Rape is Not a Political Platform – Rape is a Violent Crime! By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Just when you think you have heard it all, here we go again – another politician with “open mouth-insert foot” syndrome.  Discussing his zero-tolerance policy for abortion, Missouri Representative Todd Akin made the following statement last Sunday about pregnancies that result from rape:

“from what I understand from doctors, that’s 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.”

In an inadequate attempt to apologize and clarify his words, Akin stated that he meant to say “forcible rape.” This clarification fares no better nor does the fact that he later acknowledges that women “do become pregnant” during a “forcible rape.”  It is interesting to note what Akin considers to be “rare.”  According to the Washington Post, approximately 5% of rape victims become pregnant.  Akin reduced this to a statistic – 1 out of 32,000 women.  This, for Akin, is a rare occurrence.

Stating that a woman’s body is capable of preventing pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape” demonstrates how out of touch politicians are and further (re)affirms the bigotry that exists within our political system.  The same politicians who have waived a “war against women” this year, try to promote policies that exercise control over what a woman can and cannot do with her body; policies that are  based on ill-advised misinformation.  Decisions politicians make for a woman – what she can and cannot do with her body – are rooted in personal faith beliefs, party-line agendas, and supporters (campaign financing dollars and lobbyists).  This year, a woman’s body has become a platform for votes.

Inasmuch as I would like to think Akin’s statement is an isolated event, Garance Franke-Ruta points out that this is not the first time a politician made a statement about rape victims and pregnancies:

  • 1980, Federal Judge James Leon Holmes (appointed by George W. Bush in 1984), stated, “concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.”
  • 1988 Delaware Rep. Stephen Freind stated that “the odds that a woman who is raped will get pregnant are ‘one in millions and millions and millions” because “violent attacks cause temporary infertility.” – the trauma of rape causes women to ‘secrete a certain secretion’ that tends to kill sperm.”
  • 1988 John C. Wilke, a physician and president of the National Right to Life Committee, categorized differnt types of “rape” in “Life Issues Connector;” forcible rape, assault rape, and statutory rape.
  • In 1995 North Carolina State Rep. Henry Aldridge said: “The facts show that people who are raped – – who are truly rape – – the juice don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.”
  • Earlier this year, Republican Sen. Chuck Winder stated that “I would hope that when a woman goes to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape.  I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”

Why do candidates feel a need to define or categorize rape at all?  According to Grace Fletcher-Hackwood, the definition of rape in “American politics” is just as “important in healthcare as well as in the justice system.”   Republican efforts to limit federal funds to pay for abortions is the main reason; funding comes down to how the rape is categorized.  Rape that results in a pregnancy has to be defined as “forcible” in order to receive federal money for an abortion.  Types of rape that result in pregnancy not eligible for funding are: statutory rape, drug rape, rape of women with limited mental capacity.

While there are many categories of rape, one fact remains the same – rape is rape! Eve Ensler responds to Akin’s statement –  “You use the expression ‘legitimate’ rape as if to imply there were such a thing as ‘illegitimate’ rape.”  Rape is a violent crime.  The discussion of legitimizing one definition of rape over another is simply absurd.  Ensler also addressed Akin’s attempted clarification of his original statement:

 “now you want to say that you misspoke when you said that a legitimate rape couldn’t get us pregnant. Did you honestly believe that rape sperm is different than love sperm, that some mysterious religious process occurs and rape sperm self-destructs to its evilcontent? Or, were you implying that women and their bodies are somehow responsible for rejecting legitimate rape sperm, once again putting the onus on us? It would seem you were saying that getting pregnant after a rape would indicate it was not legitimate?”

Any victim of rape would look at Akin’s words as something much more than a mere slur or mis-statement.  These words belong to a person questioning the validity of rape or even “degrees” of rape (as if such a thing existed).  His words put the responsibility on a woman who is raped – if she becomes pregnant, there was no rape.  If she does not become pregnant, then her body functioned as it was designed to do, in the face of a violent traumatic event.

Ensler also stated:

“When you, Paul Ryan, and 225 of your fellow co-sponsors play with words around rape suggesting only ‘forcible’ rape be treated seriously as if all rapes weren’t forcible, it brings back a flood of memories of the way the rapists played with us in the act of being raped – intimidating us, threatening us, muting us.  Your playing with words like ‘forcible’ and ‘legitimate’ is playing with our souls.”

This statement, according to Ensler, re-opens the wounds and memories that so many women who were victimized by rape – these words, this statement was a “form of re-rape.”  His statement “delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced.”   Women, who have been poked and prodded in the ER, questioned at length by police, faced her rapist at a trial (if he pleads not-guilty), all result in her rapist being convicted,  are vindicated; she was just proved to be telling the truth, because the burden is on the victim.  So let’s muddy the waters even more and state that ovulation or the inability to kill a rapist’s semen before fertilization raises the bar to infer reasonable doubt and thus vindicates the rapist.

Isn’t it bad enough that some states already compromise a woman if she decides to keep the baby that was conceived through rape?  What I mean is the rapist can, in some cases, sue to be involved in the child’s life, which includes visitation privileges.   Based on Akin’s definition or “understanding,” this woman should give the rapist privileges because there was no rape.  These words cut through the very heart and soul of any rape victim.

With the ignorant ramblings of a politician, touting a zero tolerance for abortion because of a respect for the dignity of life, he, by his very words, has contradicted his stance. Pro-life and the understanding of what it means to be pro-life seems to be limited to the womb.  So many of today’s issues, political and in the Catholic Church, rest on another definition – what  “pro-life” means.  However, it is very important for politicians and the Church to remember – the very definition of pro-life calls for respecting the dignity of all human persons from life to death. Akin’s statement has violated the dignity of women and devalued their personhood.  By silencing their voice and restricting their rights, victims of rape are dehumanized.  So Akin and people who think like him, thank you for imposing terror on so many women who, with your definitions and categories, now have to face horrible memories and nightmares of the past.  Tell me, is this a respect for human life?  Is this respecting the dignity of a human person?  No – simply put it is bullying and terrorism.  Your words have become a weapon and, like many of us were taught in childhood, words have consequences.

For Soraya Chemaly Akin’s statement, like so many statements that attack women, reflects “the degree to which some men, steeped in all sorts of dangerous denialism, will go to protect their power and how they undermine equality and democracy to do it.” At the end of the day, this is what our political system has become.  Certainly this way of thinking, these words, reflect how out of touch politicians are with the people they stand to represent.  In the end, what seems to be the driving force for these politicians is power and the question – how can I get more votes?

Chemaly states that Akin’s words feed into this continual “war on women” that seems to be occurring this election year.  She also stated that fundamentally his words are “part of a reactionary, fundamentalist backlash to modernity. It’s war on science. It’s a war on facts. It’s a war on critical thinking. But, really, consider it a war on democracy.”

It is time; actually, it is long overdue for politicians to stop using women’s bodies as a political agenda.  Sex without consent is rape.  I agree with Ensler when she says – Stop trying to define rape;  put your efforts toward ending it instead.

Articles cited in this post:






Michele Stopera Freyhauf is currently at the University of Akron doing post-graduate work in the area of the History of “the Americas” focusing on Religion, Gender, and Culture.  She has a Master of Arts Degree from John Carroll University in Theology and Religious Studies and is an Adjunct Instructor in Religious Studies at Ursuline College.  Her full bio is on the main contributor’s page or at http://johncarroll.academia.edu/MicheleFreyhauf.  Michele can be followed on twitter at @MSFreyhauf.

Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Catholic Church, Childbirth, Church Doctrine, Ethics, Feminism, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, General, Human Rights, Identity Construction, LGBTQ, Rape Culture, Sexual Ethics, Sexual Violence, U. S. Catholic Sisters, Violence Against Women, Vowed Religious, Women's Agency, Women's Suffering

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13 replies

  1. So well stated Michele. I assure you that Rep.Todd Akin is not only echoed by many other politicians but a huge number of our fellow citizens. In the 1970’s I fought alongside my Sisters to claim the dignity and rights due Women and really every human being. Feminism is a movement for humanity, not just women rights. It is appalling how religion and government get intertwined and religious beliefs used to justify ego driven, control driven agendas. It is time to stop trying to control women’s bodies and it is time to stop mis-using God as an excuse, to manipulate,to rationalize, the abusive control over the lives of others.


    • Callahan, thank you for your comment. I am in complete agreement with you. So many politicians forget one simple childhood rule – think before you speak. However, what amazes me the most is that the rights of women are continually being compromised and those limiting or removing their rights are being elected to office!


  2. Fundamentally it is not a war on democracy or rational thinking. It is a war on women that is taking away our democratic rights to control our own persons, using irrational thinking.

    Thanks Michele for a great post.

    I have been waiting all my life for women’s issues to become central in an election campaigh, but I guess I should have been more specific in my wish: this is not the format I imagined…


  3. It seems women have been forced to take a giant step backward in our evolution toward human autonomy. We need to return to texts like Teresa di Lauretis’s “Technologies of Gender,” wherein she addresses Michel Foucault’s outrageous assumption that rape is merely a type of violence, which he classifies as “feminine” violence (in which damage is done to the victim) as opposed to “masculine” violence (in which the victim reaps some reward–initiation ceremonies, eg.). It is not merely a matter of “open mouth–insert foot”; Michele is being “feminine”–loving, forgiving, and gift-giving. Rape is a crime that is not only violent but specifically sexual, directed exclusively at women and at men who have been diminished by society into feminized figures (prison inmates, for example). Akin’s statement is as outrageous as (and probably ultimately stems from) the Renaissance idea that pregnancy and orgasm are related–no orgasm, no pregnancy–deleting the entire notion of rape. This theory asserts that if a woman enjoyed it (she had an orgasm so she’s pregnant), the fact of rape as a crime is negated;; the alleged orgasm makes it consensual. It brings me great sorrow to realize that we have only had the illusion of believing we have attained personhood; Akin’s assertion and the others Michele cited reveal the true state of women at this moment–we have progressed not at all in the forty years of modern feminism.


  4. Thank you, Michele, for addressing these remarks. This endless stream of ignorance about rape and women’s bodies is exhausting and infuriating. I feel empowered by the voices of women like your self and Eve Ensler. Sometimes it is hard for me to wrap my brain around how backwards this country is in regard to women (not that it is limited to this country, that’s just my context.) I am grateful for women who speak out against the tide of mysogyny.


  5. I’ve boggled this whole year that women’s health/rights/”rights” are political issues/platforms. Ridiculous. I’ve never heard anyone take a stance on “men’s rights” and yet in the textbook that I’m supposed use to teach Social Policy next year, students can choose from a series of “opposing viewpoints” to debate in class and…one of those opposite viewpoints topics is, “women’s rights.” Say WHAT?! I can’t hardly believe that we live in a world where that is up for debate as a political issue. :::sob::: And, then things like this Akin thing happen and I feel like we’re living in a dystopian novel. :(


  6. Thank you for writing this post Michele. I was appalled when I heard Akin’s comments– livid actually. I cannot believe the gross biological ignorance of his statement. I agree with Dolores above, it does sound a lot like the Renaissance connection between orgasm and pregnancy…. It also makes me think of all of those other false biological assumptions meant to maintain patriarchal hierarchies, like the idea that men provide the soul through seed to women’s material, or other unscientific and oppressive notions of pregnancy.
    The idea that we have to somehow permit a pregnancy, or that if a women were to become pregnant from a rape that it might not be “forcible” is abhorrent.
    I have to say that I have often wondered what society would look like if women really did have a literal physical ability to decide to be pregnant or not– would it lead to more or less oppression? Sadly, it seems the ability we’ve gained through technology to take ownership of our bodies incites this kind of terrible backlash.
    Thank you for writing– its so important that those of us who support women’s rights say something about this kind of abusive and ignorant political posturing.


  7. Men have a vested interest in making rape into what THEY want it to be. It’s why leftist men are rushing to the defense of Julian Assange, who is fleeing extradiction in Sweden, because he was accused of raping two women. He likes to play with words too.
    But the key, is the male definition of one little word “consensual” and that needs to be completely changed. How do you define consent? And under what conditions do women “consent” to male authority? Like its evil cousin “forcible” it is all male obfuscating language “at play” here. Men like Akin have just given the game away, and that’s how bold patriarchy is becoming.

    In what world do women, the sex class, ever get to truly consent to anything in mensworld? Well I don’t consent to anything! I say no to all forms of coersion within patriarchy. I’ll be marching with WORD — Women Organized to Resist and Defend this Sunday, August 26. There will be marches nationwide in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Look them up on the Internet, but better yet, challenge every man in your life to get out there and do something politically and aggressively to end male sexual violence against women. Change the laws of consent, so that it reflects how women actually make decisions.

    Is a man who has sex with a woman after she is drunk a rapist? If a woman is impaired with alcohol or drugs this means she has not given consent. Even a medical test like colonoscopy, in which you are put under to go through this cancer screening exam, has a procedure. You have to sign a legal document stating that you will not be able to make any legal decisions until 24 hours later. You must state that you have a ride home, and that you will not drive afterward. Legal consent is not possible in this situation.

    So I say, change the rape laws. If a woman is drunk, and you the man have sex with her, you go to jail. She did not consent. Now most men would not consider a situation like this non-consensual, because this is one of the main reasons men go to bars, to pick up women who have been drinking. So the very purpose of alcohol in the male mind is a tool of rape. Think of that!

    Good article Michele— go deeper with this topic!


  8. For centuries men have feared the energetic and intelligent foundation of women and their bodies. The governmental units are the worse in their insisting to regulate the livelihood of all women. As you can see you can’t expect a politician to know anything about women’s issues nor her body; it’s easier to conquer her mind and control her actions at all times, than to change their way of thinking “this has worked well for religion and governments worldwide in the past” So why would they stop a good thing? They still want all things to run their way due to an old mental assumption that they cannot shake; the one that says “women are weak therefore inferior”. Religion has paved the way for these ideas that men have about women and not much has changed. Why do men fear women? Why do they fear childbirth? We will continue to feel this assault on the psyche of women even further, if women do not change the dependency we have at home, work, and in church and most of all in the political arena we will continue to be control and we will continue to suffer needlessly!
    *If men are from Mars and Women from Venus; why are we still hiring representatives from Mars to handle our case? How are they to understand and help us live better lives if it’s not to their better interest? Why is it not a priority in the agenda of our nation to have women empowered to not only lead in their affairs but to also lead a NATION? It will take another hundred years for male politicians to have the heart and the knowhow to take compassion on women and find the right ways to make our lives balanced. We need to empower women to take offices and push the issues of women forth. Women in general need to get out from under the thumb of the image we have been given to use against ourselves…… we know who we are and what we need. We will spend all our lives fighting the battle over abortion and women’s rights that we had already won. The new generation of women is not as strong minded in politics as they should be and that is where we have better pay attention. The strong political woman should want results for the nation of woman in need and not self-gratification and media glorification as we have seen rampant presently and that is where it all falls apart! Men will take care of a man’s world; we need to take ownership soon! Praying for a new paradigm to begin Thank you Michele may God bless you…..Rafi*


  9. It is now only a month when a paramedical student in India’s capital city, New Delhi was brutally raped in a moving bus by a group of men, who then badly beat her up and then threw her out. She succumbed to her injuries two weeks later. When young people in the national capital were calling for steps to ensure greater security for women, many politicians came up with the simple solution that women should stay indoors to avoid being sexually assaulted. A politician even had the audacity to make fun of the victim by saying that the fact that the country became independent of british rule at midnight should not be seen as a reason for women to roam about at midnight. Many others blamed it on the way women dress. When chemical castration of the perpetrators was being considered to curb the rising tide of sexual crimes against women, a leading lawyer in Kerala wrote an article pleading against this form of punishment saying that castration infringes upon the humanrights of the rapist(perhaps by taking away his power to rape) and will cause another humanrights violation by denying the criminal’s wife the pleasure of physical relation. This kind of argument pitting women against women, citing the denial of human rights of the criminal’s wife is the dirtiest argument I have ever come across. If a woman cannot empathise with another of her kind and feel her pain why the need to bother about her. Any way it is the crime and the criminal the state should deal with. It it causes the wife any pain the sole responsibility rests with the rapist himself.
    I think it is about time women across the globe start thinking about the need to strengthen ourselves physically and mentally to rise to any situation which threaten our right to live with dignity and equality. I only pray that the power we know as the Goddess endow her daughters with the courage and strength to take care of themselves.



  1. Christian Responses to Akin? by Kathryn House « Feminism and Religion
  2. Is the Republican Party Platform Truly Pro-Life? by Michele Stopera Freyhauf « Feminism and Religion
  3. The Dignified Life of Magdalene Rose: A Pro-Life Story? by Michele Stopera Freyhauf « Feminism and Religion

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