Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Legitimate Rape: What Kinds of Rape Are There?

I'll leave aside the topic of whether Todd Akin was correct about the rarity of rape pregnancies or the cause of the alleged rarity.  I'd like to focus on the semantics free-for-all over the word "legitimate"in connection to rape.

I remember seeing a survey about the prevalence of rape, and I thought it strange that the questionnaire asked women if they have ever realized the "morning after" that someone had had sex with them while they were inebriated.  What I thought was vague was that there was no reference to the condition of their (presumably) male counterpart.  Did they both get drunk and "not know what they were doing"?  If a woman gets drunk and has sex, does it automatically make her a victim?  If a man has sex with a drunk woman, does it make him.  The movie Jaws has a scene in which a married couple mention getting drunk and fooling around.  What if the wife doesn't remember the next morning whether she ultimately decided to have sex or not?  Does she have to remember it being consensual throughout?  What if she has a memory blackout?

People cited Akin's comments as proof of the "Conservative War on Women" in which conservative men and women are working hard to enslave womankind.  These same people didn't seem to find it controversial that Whoopie Goldberg said that while Roman Polanski technically (statutorially) raped a girl under the age of consent when he gave her drugs and had anal intercourse with her, it wasn't rape rape."  It was uncontroversial then that there was "rape" and there was rape rape.  Rachel Alexander in "Using Semantics to Take Down Conservative Representative Todd Akin" explains why she thinks that the poltical turmoil over Akin consisted of word games to avoid discussing the obvious:
It may have been a poor choice of words, but everyone knows Akin was referring to the distinction between what we traditionally consider rape - forcible rape - versus statutory rape and what some claim is also rape, having sex while drunk. Some women will have a one night stand while drunk, admit it to their friends afterwards, then change their mind and declare that it was rape. The FBI updated its definition of rape this year to include the inability to give consent due to intoxication. Any woman who has been drinking can now claim afterwards that she was raped. This may have opened a Pandora's Box considering how many people drink alcohol before sex.
This is the Pandora box I considered.  A man with a few drinks in him might be less cognizant of just how "out of it" his date is.  They are both acting loopy and having fun.  If she hasn't passed out, maybe his awareness of her state is also compromised.  She has drunk so much her memory of it is "blacked out."

On a related note, a very dear family member narrowly escaped being taken advantage of by a creepy guy that slipped something in her drink.  This is a more clear cut case of lack of consent and a deliberate attempt to evade consent.  However, she curiously added that she doesn't think it would have been so traumatic as it would have been had she been taken advantage of while conscious.  What does this mean?  Less trauma without the conscious experience of an assault?  Is there a sliding scale of experienced trauma with the various sorts of non-consent?

So there is yet another wrinkle to this:  A man that is sober enough to realize that his date has passed out while they were getting familiar or realize that she is much less lucid than he is -- proceeding further may show him to be a shady human being (and the more lucid he is, the more shady).  But are these men of the same moral caliber as those that assault women to dominate them, to take their revenge on them, or because the act of violence contributes to the pleasure of it?  Are 1 in 16 college boys like the Indian men that recently brutalized a woman to death?  Perhaps 1 in 10 people you know is a sociopath.  Or maybe Whoopie is right: there is rape and then there's rape rape.

But coming back to Rachel Alexander's point: that some women will avoid responsibility for their participation in intercourse because they were in some state of intoxication (even though they are responsible for what they do behind the wheel of a car in a similar state of mind).  This is likely to get even worse if women find an abortion exemption in claiming rape; would many women claim this to avoid carrying a baby to term?

Reliving trauma is being advanced as an argument for destroying a life.  It isn't always clear from the personal stories on this web page being aimed at Todd Akin's gaffe exactly how the stories do relate to the right to destroy a life that results from a violation, even though that appears to be the point of the outrage.  For example, one of the women on the page relates an account of sleeping with a man at the end of a night of partying.  "I ended up sleeping with him." What are the criteria for determining that rape has occurred?  It is completely swept under the rug by the "rape is rape" chorus.  If the woman is less drunk than the man, is he exempt from child support, or might he be "punished with a baby" for 18 years rather than 9 months?  How does the law distinguish the relative inebriation in order to determine fault?  (Note: Ms. Rothenbach has since replied to this post and I have revised this paragraph based on her clarifications.  I continue to have a concern that in reading these anti-Akin blurbs, people think ever more uncritically about whether there truly are gray areas when it comes to rape.) 

In the movie 40-Year-Old Virgin, the title character attempts to go home with a woman that is falling down drunk who is ludicrously intoxicated after his moral-impaired but otherwise well-meaning friend tells him to "try some wrong."  This ends comically in the movie, but the context makes the potential conquest out to be only a little wrong.  Yet in real life, would it have been be a traumatic event to be relived years later, as it seems to fall into that general "date rape" category for which there are more obvious non-consensual yet non-forcible acts and others where there may be more shared responsibility between the man and woman.  But if the pundits and talking heads are right, 40-Year-Old Virgin actually portrayed a date rape in progress, much to the amusement of the audience.

Curiously, there is a man (identified as Charlie S.) also quoted on that page who claims he was "drugged and sexually assaulted by a female acquaintance" and that this event has caused him PTSD for years.  I won't be dismissive and claim as many women claim that this is necessarily not "legitimate rape" because it is female-on-male.  He believes it is a terrible thing for women who have been in his situation to not be able to terminate their developing baby.  "She will have to have the child, and then her whole life, she will be thinking about the person who did that to her. She will have to say to her son: ‘You are the product of rape.’"  Ryan Bromberger has apparently heard that speech from his own mother, and as a "product of rape" he has some choice words for the anti-Akin crowd.  Apparently, Mahalia Jackson's and Winona Judd's mothers had to tell them the truth eventually.  Were their lives worse for that?

In the wake of the Todd Akin upset, Republicans ran for cover using Akin as a human shield and eagerly threw him under the bus.  Ann Coulter opined that the GOP needs to resolutely give up saving the prenatal children of rapists, since there will never be a majority consensus to protect prenatal children in the context of rape.  She may well be right that these prenatal babies are political fodder and can't be saved.  And it may well be true.  But that is a concession that the GOP has already been making for a very long time.  I think such a concession should be made explicitly if it is to be made at all:  Yes, we believe that these are children that are being punished for a crime they didn't commit, but since this is politically untouchable we have to settle for rescuing who we can.  In the words of a great man, "Sure, a bill of divorce is legal -- but it's there because of the hardness of your hearts."

The leftwing side of this hot potato is, implicitly if not explicitly, that rape is vague so abortion should be allowed for anything that might possibly be unwanted sex.  If she would not have wanted the sex had she been sober and/or has regrets the morning after, well, it was not consensual and there's a tiny heart that needs to stop beating.  And social conservatives, Catholics, Mormons, and evangelical Christians are in an awkward place with there being many sex acts that may or may not qualify as statutory rape (all rapes recognized as crime are "statutory") that result in pregnancy, and definitely many situations that leave women thinking "I didn't choose this and therefore I shouldn't have to deal with this."  Even many women, especially single women, who consider themselves Christian are afraid to not have that option available in case they find themselves "with [unwanted] child."
Many left-leaning citizens are surprised to find that there are prominent pro-life organizations that shoot down "personhood" legislation (laws that would declare fetuses to be legal persons for 14 Amendment protection), not because they believe they are wrong, but because such laws will fail to be approved.  (Left-leaners who rely on CNN and HuffPost to be informed are protected from such complexities about the opposition.)  Personally, I think that pro-lifers need to unite in informing the public about the suffering and terror of fetuses that are chased around the womb by a curette or are born breached in order to have their brains vacuumed out (did sex ed not teach you what a partial birth abortion is?) so that teens and adults at least see the fetus as an intelligent feeling creature, if subhuman.  After all, people who merely blink at ads for starving children write checks for abused animals.  Imagine if fetuses had the empathy afforded to puppies?  Planned Parenthood (what ghastly irony in that name!) purposefully cultivates a culture that disanthropomorphizes prenatal babies to a status below that of cats and dogs.

Liberals that claimed authoritatively that "enhanced interrogation techniques" were a political euphemism to desensitize people to the awful reality of "torture" consistently substitute "fetus" for baby or preemie (think of Obama's quip about a "fetus outside the womb").  Now, does that seem ironic to anyone?

I'll address some other time what specifically was unfortunate about Akin's comment, aside from him giving the news outlets the very opportunity for which they'd been slobbering many months.


  1. I am the Tish Rothenbach you referred to in your blog. Your blog is very detailed in the debate of abortion. I agree, someone should NEVER call rape to just get out of being a parent. I do not agree with abortion, never have and never will. Murder is murder! I would like to clear up what you said in regards to my statement....it was clearly taken out of contex. The tramua of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assualt of any kind is very real for people, as you can imagine. The fact that ANYONE would say a woman can shut her body down when being raped and not get pregnant is in fact the most absurd statement. It does lead us "victims" in a state of denial in thinking that something is wrong with us because our bodies didn't shut down. Yes, the new FBI change, could allow some women or men wake up the next morning and call rape when in fact it wasn't. I would hope that wouuldn't happen, but the world is a fallen place. I did make a huge mistake 11 years ago and drink way too much that night. I only remember bits of the evening but one thing I remember is crying with a man on top of me. He even asked me why I was crying. Then I went back to sleep. I was under the mind set that I just made a bad decision. But the truth is that I didn't make that decision. I was not in the frame of mind to make it. How I wish other men and women understood that! I know that guy had been drinking too, but I also know that he was in a better mind set than me. The triggers I referred to are simple, any type of tramua has triggers, and they can be fired off at any time. Make comments like Akin's did, simple leaves society believing that the victim is at fault if she got pregnant. It is really sad!

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    2. Tish, I appreciate your candor and your measured and respectful response to this given what a very personal and emotional subject. You've been through a lot, and you exhibit a lot of character. I mean that. I haven't meant for this post to sound dismissive of the reality of the pain you've felt (or that of Charlie S, for that matter) and I apologize if it seemed glib or judgmental. Certainly nothing excuses the people who have willfully taken advantage of you at various times in your life.

      There has been some recent discussion (off-blog) along similar matters in the wake of the Rehtaeh Parsons case--an example of a bad decision that put someone in harm's way without excusing the immorality of the people that took advantage of her. I believe the law hold those boys accountable. Rehtaeh deserved none of what happened to her in spite of her making some bad choices. The more one has been wronged--and Rehtaeh certainly was--the more difficult it is to acknowledge that she also wronged herself by making unwise choices, exactly because this stirs up feelings within the traumatized that they are somehow deserving of the harm they received.

      And I know that Job's comforters will inexplicably try to find out from a rape victim just how much she might have "brought on" the situation, which is not constructive at all, to say the least. And this *is* truly sad and demoralizing. As important as it is for a person to figure out how to be their own best friend and do themself the favor of staying out of harm's way (within reason), I believe this is something that can't be forced on someone who is still coming to grips with having been harmed and trying to realize the truth that she (or he) was not at all deserving of that harm.

      To (hopefully) put this in perspective of this post, in spite of a tide slowly turning against abortion in this country, opportunistic pundits turned Todd Akin's terrible gaffe very effectively against that cause. An ad hominem attack was directed at the collective effort to protect the innocent. Once again, the Left removed the need for any kind of real discussion about the issues with a combination of innuendo and emoting. And this is not to deny that people genuinely felt hurt. Those who have experienced a sexual trauma in particular certainly can and do have traumatic feelings triggered by a variety of things, even by words or deeds that are well-intentioned or even innocuous. . . .

    3. I see the subtext behind Akin's statement as the long history of rape statistics being politicized for the very specific purpose of creating sympathy for feticide. From very specific things in his infamous statement, I believe that he was in fact not dismissing the existence of rape pregnancy but challenging the use of it as a political tool. Ironically, he ended up giving it even more power as a red herring. Regardless of how it was used to foist Roe vs. Wade on the country, the issue is ultimately a distraction from the very real suffering of prenatal children. To those who were offended by Akin's comments it may seem like an unimportant distinction, but I believe there is a difference between saying that the *body* has mechanisms (that may not always work) and that saying that someone has volitional control over whether these mechanisms operate. My body has a fight-or-flight mechanism. If it doesn't work (and it very well might not) that doesn't mean I chose it not to. And then there is also that Akin was unequivocal in his comments about who is deserving of punishment in the very event of a rape pregnancy.

      Another aspect of the outrage response last year was the complete dismissal by the Left of the various things meant by the term "rape", the complete lack of nuance, the lack of acknowledgement of gray areas, all for political purposes. This aspect has been center stage in the criticism of the ill-chosen phrase "legitimate rape."

      If I am understanding you correctly about the experience in question, it sounds like you are saying that you felt from the beginning or soon after, at *some* level of awareness, that the experience was exploitive or at least unwanted, but that you didn't assign due responsibility to this person because you were used to thinking that you brought it all on yourself and hadn't thought much of the fact that in his less inebriated state he should've made a conscious choice to not sleep with someone so much more intoxicated, and that years later this realization came and brought the negative feelings about the event into clarity.

      Assuming I'm understanding you (close enough, I hope) I can understand the context of what you were saying. In general at least, I think there is something very problematic about supposing how good someone's judgment is while intoxicated. One reason I don't drink is that I already have difficulty assessing consequences and situations and people's intentions. I'm afraid of what might "make sense at the time." I've been following these issues for some time and the trend seems to be regarding drunkenness that a lapse in judgment can make a woman a victim and a similar lapse in judgment can make a man a criminal. This is a generality and it doesn't rule out that there are situations that one person is aware that they are taking advantage. What I'm attempting to convey in the blog is that it's not all clear-cut, when the rhetoric out there exploiting the Akin gaffe was stating that it is completely clear-cut.

      Again, I'm sorry if this post seemed dismissive of your pain. I'll try to revise the post to be more fair to your experience.

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  3. In order to promote discourse and dialectic that is based on understanding all sides, something I believe Mr. Obama promised all Americans, is not hiding behind victims. Between hiding behind grandma not getting her SS check and hiding behind dead schoolchildren and framing abortion in terms of an issue so sensitive as to guarantee it not getting discussed properly, we have seen the extent of Obama's leadership. There may have been a lack of leadership on his part in some ways, but not in this regard. He HAS led the way to a new level of discourse in Washington, and it is an even uglier tone than it was before he got there. It's downright nasty. He's brought out the worst in Washington, and has done nothing substantial to rein in his party other than muted empty gestures. That man is a total sham. His whole 2008 persona was itself one Gigantic Lie.