"Legitimate" Rape

April 22nd, 2017

Content Warning(s): Rape, Cogitive Dissonance, Contraception, Abortion, Very Personal Details of My Story

Day twenty-two! April is Sexual Assault Survivor Month! This post will contain sensitive material; please exercise caution if you see a topic that could be upsetting to you. A final caveat: these are written from my limited perspective as a bi woman who was raped. I don't have all the answers and I'm still working through my own journey. There are many other kinds of sexual assault and abuse that are relevant this month. Take time to consider the needs of your diverse fellow survivors. Speak up for them when they can't speak up for themselves, but don't speak over them. Thank you!

When former Congressman Todd Akin made his statement in 2012 about "legitimate" rape, I was still somewhat ignorant of the impact of rape in the news. His claim was that if the rape was "legitimate... the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down." He further attempted to explain that "legitimate rape" was a policing term used to describe cases that were reported. Having proofread countless criminal justice books and read more than a few articles about law enforcement officers denouncing the phrase, I know for certain that there is no such thing. As a brief aside, there have been studies (and, y'know, the entire Baby Boom Generation as proof) that when in stressful situations, a woman's hormones can activate completely regardless of her cycle and produce an egg for fertilization, such as if she imagines she'll never see her partner again, among other stressors. As rape is a dire stressor, I can believe that many bodies capable of conceiving have had hormones react against the person's will to allow conception during such an event.

Perhaps Akin's statements made in 2012 were meant to support the pro-life mentality that all fetuses deserve to become humans. I was always pro-choice, but I'm not sure how anyone who's been raped COULD be pro-life if they understand what the consequences of being held accountable for a child conceived through rape truly are. There are states right now attempting to give visitation rights to the biological fathers of children conceived through rape. That's right: as if it wasn't enough to have been raped by this person who forced a pregnancy upon them, these mothers may now have to deal with seeing their child's biological father interact with the child. I can't imagine what that must be like.

When I sat on my bedroom floor that day hugging my knees and thinking about what had happened and whether there was anything I could feasibly do, I had been taking my birth control on a regular schedule every night. I kept taking it that way. I thought about how if I attempted to bring my rape to an Ohio court, they could use the fact that I was on birth control and hadn't been in a committed relationship as means for justifying that I "wanted" it to happen. Even though there are many reasons for taking hormonal birth control pills other than to avoid conception (such as controlling acne or the severity of periods), I was convinced that if I brought that up to a cop or doctor or court official in this now-Red state, they would use that against me.

I also thought about something that was taught in middle school social studies. My teacher had said offhand something to the extent of, "They might try to use it against you if you tell a rapist to use a condom because it's seen as consent." She remained very even-keeled as she explained relevant court cases at the time. And now I remember that when it was happening, I thought about demanding my rapist use a condom, except 1. I didn't have one on me or even at home at all, 2. I feared greater retaliation from him than was worth saying it, and 3. I feared if my case ever came to light that it would be used against me. I was pretty sure every court would convict me of lying before they convicted him of raping me because I didn't fight back "enough." But who was I to know whether he had STDs? To this day, I'll never know whether he would have used a condom if I'd had one.

I was lucky that I wasn't pregnant or diseased, but I was also in shock for so long that I didn't tell any of my doctors about it or go to get tested until it was about nine months after the rape occurred. It seems silly, but I wanted to make 100% certain that there was no way that I could somehow be pregnant-I was terrified that even though the chances were very slim even a few months out, they'd put me through some barrage of testing that would hurt more than help. I also feared that the doctor would ask me why I didn't go to the ER or Urgent Care immediately after the rape and shame me for not trying hard enough. I ALSO feared that there was some way I could have an STD or HIV even though I showed no signs or symptoms, but didn't want to know for sure because it would confirm both that this terrible thing happened to me and that I had punished myself by waiting for so long to find out. My doctor, a young female, was very understanding and gentle as she walked me through the process of the tests that were available, but didn't force any of them on me or try to convince me that they were necessary. Again, I was lucky, and I wish people who found out later hadn't said things like, "at least you didn't get pregnant/an STD." Not only is that disrespectful to people who DO get pregnant or contract diseases from their rapist, but it reduces the speaker's empathy by watering it down to "there's a good thing that happened from this horrific situation."

Let me be clear: there is NOTHING that can justify your response being "at least xyz" when someone confides in you that they were raped, assaulted, abused, etc. Even if you feel like you want to say more, it's enough to stick with, "I'm so sorry that happened to you. I believe you." I also highly recommend that even if you're scared like me, if you've been raped, please go get tested as soon as psychologically and physically possible.

Two days ago when I was cleaning my room, I moved a small lamp on my side table and saw the condom I'd forgotten I'd put underneath it. After the rape happened, I went to the store and bought a pack-not because I thought I'd be using it any time soon, but because I didn't have one and wanted to feel like having one would give me some of my strength back. But all it did was remind me that I felt so hopeless I'd thought having a condom would somehow ward away the possibility of my ever being sexually assaulted again or protect me from the memories of what had happened when I didn't have one.

Finally, after almost three years, I threw the condoms away.

ALL rape is "legitimate" and should be taken seriously, regardless of whether the survivor is impregnated or brings justice to their offender. From living through it, I know that the concept of whether a rape is worth addressing in the survivor's mind comes from a societal viewpoint that they "could have done something to stop it," and it prevented me from feeling like I could reach out to anyone for medical attention.

Thanks for reading! That was a story I didn't realize I was ready to tell and got more personal than I'd intended, so I appreciate your continued support. Tomorrow's topic will be the intersection of bisexuality and statistics of assault and abuse.


If you appreciated this article, consider supporting Trickssi's advocacy by buying her a coffee on ko-fi.com.

Return to Articles