An open letter to Republicans: It’s time to confront your rape problem

By Megan Carpentier
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 16:07 EDT
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Today is a day for licking your wounds, working out your rage and drying your tears, I get that. But, look, after almost two solid years of pushing everything from “forcible rape” language to having candidates talk about women’s vaginas as though they are sentient entities capable of distinguishing between “legitimate” rape and the apparent “other” kind (which looks a lot like what some rapists deny is rape), it’s not going to be enough to simply acknowledge why a lot of Americans now think your party lacks empathy. I mean, the GOP of my lifetime has rejected empathy for plenty of people — “welfare queens” (i.e., impoverished women of color with children), LGBT people, undocumented workers, Hillary Clinton — and still managed to win elections.

No, this time, your complete ignorance of what women’s lives are like in American in 2012 — as Rebecca Traister said last weekend — bit you squarely on the cottage-cheese ass.

Rapists — who thankfully are a small proportion of Americans — are the singular constituent group that has a vested interest in defining what counts as rape more narrowly than it already is defined by our legal system either de facto or de jure. Some conservative anti-abortion activists (who you know now are a minority here, even among people who self-identify as “pro-life”) have a vested interest in making abortion more difficult to access and eventually illegal because of their religious beliefs, and are so invested in said beliefs that they are willing to make it difficult or impossible for even sick and dying women and rape and incest victims to get access to abortion no matter what, and they are so tone-deaf to women’s experiences that they don’t much mind if the wider world sees them as not empathetic.

Everyone else? They mostly think in a vacuum that rape is among the most heinous crimes that can be perpetrated upon another person — even if that feeling is too often mitigated by the effects of rape culture — and they find it, at best, curious that there’s such a movement within the Republican party to redefine rape and remove from our existing legal system what minor mitigation to limited abortion access rape survivors have access. In other words, in the absence of doing anything to oppose rape, capture and punish rapists (how many of you sponsored or voted for legislation to give municipalities money to process their massive rape kit backlogs, for instance?), or teach men and women about rape and how not to do it, it just looks like you don’t give a shit about rape victims.

And, sure, given that the modern Republican party isn’t exactly known for its empathy for anyone victimized in or by society, I guess that probably isn’t that surprising and, in a knowledge vacuum, might make a lot of sense to ignore the “those people affected by rape” constituency. Certainly, Alex Pareene convincingly argued that Politico management believes so, when comparing the fates of Romney-tweaking Joe Williamsn and rape-apologist Dave Catanese:

Or to put things a bit more baldly: in all likelihood, David Catanese and Joe Williams suffered divergent professional fates because the leaders of Politico are more concerned about losing access to the Romney campaign than they are about losing access to victims of rape.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and I abhor a knowledge one, so let’s explain why you’re wrong that the “those people affected by rape” constituency isn’t an important one. Statistics show that 1 out of 6 American women and at least 1 in 33 American men can expect to be sexually assaulted in her or his lifetime. That’s approximately 207,754 new sexual assault victims every year — though not all survive. Given that each congressional seat has about 700,000 people — and about 350,000 women — well, you do the math.

Effectively, it means if you are standing in a room of 6 women, 1 of them has probably been sexually assaulted (and maybe more). It means that you know, and probably even love, a sexual assault victim. The reporting rates, especially historically, mean you probably don’t even know you don’t know. It means that in every single audience you speak to, there are multiple victims — women and men — of sexual assault, many of whom may never have spoken of it, who may still live in fear of their attackers, many of whom may have lived with the fear of having to have a child as a result of the violation of their bodies by a rapist.

And it means, for those of us who have chosen to speak or been forced out of silence, that there are multiple people beyond us whose lives have been affected by sexual assault even when they themselves were not the immediate victims. There are people who love us, who are angry about what was done to us, and who also get enraged and sad and hurt by the casual use by far too many Republicans of the terms “forcible rape” and “legitimate rape” and the questioning of the experiences of rape victims and whether we should “qualify” for special treatment.

So every time you think about opening your yap about rape (and effectively in defense of rapists, since those are the folks who benefit), look at the woman standing in front of you, and ask yourself, “If she is one of the people in this room who was raped” — and she might be — “will the talking point I’m about to unthinkingly spout in order to get an endorsement or a donation from some right-wing anti-abortion group with a small membership and a shrinking groups of followers and a limited number of people in my district worth hurting this woman in front of me, and losing her vote, and losing the votes of her friends and family?”

You don’t have to grow empathy — it’s clear being empathetic and trying to build a economic and government system around the writings of Ayn Rand are fundamentally at odds — though it would be nice. But you could just think for a minute about all those women who have survived the act that you’re about to trivialize to earn some supposed anti-abortion bona fides that were clearly not enough to save some of your colleagues. And then you could just shut the fuck up.

That would be a start. The women we just elected to replace your rape-denying colleagues have some work to get done.

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Megan Carpentier
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
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