The Implications of Redefining Rape

Normally I try to avoid talking about the same general topics two weeks in a row, but the Republicans and a few Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have forced my hand.  Misogyny strikes again!

While there are many problems with HR3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” Act, the Republicans in congress have faced a firestorm of criticism over one particular section:

‘The limitations established in sections 301, 302, 303, and 304 shall not apply to an abortion—

‘(1) if the pregnancy occurred because the pregnant female was the subject of an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest; or

‘(2) in the case where the pregnant female suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the pregnant female in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

Nowhere in federal law or in the remarks of the bill’s proponents has anyone defined “forcible rape,” which begs the question: When is rape not forcible?  Further, by the bill’s own language, statutory rape is no longer considered rape unless it is “forcible” (whatever that means) or incestuous.  In essence, this clause has the potential to leave women who are drugged, inebriated, or who do not openly resist (whether out of fear or inability) without federal protection and with few options for terminating a pregnancy resulting from rape if they do not have the funds to pay for an abortion.

However, in a victory for online activists, the #DearJohn twitter campaign and the MoveOn.org petition drive as well as letters and calls from constituents seem to have pressured the bill’s sponsors into dropping the “forcible rape” language from the bill.  Hooray, right?  Well, this is surely a victory, but the bill still presents two very problematic realities.

First, if the bill passes, low-income women who are raped and could not pay for a private abortion would have no recourse but to carry their rapist’s child to term because some people are afraid that taxpayer money are funding such incredible numbers of abortions.  Well, in 2006, there were only 191 abortions that met the criteria to receive any federal funding under the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment.  According to the conservative estimates of the National Abortion Federation, an abortion costs about $500.00.  At that time, there were about 300 Million taxpaying citizens in the U.S., which means that federally-funded abortions cost American taxpayers about $95,000 in that year, the equivalent of about $0.0003 per taxpayer.  I’m sorry . . . considering the realities of sexual violence in this culture, this is a tiny price to pay for women not to have to live with the emotional weight and hurt of carrying their rapist’s child to term.  Further, the bill levies tax penalties against insurance providers who cover abortions, which by the rules of the free market, will all but force most insurance companies to stop covering abortions for the women they insure.

The wider problem with this bill, though, is what it says to women in this country, particularly to women who are survivors of sexual violence.  Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz was absolutely correct in calling this bill a “violent act against women.”  Shame on every single one of the 173 sponsors of this bill (9 of whom are Democratic male members of Congress).  Exactly what standard of “force” were you hoping could be levied against the 1 in 6 women in our culture who are survivors of sexual violence?  Is it not enough that women who come forward must be subjected to public humiliation and relive their experience over and over again in front of the public gaze?  Now they would have to prove some further element of “force?”  By whose standard is a rape forceful?  After all, the government used to use the “utmost resistance” measure, whereby a woman had to prove that she exhibited the greatest possible resistance to an attacker in order for the act to be considered rape, a bar few women were able to meet.  Are we returning to this standard?

Further, enshrining in federal law that a rape must be “forcible” by whatever measure has the power to influence the way that federal prosecutors and judges weigh cases, and many states receive federal rape-prevention and response funding from the federal government based on the number of women who were survivors of sexual violence by the federal standard in the last year.  This bill, had it not been changed, could have had the unintended effect of cutting federal funding to support programs for survivors because few cases would have been able to meet the federal “forcible” measure.

In discussing this bill, a good friend asked, “So what happens to all of the survivors who don’t meet this new, imaginary federal standard?”  I simply shrugged my shoulders.  Therein lies the rub.  Those survivors would have found their assault suddenly no longer considered a rape by the very people who were elected to represent them.  It doesn’t matter that the bill will not make it through a Democratic-controlled Senate or past a pro-choice president.

The damage of this bill is done.  This bill lends a federal credibility to the argument that women are not raped unless it is, as Whoopi Goldberg called it, “rape-rape,” a steretypical view of rape, perhaps where a man jumps out of the bushes and holds a woman at knifepoint while he violates her sexually.

Our federal legislators have essentially said the following to the countless survivors in this country and around the world: Date rape?  Not rape.  Rape of a mentally-handicapped person?  Not rape.  Statutory rape?  Not rape.  Raped when you were drunk or incapacitated?  Not rape.  What exactly are we saying to our survivors with this bill, regardless of whether the language has now been removed or not?

In a culture that glorifies sexualized-violence and where sexual violence is beyond commonplace, it is the responsibility of our elected representatives to hold themselves and our country to a higher standard, to work through our governmental structures to ensure that survivors are supported.  Instead, the supporters of this bill have essentially trivialized the lived experiences of our sisters and brothers who have survived sexual violence.  I, for one, will not stand for it.

Please join me in writing your elected representatives to ensure that this bill is defeated before it can lend any more credence to the idea that there could be any kind of sexual violence other than “forcible” or that women who survive sexual violence should be forced, whether through law or monetary situation, to carry to term a child of a rapist.

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2 thoughts on “The Implications of Redefining Rape

  1. This bill is so appalling that it is truly unbelievable. Thank you to Jamie and all Change From Within readers for acknowledging that “Sexual Assault is EVERYONE’S Issue!” I am so unbelievably sad for our world that there are people with loud voices who think survivors should worry about their use of taxpayer’s pennies (or should I say fractions of pennies)! What is wrong with our society? Why can’t we see that there is an enormous cultural epidemic of violence and misogyny which we must address and disband at its roots!?? When politicians and voters see rape survivors as getting something they don’t deserve, they should stop themselves and think about the violent crime that these women and men never should have been subject to. When will we stop putting band-aids and blame-aids on our despicable societal wounds and start planning and planting paths to prevent our painful falls from morality, respect, and decency? And what about the man who decided to create the horrific words in this bill? I truly hope he somehow was born into this world without a mother, daughter, sister, wife, grandmother, etc, as I feel sick when I think about the message that he has sent the public about his perception of a woman’s worth.

  2. […] all of this, though, let’s not forget that this isn’t the GOP’s first rodeo in redefining rape. Share this:EmailFacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in […]

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