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Silent No More: A Rape Survivor Speaks Out About “Legitimate Rape”

Illustration of two women back to back embracing their pregnant bodies.
Illustration of two women back to back embracing their pregnant bodies.
Rachel Marshall,
Washington Legislative Office
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August 29, 2012

Hi, my name is Rachel and I’m a rape victim. This is not typically how I would introduce myself, but with the current national discourse, I can’t stand by silently anymore. You see, before my freshman year of college I was at a party where I made the mistake of leaving my drink unattended. Just an hour later, I remember stumbling into a bedroom and passing out. The next thing I knew, I was waking up with a man on top of me with several other men in the room. I was instantly paralyzed in shock and fear, but I was able to stop the next man. I think it took a full 24 hours for what had happened to me to set in: I had been raped.

I hesitate to use this word, but I was lucky that my rapist wore a condom. The road to recovery for me was not an easy one, but I cannot imagine how hard it would have been if I was pregnant and forced to carry that pregnancy to term. I commend the victims of rape who do get pregnant and choose not to terminate, as well as those who decide their best course is ending the pregnancy. I, however, do not think I could have survived if I had a constant reminder growing inside me for nine months following the rape.

You can imagine then my outrage when Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) claimed that in a “legitimate rape,” a woman’s body will shut down and prevent a pregnancy from happening. It made me stop and wonder, “Would they try to qualify my rape too?” It certainly is rare for a rapist to use a condom, but it doesn’t change the deed. What blows my mind about this entire situation is not the fact that Rep. Akin thinks something like that is even biologically possible, it’s that all of a sudden his fellow Republicans were calling for him to step down from the Missouri Senate race. While Rep. Akin might wish he’d phrased his comment differently, his purpose was to convey what many of his fellow party members believe: abortion should be outlawed, no matter the circumstance.

In fact, in the same interview vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan said he believes Rep. Akin should now step down, he made sure to note that “the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life”. He also co-sponsored a bill last year that added the adjective “forcible” before rape. And let us not forget that the newly minted Republican Party Platform includes a plank calling for a constitutional amendment that outlaws abortion with absolutely no exceptions for rape or incest. And just this past Monday, Tom Smith, Republican Senate nominee in Pennsylvania, claimed pregnancies from rape are similar to pregnancies conceived out of wedlock.

As I take this all in, it’s hard not to go back to that day seven years ago and relive every agonizing detail. It is enraging to listen to these politicians try to qualify rape for anything other than exactly what it is: a horrible, traumatic event that no human being should ever have to experience. To me, what it all comes down to is a deeply personal decision, a decision granted to women in Roe v. Wade nearly 40 years ago. As a victim, I’m not asking you to share my opinion on abortion; I’m simply asking you to recognize that rape is a terrible thing and in order to move on with her life, a woman should have the freedom to make the decision that is best for her. By taking that ability away, you are only perpetuating the feeling of powerlessness that comes along with being raped.

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