Todd Akin Legitimate Rape Views Are Divisive and Will Cost Republicans in November

Women's rights advocates and medical professionals are still seething from Representative Todd Akin's (R-MO) ill informed and denigrating comments on abortion earlier this week. 

Akin, in the midst of an-already heated senate race, ignited a political firestorm when he declared rape rarely results in pregnancy because when rape is "legitimate ... the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down."

Never mind that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called Akin's statement "medically inaccurate, offensive, and dangerous." Or that "each year in this country 10,000–15,000 abortions occur among women whose pregnancies [result from] reported rape or incest." 

Akin designating some rapes as "legitimate" polarizes a group of women who have already been victimized, attempting to create a sexual assault hierarchy wholly counterproductive to providing aid and support. 

We already live in a world in which country of origin, race, and sex have a tremendous impact on how one's life will unfold. On this dynamic, complicated, and often dangerous planet, universal understandings should serve as a uniting force. One of these is that rape, without pretense or qualifications, is wrong. 

Looking at rape statistics from around the globe, it is clear that women in certain countries are disproportionately at risk for rape and sexual assault. 

Rape.co.za reports “women born in South Africa have [a greater chance] of being raped than learning how to read.” Sexual assault is rampant throughout the country, where an estimated 500,000 rapes occur each year. This breaks down to one instance occurring every 17 seconds. In an interview with NPR, South Africa's minister of health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi says the rumor that sleeping with a virgin cures HIV and AIDS led to "an onslaught of rapes." 

South Africa is not alone with its alarmingly high rates of rape and sexual assault. U.N. Special Representative Margot Wallstrom has dubbed eastern Congo the "rape capital of the world." The women in this corner of the globe are prisoners to militias "terrorizing" the region, and often have to make the choice of staying at home and starving, or venturing into the fields knowing they will be assaulted. Says Patience Kengwa in an interview with The Guardian, "if you choose to get food from the field you have to accept that you're going to be raped." 

In Cambodia, bauk, slang for gang rape, is pervasive and considered a social phenomenon of sorts. In Australia, roughly "1 in 5 (19.1 percent) have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15." And in Rep. Akin's home state of Missouri, in 2010 one rape occurred every 6.2 hours.  

When examining these statistics, one might wonder if Rep. Akin would consider some of these instances less "legitimate" than others. If a woman living in Phnom Pheh is raped, is her situation as "legitimate" as a woman caught in the midst of an ongoing war in eastern Congo, or more "legitimate" than a college-age woman assaulted while walking home from a fraternity party? 

To cast any of these as "illegitimate" is a renewed assault on these victims. As activist and playwright Eve Ensler said in an open letter to the congressman earlier this week, Akin's statement "delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration [rape victims] experienced." 

Come November, consider these statistics, and consider voting for someone who understands the indelible imprint that sexual assault leaves on its victims, and who will work to empower women. 

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Danielle Schlanger

Graduate student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

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