Redefining rape harms discourse and victims

Politicians’ ‘gaffes’ can’t be excused as ignorance, writes Justin Pen.

Republican Senator Todd Akin. Photo credit: Feministing
Republican Senator Todd Akin. Photo credit: Feministing

US Republican Senator Todd Akin and British MP George Galloway recently attempted to redefine ‘rape’ in what have become highly-publicised and possibly career-ending political statements. To call these comments ‘blunders’ or ‘gaffes’, however, betrays the endemic misogyny present in both the right and left wings of political discourse.

In an effort to explicate his unwavering, anti-abortion position on a local Missourian station, Akin revealed his severe lack of understanding regarding the capacity of female anatomy. “From what I understand from doctors,” Akin asserted, “[pregnancy from rape] is really rare.”

He continued in an attempt to justify his claim: “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” While Akin has since apologised, he continues to ignore pleas from the GOP to resign from Missouri’s senatorial race.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Galloway, an elected, incumbent MP of the left-leaning Respect Party, declared his support for accused rapist and WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. Contrary to the expected archetype of the rape apologist – the belligerent, stalwart Conservative – Galloway is an advocate of social welfare expansion and was an active political protestor of the Iraq War over the noughties.

Speaking from that modern-day soapbox, the personal video blog, Galloway claimed that, rather than commit rape, Assange merely displayed “bad sexual etiquette.”

His bellicosity went further, declaring: “If the allegations made by these two women were true, 100 per cent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don’t constitute rape.”

The men’s contention that ‘rape is rape is rape (but only when rapists exert physical force)’ narrows the scope of consent and diminishes the multifarious experiences of survivors. While Akin and Galloway were speaking to two dramatically divergent political issues, it’s essential to cleave their words from their ostensibly defensible context. Failure to hold these misogynists to the highest account would passively endorse the perpetrators of sexual assault, and would likely preclude those that have been raped from coming forward, if indeed their assault appears to be deemed ‘legitimate’.

Politicising and belittling rape for political gain goes beyond mere ignorance. Through their assertions and insistent belligerence at the veracity of their comments, these men have exposed one of two possibilities. Either they value their respective causes – anti-abortion advocacy and the continued freedom of Julian Assange – more than the views of those they’ve been elected to protect and represent; or, they simply hold a trifling regard for rape survivors in the first place.