Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rape is not a Religious Ritual

Rape is the topic of my latest podcast, EXPLORING NATURE. Rape is not a pretty topic. It's downright ugly and the politics of rape are uglier than I've ever seen them in my lifetime. Rape victims are under attack again. I say again because for centuries there was a blame-the-woman attitude toward rape, as if rape was not something to take seriously--just some "boys-will-be-boys" fun. Women somehow brought on rape by dressing seductively or by inviting intercourse and then lying about it to trap some poor unfortunate man. The man was the victim. When rape began to be taken seriously as a crime, it was seen as a property crime against the husband or the father. It was his property, not the woman victim, that suffered the attack. The raped woman was "damaged goods."

It took many decades for rape to be defined as a violent crime against the victim. The World Health Organization defines rape as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration--even if slight--of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object." The FBI's definition, as of 2012, is "The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

Rape is a crime of violence but this fact seems to have been lost on a group of Republican male legislators whose goal is to deny women victims access to abortion for any cause. Displaying ignorance of women's anatomy and science, and a stunning callousness toward rape victims, these legislators are more concerned about the rapist's sperm investment than the woman's violation. They downgrade the seriousness of rape by parsing "forcible rape," "legitimate rape," and pregnancy from rape as a gift of God. But rape is rape. There is no acceptable rape and no holy rape.

Most recently, Richard Mourdock, Indiana Republican running for the Senate, made the astounding statement that pregnancy resulting from rape is, "something God intended to happen . . . a gift from God." This statement is one of the most offensive remarks about rape I have ever heard. It implies a theory of divine rape. Mr. Murdock's view would open the door for a rapist to defend himself by arguing that he was just carrying out God's will.

Then there was Todd Akin, Republican congressman from Missouri, coining the term "legitimate rape," and displaying his ignorance of science by proclaiming that a woman's body could "shut down" pregnancy resulting from rape.

Murdock and Akin are extremists but they aren't alone. Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is on the record saying rape is just another method of conception and not a reason to allow abortion. About a dozen Republican Senate candidates oppose abortion for rape, incest or to protect the health of the mother. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

There are several things to note about these efforts to turn back the clock on rape victims. First, these men constitute an anti-abortion Mafia. Their extreme view on pregnancy from rape are part and parcel of a general war on women being waged primarily by Republican men. Secondly, they don't talk about rape as a violent crime. By their statements and the bills they sponsor, they are more interested in protecting a fertilized egg than in protecting women from rape. What they end up protecting is the rapist.

Every year in the United States, between 25,000 and 32,000 pregnancies result from rape. Mr. Akin needs some medical instruction about women's bodies. There is no mechanism for "shutting down" pregnancy from rape. Perhaps Mr. Akin is more familiar with the bodies of some female insects than with women's bodies. Female tenebrionid beetles of the species Pterostichus Lucublandus produce a kind of chemical mace that they use not only against predators but also against unwanted males. This spray is so disabling that even after the male cleans himself, he falls into a kind of coma for several hours, giving her time to get away. Of course, the female pays a price for this defense. Until she can resynthesize her supply of defensive spray, she is vulnerable to predators.

Women are vulnerable to predatory men. The worst predators currently are the male legislators who are passing laws and sponsoring bills that have the intent of controlling women's bodies and denying women autonomy over their reproductive biology. The remarks of Mourdock, Akin and Ryan display contempt for women and should be unacceptable to any sane person.

Hear more by listening to the podcast. Also see my book, Sexual Strategies: How Females Choose Their Mates, which has an entire chapter on how males across the animal kingdom try to subvert female choice.

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