Sexual assault is a horrible crime committed far too often in the United States and successfully prosecuted even more rarely. It takes a huge physical toll on its survivors — and not everyone survives — as they are forced to contend with physical injuries related to the violence used and the sexual assault itself (which can include everything from bleeding, tearing and bruising to obstetric fistulas and internal injuries so severe that survivors end up infertile), significant risk of STIs from the curable ones (chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, crabs and pelvic inflammatory disease) to the lingering ones (HPV, genital warts and herpes) to the eventually or potentially deadly ones (cancer-causing strains of HPV and HIV), the risk of pregnancy (and the potential to have to choose to terminate the pregnancy or carry it to term, both of which have medical risks large and small) and the months of post-assault testing for any or all of the above if none of it immediately manifests. And that is in addition to the psychological weight survivors must carry of being penetrated orally, vaginally and/or anally against their will (and potentially with great use of physical force or with the aid of a weapon) by a perpetrator whose satisfaction at the act of rape is only enhanced by the pain they cause, resistance they encounter or the utter incapacitation of their victim.
And after a sexual assault is perpetrated on one’s person and one’s psyche, assuming one survives at all, there are other decisions to contend with and pitfalls to survive: the choice to report and/or prosecute knowing that 97 of every 100 rapists will walk free; the humiliation of the rape kit procedure knowing that half a million rape kits have never even been tested; the endless interviews with police and prosecutors if one goes that route (and the subsequent, inevitable reports from one’s friends and companions that one’s own “behavior” is under the prosecutorial microscope); when and how to seek therapy and support; if and how to tell people; dealing with the potential health consequences; and on and on. Rape survivors seldom talk about how easy it was in the aftermath of their assaults because it wasn’t — and the legal and support systems in place are wholly inadequate to address the needs of survivors, the proper judicial treatment of perpetrators or anything resembling “justice” for survivors and the loved ones of those who don’t survive.
And yet 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. Statistics indicate that an American is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, or an average of about 210,000 people each year. And statistically speaking, there are approximately 3,200 sexual assault-related pregnancies in a given year, despite the fact that not all victims are of child-bearing age, some may be using their own methods of birth control, some rapists may not ejaculate in their victims without protection and not all sexual assaults involve vaginal penetration with a penis.
And despite all that, hardly a month goes by that a group of male Republicans doesn’t just crap on victims of sexual assault. How is this an electoral strategy? How can they lack sympathy, let alone empathy, and think that it’s ok?
I mean, when you have to issue a statement that, “God does not want rape,” as Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock (R) did this week, you are failing at empathy. When you tell an interviewer that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” as Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R) did in August, you’re failing at both empathy and science. And when you’re trying to pass legislation — introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in 2011, co-sponsored by a whole host of Republicans including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and backed three years running by current VP candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) — to more strictly define the kinds of rape (i.e., “forcible,” or only the really violent ones) that would qualify a federal employee, soldier or Medicaid recipients for an insurance-covered abortion, you’re failing at both understanding the basics of how rapists perpetrate their assaults and with empathizing with those women who survive.
Because, let’s be honest — the number of Medicaid-covered abortions is infinitesimally small (there were less than 100 in 2001, and the number of abortions nationwide has gone down since then) compared to the number of women who get abortions each year. By law, those women have to be poor, they have to have been the victim of rape or incest (or have life-endangering pregnancies) and they have to be willing to talk to a series of government bureaucrats about that rape or incest to qualify. In the case of military personnel — where half a million women have been sexually assaulted in the last 20 years — especially women serving abroad or in remote areas have little access to non-military facilities and, again, have to be willing to report their assaults — and at least 80 percent never do — to qualify.
And yet, when confronted with that information — which is widely known and available to me, and which any of those lawmakers could literally go to the Administration and request if they can’t Google — the Republican response has been, “Hm, how do we stop women from cheating on getting abortions we don’t think they’re entitled to just because they were, like, fake-raped?” They actually looked at the poor and government-employed women who were raped — a sadly extraordinarily common occurrence in this country — who then managed to jump over all of the hurdles Republicans have spent so much erecting to abortion access and tried to come up with a way, a wording, to make those women’s sexual assaults not count. They think these women — and probably many, many more — are “cheating” when they speak up and call what happened to them by its name: rape.
And these Republican anti-abortion, rape-dismissing politicians have tried this over and over again for years — tried to make only the “forcible” ones “count,” tried to define out what “counts” by proclaiming that the ones that “count” don’t result in pregnancy, tried to normalize it by claiming that a rape-induced pregnancy is “God’s plan.” Women who survived rape already know that society and the judicial system often doesn’t think their assaults “count” (read this account of Angie Epifano’s assault and the aftermath, if you don’t yet know this is what women too often have to go through), but try to then imagine listening to senior Republican politicians contort themselves over and over to define which rapes are rape-y enough to qualify them for less moral pronouncements about their potential choice to have an abortion.
This is what they think of women, of women who were sexually assaulted, of women who seek abortions. They think we’re immoral, they think we’re “cheating” on their moral-enough-for-an-abortion test so they need to make it tougher, they think we should accept what was done to us, they think that it doesn’t happen that often, they think we won’t notice when they make everything just that much harder for assault survivors… and they think enough of us will vote for them because it didn’t happen to us.
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