Take All Rape Seriously

By Allendra Letsome, NOW Vice President of Membership

How do you explain to a judge: “Well yes, we had been dating for a while…and yes, we had been exclusive…and maybe I had been drinking a bit…but I did not want to have sex with him that night”?

Or “Well, yes, your honor, we have been married for 5 years…but…

While many took offense at Rep. Todd Akin’s unscientific claim that women have the ability to prevent becoming pregnant — or in his words, “shut that whole thing down” — as a result of sexual assault, I am more concerned with his determination about “legitimate” rape.

Date rape and marital rape are so heavily misunderstood, and conservatives have been trying for years to delegitimize these claims.

According to Akin, “legitimate” rape is restricted to what experts call “stranger rape” — when a woman is accosted by someone she doesn’t know. But research has consistently shown that the majority of rapes occur among people who know each other, either through a familial or intimate relationship.

For these women who experience date or marital rape, they are no less assaulted or victimized than those who have been raped by a stranger. Yet, time and time again, their cries fall on deaf ears because of their relationship to the rapist.

Consent is not a shrug after the fact, saying “Well, I probably would have slept with him eventually.” And there is no such thing as blanket consent. A wife or long-term girlfriend does not ever give up her right to say no.

Rape is sexual violence. Every instance of nonconsensual sexual intercourse is rape. And every claim needs to be treated as legitimate.

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