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In merely thirty-eight seconds, Republican representative Todd Akin of Missouri revealed an incredibly ignorant and offensive perspective on rape and its potential consequences. When asked if abortion should be permitted in the case of rape, Akin, currently the state’s republican nominee for the Senate, dismissed pregnancy as a result of “legitimate rape” as a rarity. Akin did not expound on what constitutes “legitimate rape” versus “non-legitimate rape,” but his distinction implies that the estimated 32,101 pregnancies as a result of rape were somehow or another not born of a real crime. Akin goes on to say that doctors have informed him that the female reproductive system “shuts down”  in the event of rape, and thus pregnancy as a result of rape is a rare occurrence.

As the LA Times reports, women’s rights advocates have since spoken out against Akin’s remarks. Among them is Gloria Allred, who cited Akin’s ill-informed views on biology and hierarchization of rape as dangerous:

“Sometimes it’s child rape, sometimes it’s stranger rape, sometimes it’s acquaintance rape, but whatever you call it, it is rape. For him to put misconceptions into the marketplace of ideas, this is dangerous.”

Mike Huckabee, however, defended Akin’s remarks on his radio program, citing people such as Ethel Waters and James Robinson as admirable human beings who were the result of forcible rape. In an effort to shine a positive light on Akin’s statement, Huckabee also shows little sensitivity to the potentially traumatic after-effects of rape or sexual assault by focusing on chance positive outcomes. Though by citing extraordinary people as products of rape, Huckabee does contradict Akin’s statement that “legitimate rape” does not often result in pregnancy.

The Onion satirized Akin’s absurd viewpoints in a recent article. The article quotes a fictional woman who has become pregnant after what she thought was rape, but is now “relieved” to learn it was not, though her words are ridiculous, they are perhaps what people such as Akin believe to be true of what constitutes “legitimate rape”:

“Now that I know the truth, I realize none of the telltale signs of legitimate rape were there at all,” mused Byers, noting that her body did not in any way shut down but in fact continued to register excruciating pain throughout the entire cruel ordeal. “I must have at least subconsciously wanted it—otherwise, the sperm wouldn’t have been able to enter my body.”

Rep. Todd Akin: No pregnancy from ‘legitimate rape’ [LA Times]

Pregnant Woman Relieved To Learn Her Rape Was Illegitimate [The Onion]

Trigger Warning: This post references, but does not link to, a Reddit thread which contains detailed descriptions of sexual assault. Other articles linked here quote from and link to the aforementioned Reddit thread. 

Reddit recently asked its users to share the “other” side of sexual assault, that is the perspective of the assailant. Reddit wanted to know, “What were your motivations? Do you regret it?” In response, users provided detailed descriptions of their methods, motives, and common targets of rape and attempted rape. Jezebel outlined the various rationalities behind these rapists’ actions, which include “mixed-messages” from women, peer-pressure, and men’s sexual desire as motives for committing rape. Though they recognize what they did as rape, these posters do not see the incredible harm caused by their actions.

Survivors of rape also added their own stories and responses to the thread. Some connected with the victims described and found reading the stories to be a positive experience, while others were more disgusted than gratified after reading the story.

A chilling aspect of the reddit users’ accounts of rape is that it highlights just how easy it is to get away with sexual assault. One poster describes himself as “a good looking guy,” and thus was easily able to pick up girls he perceived to be weak or with low self-esteem. He also describes himself as protected by his connections with law enforcement and his school’s administration, whom he claims would take his side, had any of his victims come forward.

When their story does not fit the stereotypical stranger-in-the-dark-alley outline, victims will often find it much more difficult to be believed if they choose to come forward, a fact these perpetrators are apparently fully aware of. The perception that only certain types of men rape is dangerous as it not only allows many perpetrators to go unnoticed, but also puts the onus on women to avoid certain types of men. As one user says, “hopefully girls reading will be a little more wary of some of the tricks you’ve outlined with guys in future,” as though it is possible for girls to “avoid” being raped.

Reddit, an already notoriously anti-women site, has received media attention for posing the question to perpetrators of sexual assault. As reported by the Huffington Post, some have criticized the thread for providing an open forum for rape-apologists, while others have applauded its ability to start an open-dialogue on the nature of sexual assault. Alexis Moore of  Survivors In Action, Inc. believes the thread could provide continued victimization:

“This will perhaps be another method that will be utilized by cyberstalkers for what we call cybervengence to harass, intimidate and torture victims”

Gloria Allred, notable women’s rights attorney, sees the positive effects of the thread. Allred states that to fight sexual assault, all sides need to be engaged in the conversation:

“If we can understand those who have committed sexual assault, then perhaps we can help to engage them, the victimizers, in a conversation about the harm that it does to the victims and why they should never engage in another sexual assault again.”

The thread also provides an account of just how much rape culture can affect our daily lives, in particular the lives of women. Some posters expressed seeing value in these stories as it informs girls which guys to watch out for. But, as other posters point out, there is now way to pick out a rapist in a crowd, and to suggest that there is implies it is the fault of the victim, should she be raped. As some posters point, a pervasive rape culture means women must constantly be wary of what they wear, where they go, what they drink, etc, a mentality female posters say they hope will become clear to men after reading the thread.

 Thanks to Sonia for the tip.

Rapists Explain Themselves on Reddit, and We Should Listen [Jezebel]

Reddit Rapists Come Clean On Controversial New Thread, But Should We Listen? [Huffington Post]

According to the US Justice Department, Native American women face rates of rape more than double that of the national average, but as the New York Times reports, they receive very little protection from rape or sexual assault. Particularly vulnerable are Native women in rural Alaska; in a survey conducted by the Alaska Federation of Natives, the rate of sexual violence in rural Alaskan communities is 12 times that of the national average. Despite these high rates, Indian Health Services hospitals lack resources to aid survivors of sexual assault, such as proper training and sexual assault kits. Native American women also have limited access to birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and the morning-after pill.

In the face of these issues, Congress is struggling to implement protective measures against rape and sexual violence in Native communities. The US Senate passed a new version of the  Violence Against Women Act of 1994 that would allow tribal courts the power to prosecute non-Indians suspected of sexually assaulting their Indian spouses or domestic partners. The House, however, removed this authority in the version of the bill they passed. Both House Republicans and Senate Republicans fear the power it would give to tribal courts, despite the fact that 86% of reported rapes against Native women are committed by non-Native men.

The Emmonak Women’s Shelter has offered protection for many years to Native women who have been abused or raped, but will likely face closure.  Due to the frequency of assault and rarity of prosecution, this shelter is often the only option Native American women in the surrounding Alaskan villages have, however in 2005 Alaska chose to cut off funding to the shelter.

Charon Asetoyer, a women’s health advocate on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, says rape has become the norm.

“We should never have a woman come into the office saying, ‘I need to learn more about Plan B for when my daughter gets raped. That’s what’s so frightening — that it’s more expected than unexpected. It has become a norm for young women.”

When it comes to fighting the frighteningly high levels of rape, Native American women are left behind by the tribal, federal, and state level. With insufficient funding and resources to combat sexual violence, it seems likely their rates will continue to soar above the national averages.

For Native American Women, Scourge of Rape, Rare Justice [NY Times]

On May 6, Nobel Peace Laureates and advocacy organizations around the world made a pledge to campaign for the end of rape and gender based violence in times of conflict. As outlined on the organization’s website, The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict is dedicated to providing voices to survivors and compelling political leaders to taking preventative measures against rape and gender violence. Rape is often deliberately used as a tactic of terror, and too often as well are survivors stigmatized and left with the burden of shame in addition to physical trauma. The Campaign also states that current commitments to end rape and gender violence are inadequate or unenforced.

The Campaign website includes news updates, resources, information about rape as a weapon, and more. If you are interested in getting involved, their site offers ways to volunteer, use social media or offer donations to further the cause. You can also take a pledge as outlined on the home page.

Rape is not always an act of violence between two individuals, but oftentimes implicated on a much larger scale, as part of a much larger agenda. Gender violence can include and is not limited to, rape, sterilization, and sexual slavery. These kinds of tactics can be used to destroy communities by both state security and arme forces, even after peace has been established. For all the above reasons and more, this campaign is crucial to advocating for human rights that have been heretofore under or little addressed.

The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict

In response to an article in The Atlantic Wire, Kate Harding tweeted: “Once more with feeling: Rape allegations are not a ‘sex scandal.’ They are a violent crime scandal.”

The article in question concerns French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. DSK has already been charged with numerous allegations of sexual assault, as The Atlantic has previously reported on. Now he is being accused of gang-raping a Belgian sex-worker in 2010. The Atlantic article however equates this latest accusation of a violent crime with a “sex scandal”:

Sometimes we just wish Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his sex scandals would vanish from the news cycle. He probably does too, considering the fact there are new accusations coming out today that he allegedly gang-raped a Belgian prostitute in D.C.hotel in 2010.

Gang rape, or any form of rape, may involve a sexual act, but it is not itself sex. It is an act of violence. Reporting that equates allegations of rape with a sex scandal perpetuate the myth that rape is about sex, when in reality it is about power.

Last year, media coverage of the accusations of sexual harassment made against DSK were reported alongside coverage of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelities and child with a member of his household staff. Kate Pittman at Loose Garments described the conflation of these two events’ similarities as an indication that we do not consider crimes involving sexual violence a serious matter:

Conflating these two events frames the sexual assault charges as something other than what they are, criminal violence.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty.   But discussing this alleged crime using terms like “sexual antics” and “sex scandal” illustrates that socially, we still do not take crimes involving sexual acts as seriously as other crimes.

The L Magazine also talked about the harmful consequences of labeling allegations of rape or sexual abuse as “sex scandals” in light of Penn State’s so-called “sex scandal.” Last fall, numerous media outlets discussed the accusations child rape made against Penn State coach as a “sex scandal,” but a non-consensual act of a sexual nature committed against a child should in no way be conflated as sex.  It should not fall into the same category as a story about a politician having a child out of wedlock by, what appears to be, consensual sex between him and his housekeeper. Putting an act of violence in the category of a sex scandal only appears to lessen the crime, which, as L Magazine describes, has harmful consequences:

Calling rape a sex scandal reinforces the idea that it’s equally bad to get caught messing around on your wife as it is to rape someone. I know there are people out there who are like oh, it’s just language, quit quibbling, politically correct blah blah blah. But language matters. It’s how we understand the world around us, and every time somebody minimizes rape or apologizes for a rapist, they make it that much easier for some other person out there to think he or she can get away with rape.

Language is not innocent; it is in part because of this language that we live in a culture where “college football is more important than children not being sexually abused.” Our language should reflect how  serious and harmful a crime rape is, not treat it like tabloid fodder.

Thank you Kate Harding, for reminding us again: Rape allegations are not a “sex scandal.” They are a violent crime.

DSK’s Pimping Scandal Now Has a D.C. Gang Rape Allegation [The Atlantic Wire]

New Sex Allegations Against Strauss-Kahn [NY Times]

Rape is not a “Sex Scandal” [Loose Garments]

What Happened at Penn State is Not a Sex Scandal [The L Magazine]

Trigger Warning: This article contains quotations of harmful language made against survivors of sexual assault.

CNN reports a horrific pattern in the US military to diagnose women who come forward with sexual assault allegations as suffering from a “personality disorder.” This diagnosis not only completely contradicts the definition of a personality disorder as it exists in the DSM-IV, but denies these women any chance to seek support, press charges on their assailant, or continue their service, and can present them with a slew of financial burdens upon their discharge. This pattern represents a disgusting attempt to sweep sexual abuse in the military under the rug at the direct expense of these women’s health and careers, and to the detriment of anyone who ever has or ever will face sexual assault while in service.

The women pictured above all served in different branches of the military, but all faced a similar response when they made reports of sexual assault. Stephanie Schroeder (far left) was raped in a bathroom by a fellow marine in 2002, but when she tried to report the rape a non-commissioned officer told her, “Don’t come bitching to me because you had sex and changed your mind.” Anna Moore (second from left), a Patriot missile battery operator, was raped while alone in her barracks also in 2002. Her first sergeant told her, “Forget about it. It never happened,” and tore up her forms to file a report. Jenny McClendon (second from right) was raped by a superior while serving as a sonar operator on a Navy destroyer. All three were diagnosed with a personality disorder after reporting their assaults and discharged from service.

These women received this diagnosis in spite of the fact that the DSM-IV (the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) defines a personality disorder as a long-standing, inflexible pattern of maladaptive behavior and coping, beginning in adolescence or early adulthood. This diagnosis should not be made in the midst of a traumatic experience, such as the aftermath of a sexual assault, according to Dr. Liza H. Gold, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

The denial on the part of the higher-ups exacerbates the harm caused by sexual assault to these survivors. Panayiota Bertzikis (pictured at far right) was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder and subsequently forced out of the Coast Guard in 2006 after reporting to her superiors that a shipmate had raped her.

When she reported the attack, Bertzikis says the chief of her Coast Guard station ordered her and her attacker to clean out an attic on base together and told to work out their differences.

“I am the victim of this crime, and then you report it, and then I felt like I was the one on trial — I was the one who did something wrong,” Bertzikis says. “He got a free pass. I was the one fighting to stay in.”

Anu Baghwati, executive director of Service Women’s Action Network, likens the kind of betrayal these survivors face to the trauma survivors of incest experience.

“Very commonly victims will hear that they’re lying whores. It’s very common,” Bhagwati says. “That kind of betrayal deepens the trauma so, so much, and it’s hard to recover from that. I mean, it’s akin to incest where you grow up with a family, with someone you trust, admire and in many cases, salute, is your perpetrator. It’s a huge betrayal that often entails guilt, embarrassment, shame. You’re made to feel that you did something wrong and you could have prevented it from happening.”

In addition to further emotional trauma, these survivors can also face increased financial burdens with these diagnoses. According to CNN, a personality disorder diagnosis will hamper discharged service members ability to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A personality disorder is viewed as a pre-existing condition that does constitute a service related disability, and therefore does not lead to benefits to help with the trauma. Celeste Santana was also diagnosed with an adjustment disorder after she reported being sexually assaulted in the middle of the night while serving in Afghanistan. She was a navy lieutenant forced out of the military after seventeen years of service, just three years short of being eligible for retirement. Santana subsequently lost her pension.

There are survivors who are fighting back. Bertzikis started stopmilitaryrape.org and mydutytospeak.com to give survivors a space to speak out, and in addition founded and runs the Military Rape Crisis Center. Schroeder is seeking a PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) diagnosis. Moore has been diagnosed with PTSD and is now on full disability. Secretary of Defense Leon Pannetta announced that service members who filed a sexual assault report would be allowed to make an immediate request for transfer to a different unit, and also asked for an assessment of training that higher ups receive on sexual assault prevention and response.

Schroeder is skeptical, however.

“It’s all just talk. It’s for show”

In 2011 there were 3,191 reports of military sexual assault. The Pentagon estimates that unreported sexual assaults would push the actual number closer to 19,000. If the military continues to create an environment conducive to the abuse of its own service members then undoubtedly these numbers will rise, even if the trials these survivors have faced will cause the reported numbers to dwindle.

Rape victims say military labels them ‘crazy’ [CNN]

mydutytospeak.com

Military Rape Crisis Center

Related Articles:

Fox News Pundit Says Women in Military Should “Expect” to be Raped

What does it take for a woman to prove she was raped? NYPD Officer Michael Pena was found guilty of sexual assault this week but as reported by New York magazine, the jury could not come to a consensus on rape charges and the judge has declared the trial over. Pena was accused of raping a schoolteacher at gunpoint last summer, but despite eyewitness accounts and the presence of Pena’s semen in the victim’s underwear, the jury was unable to find Pena guilty of rape. Pena’s lawyer argued that he “failed to have intercourse with her” and thus no rape took place. The New York Daily News reports that they jury did not convict Pena because the victim failed to recall small details of her surroudings:

But a Manhattan jury made up of highly educated professionals refused to convict Officer Michael Pena of rape for a startling reason — the victim could not recall the color of a car parked by the courtyard where she was forced to her knees, sources told The Daily News Thursday.

In addition to proving penetration took place beyond any doubt, that force was used, that the victim did not previously know the assailant, it seems anyone pursuing rape charges must also remember every minute details of the surroundings when the rape took place. Did whoever posed such a question ever stop to think if the color of a nearby car would really be on the mind of a person facing a violent assault? No wonder rape is so underreported.

Judge Ends NYPD Rape Trial Without Rape Verdict [NY Mag]

Jury refused to convict NYPD cop Michael Pena of rape because victim couldn’t remember color of parked car [NYDN]

 

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