability to suffer erosion of sexual purity (because they had already lost it), that make many conservatives (and some liberal men, frankly) question rape allegations, though that may not be how they consciously arrive at their conclusion.

Akin may claim that he meant "forcible rape" vs. others. But if he was actually just making a distinction between forcible rape and other rape (for example, raping someone who passed out from drinking) and didn't intend to suggest that their experiences/allegations are any less "legitimate"--that is, if he had only "misspoke" when he said "legitimate rape"--we cannot explain why he mentioned the female body's amazing power to prevent pregnancy in case of forcible rape. It would not make any logical sense to say "female body protects against pregnancy in a *subset* of rape cases, so it should be fine for the most part," even if his medical knowledge was factual, and he used the word "forcible" instead of "legitimate." His comment only makes sense when he believes that only certain rape victims deserve our sympathy, and all others should not receive any moral consideration.

They are mistaken, that's for damned sure, and their policies are bad and dangerous, but we don't solve the problem by falsely making this about their character. I think they have honest, albeit mistaken, moral concerns, and some are clearly terribly, terribly misinformed about human reproduction.

I believe that they have honest moral concerns over abortion, and I appreciate Akin's honesty in replying that even in the case of what he thinks is "legitimate" rape he'd oppose legal abortions. But his conception of "legitimate" vs. "illegitimate" rape is a more serious problem for this former Missouri resident (I went to high school and first year of college there) than his scientific illiteracy or even his principled, though impractical and harmful, opposition to abortion in all cases.

On Aug 22, 2012, at 11:03 AM, Dani wrote:

Yes, that's what I'm saying, Jason. "Statutory rape" is determined by age. The appropriate age of consent is determined by someone else's morality, even though the people involved may not (and may never, as in my case) think they did anything immoral. Underage sex can be consensual. (The drinking age of 21 is another example of the majority deciding for everyone when someone's old enough to make the moral decision of whether to drink or not.) Whereas, if a woman has no knowledge that she's having sex, because she's drunk out of her mind, then she can't consent; thus, it's "forced".

"Force" in "forcible rape" in law does not refer to something being forced. It refers to the use of force overriding the victim's active resistance. Since there is no force involved in raping someone who has passed out, that is not considered "forcible rape."

Classifying rape into two categories, "forcible" and "statutory," is as wrong legally as Akin's theory of female biology is wrong scientifically. In Oregon, there are actually three categories: forcible rape, statutory rape, and rape in which "victim is incapable of consent by reason of mental defect, mental incapacitation or physical helplessness."