Who Dictates the Definition of "Rape"?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Rep. Todd Akin, who is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri, made controversial comments about abortion. Rep. Todd Akin is running against Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri. (flickr)

While there are an estimated 25,000 rape-related pregnancies each year in the United States, there still remains an overwhelming level of confusion surrounding the issues of rape and abortion. This confusion is only exacerbated by polarized politicized debate that often overshadows the real issues at stake.

Though Todd Akin's comments on "legitimate rape" once again brought the issue of our country's understanding — or misunderstanding — of rape to the forefront, arguments over statistics, facts, and laws governing the definition of rape have existed for centuries.

Andrew Solomon is a writer and the author of a New Yorker article titled “Legitimate Children of Rape.” Carol Tracy is the Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project.


Andrew Solomon and Carol Tracy

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman

Comments [13]

There is a serious policy argument between those who agree with Rep. Akin and those who do not -- it is not simply a matter of Akin's choice of words, although his "terrible" words served to highlight and inflame the policy debate. The views he expressed are in line with the policy positions advocated by some religious groups and Tea Party-type conservatives. The allegation that those who oppose these Tea Party-type positions are "leftists" is silly and unsubstantiated, a diversion from intelligent dialogue, and only sings to a Tea Party chorus. What is clear is that the political philosophy espoused by Rep. Akin -- however psuedo-science based and socially unrepresentative it may be -- reflects a radical political wing, which its adherents seek to translate into policies and laws to be enforced on everyone; they are the American version of the taliban, cloaked in American and Christian symbols.

Sep. 02 2012 06:45 AM
Sally from Oregon

I feel that we are still talking about what Todd Akin said because it brings up so many questions: the obvious question, should abortion be legal and under what circumstances, are medicines that can prevent pregnancy after rape always available everywhere to women, is birthcontrol available to all women who need it, are children who are actually alive and families supported enough with education, food, medical care, how are adoptions handled, are we doing enough to prevent poverty?
The question of what was meant by 'legitimate' rape still haunts me? Was it the wrong use of a word or was it referring to the fact that a woman could lie about being raped (thus an 'illegitimate' rape)as was the case in Roe VS Wade, in order to obtain an abortion in a state where abortion is only allowed for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Like the guest on the program Friday, some people feel a woman should have no control over her own reproduction. Lots more to talk about!

Sep. 01 2012 06:56 PM

While you might rightly suggest that we all "move on," that message has clearly been wasted on The Takeaway, which has chosen to figuratively bathe in the Akin story each and every boradcast day since it began. And almost never acknowledging the fact that Todd Akin himself thinks that his own choice of words was terrible and ought to be disregarded.

The Takeaway, and its Democrat friends, have very simply found the story too favorable for their purposes to resist.

Steve, as for your guessing about the meaning of "forced" (the correct legal term is "forcible,") and your supposition about what Rep. Akin meant; it doesn't much matter, except insofar as we jettison the stupid and careless words that should never have been made part of the conversation to begin with. We can then move on to serious questions, almost none of which The Takeaway dealt with this week. Such as, what about the question of abortions being used as a form of contraception by underage teen moms? Cases of "statutory" (not "forcible") rape.

The overweening arrogance of The Takeaway throughout this matter was that "rape" presumed force and coercion, and that force and coercion do not prevent pregnancy, no matter how much tension, etc. is imposed upon the female rape victim. And that only ignorant rubes would believe that forcible rapes cannot produce pregnancies. Even the two Republican delegates who were subject to the gotcha interview would not venture there.

I am actually hoping that an enterprising interviewer like Fox News' Jesse Watters will do some interviews along the same lines with a few select delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

You know; for balance.

Aug. 31 2012 01:25 PM

@Charles, if you read my later comment, you will see that I have moved on and suggest that all of us move on (if just a bit in another direction).

From what I have read, the word "forced" rape is used basically to describe, rape by physical force. As opposed to rape that occurs, unwilling, but without force (for example, a person with mental disability is taken advantage of and raped). I think this is also why statutory rape is named as such and not consensual sex with a minor (i.e. a minor is young and cannot always make the best decisions, and therefore the other party took advantage of this situation).

My concern is that Mr. Akin, and others, might be saying is that any woman, who is pregnant, and says that it was at the result of a rape, will not be taken seriously. That the pregnancy could not possibly be at the result of a rape. If Mr. Akin actually believes this, that is one issue. He needs be more informed. But if he is simply promoting this theory, for a political purpose or any other reason, I find that disgusting.

Aug. 31 2012 10:37 AM

Don't you just love how this story was premised on the basis of sort of correcting an incorrect record (as a public service, of course), but then morphed into a leftist/feminist rant from this avowedly political group:


That's my "Takeaway."

Aug. 31 2012 10:22 AM

The issue of abortion will go on for years. In the meantime, why doesn't everybody first attempt to really show how the option having the and putting the baby up for adoption can be a very generous and rewarding thing to do for both the mother and the adopting family. Attempt through legislation to make this an easy, inexpensive process. Work to bring expecting mothers and families together. Explain to the expecting mother the benefits of bringing the baby to this world. To show families, who would like to have a child, how easy the adoption process can be. It seems that both sides could dramatically reduce the number of abortions per year and bring a child into a family that wants one. Seems that both sides could take pride in doing something like that.

Aug. 31 2012 10:19 AM

Peg -
I just heard the full audio story, and author Andrew Solomon says he did talk to children of rape. He just apparently didn't feel the need to put any of their words in his story. Like, whether or not they might prefer to have been aborted in utero.

Aug. 31 2012 10:17 AM

Steve, I won't pretend to speak for Ed from Larchmont.

But let's forget the entire canard about "legitimate" rape, shall we? It was a profoundly poor choice of words. Rep. Akin says it was a poor choice of words and he regrets it and has disowned it. And I am one of those who think that it was such a poisonously bad choice, that Akin should cede his place on the ballot to another Republican, so that we can hopefully beat Claire McAskill in November.

But there are differences, important ones, between statutory rape (consensual sex involving a minor, say) and forcible rape. And "forcible rape" is not a figment of some fevered conservative mind. "Forcible rape" is is a distinct definitional category recorgnized in uniform crime reporting statistics from the FBI and is a term utilized in policy by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Of course, none of The Takeaway's listeners were told that in more than a week of wall-to-wall let's-laugh-at-Todd Akin stories.

Aug. 31 2012 10:11 AM

Your guests may think the delegates are idiots, but google "stress delaying ovulation". Its of course no guarantee, but if a woman who has not yet ovulated undergoes significant stress, her ovulation may be delayed.

Aug. 31 2012 09:58 AM

@Ed, if "legitimate rape" means rape that released hormones of fear and terror, what is the alternative? If the alternative is "statutory rape", then why do we need to use the word "legitimate"? i.e. Rape and Statutory rape, seem to accurately describe the two possibilities. And can you point to a reference where Mr. Akin more clearly defined what he meant, or were you merely expressing your opinion of what you think that he meant?

The Dr. Hilgers study is not based on scientific fact, it was based on a survey. People don't always tell the truth. Sometimes they don't want to admit to being raped. Also, seems strange that the number 1.6% is so precise, but the range 2-4% is so wide (i.e. 100% chance of error). Are there any more studies or evidence that agrees with Dr. Hilgers study?

Aug. 31 2012 09:23 AM

re: Charles - I believe the reason that the author has not interviewed children, is that as a journalist he is not ethically permitted to discuss this subject with a minor.

Where does one find an adult who was conceived through rape? Now that this topic has been in the forefront of discussion, perhaps some will come foreword to give their "take" on the issue.

Aug. 31 2012 08:36 AM

Andrew Solomon's New Yorker article might be titled, "The Legitimate Children of Rape," but in my reading, he seemed to have talked to none of those children; I don't see where he quoted a single child's voice.

I want to congratulate the producers of The Takeaway. After Joe Biden's "Y'all gonna be put back in chains!" comment was glossed over with barely a single mention on this program, I thought that it would be hard for you to keep the Akin/"legitimate rape" story going for long. I was wrong; you've averaged more than a story a day -- most often two a day -- for nearly two weeks.

Aug. 31 2012 08:20 AM
Ed from Larchmont

By 'legitimate' he meant one that released hormones of fear and terror. And it turns out, though he overstated it, there was some truth in what he said:
Dr. Thomas Hilgers, a Creighton University obstetrics professor and director of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, has revealed that statistics show women are less likely to become pregnant when they are raped than when they engage in consensual intercourse.

Noting that “the emotional impact of rape often clouds a legitimate and truthful discussion,” Dr. Hilgers said that a study of rape victims in Nebraska found that only 1.6% became pregnant, whereas a random sample would have found 2-4% of all women pregnant after an act of intercourse. He concluded that “complex mechanisms of human ovulation and its interaction with stress” could explain the discrepancy.

Aug. 31 2012 07:48 AM

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