There are times when I read the news and I hang my head in despair. There are also times I read the news and I shake my head in disbelief. Sometimes my reaction is a mixture of both of those emotions.
This week has marked two stories - ultimately unrelated but on a similar theme - which have garnered such a double whammy of response from me. Both of them however dealt with the issue of rape - and both them left me wondering where on earth we as a race have gone wrong.
First of all there was the claim by an American candidate running for the Senate that women who are “legimately raped” cannot get get pregnant. Todd Aiken of the Tea Party, when discussing whether or not abortion was ever acceptable such as in cases where the mother had been raped said: “What I understand from doctors is that it’s really rare—if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
There has been much talk since of the school of thought held in some circles that if a woman is raped - if she endures a genuine trauma - that her body will do all that it can to ensure that she does not get pregnant.
Some exponents of this school of thought have said that a female body will “secrete certain secretions” or release certain hormones if a woman is “legitimately raped” which will prevent her from getting pregnant.
In the most insulting of these of assertions it has been argued that the female body will not get pregnant as the result of rape because of “God’s little shield” - a gift from on high which means God, in this instance, will forgo any long held beliefs about the sanctity of life and allow an egg not to fertilise. Just so long as the rape is legitimate mind... no illegitimate rapes will be afforded God’s protection in this way.
Henry Aldridge, a Republican state representative, in fact said in 1995: “The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant,” Aldridge told the House Appropriations Committee. “Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.
“To get pregnant, it takes a little cooperation. And there ain’t much cooperation in a rape,” he said.
I had to read those comments several times to try take them in - to try and understand how a grown, educated human being could ever have such thoughts.
The implications are horrific. I can only imagine how survivors of rape must feel reading them - how those who did fall pregnant must feel. The implication that these men are putting out there is that is a woman falls pregnant while sexually assaulted it must have been because in someway she co-operated with her attack - that on some level she enjoyed it. I have rarely read anything so preposterous or insulting to rape survivors in my life.
It is insulting enough that in the supposedly modern Western world crimes of sexual assault rarely hold any considerable weight in the law courts. It is difficult to get a conviction for rape - a reason which sees a large number of women choosing not to pursue a case against their attackers. When a rape trial does take place, the victim can herself be made to feel as if she is on trial.
Messages out there such as these must surely add to that feeling. What they try to do is to attribute blame to she who has been attacked - to assert that there is a slight possibility that a woman being attacked may have enjoyed it. Such an assertion is so utterly reprehensible that my blood boils at the very notion that anyone would legitimately hold these beliefs.
And then we have the case of George Galloway (remember him, the Scottish MP who pretended to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother?). This week George voiced his opinion on the Julian Assange case. Now it is alleged that Julian Assange may have raped a female companion.
The story being that after consensual sex with this lady the night before, using protection at her express wish, she then woke the following morning to find him having sex with her again without using protection.
In this case Assange, it is alleged, had sex with the woman without her knowledge, consent and without using the protection she had insisted upon during their previous dalliance.
Galloway’s take on the matter? It wasn’t rape, he said. It was “bad sexual etiquette”. He went further, saying it couldn’t be rape as the pair were “already in the sex game” - in that they had already had sex once before. Seems, in his world, once you have sex with someone once they have permission to have sex with you again - whenever they want, without necessarily having to ask you first (although he concedes it would be good manners to do so).
What these men need to realise is that rape is rape. There are no grey areas. If you have sex with someone without their consent you are raping them. If you force them into an act you know they would not permit, you are raping them. Is that clear enough?