Asked by a reporter if he supported abortion in the case of rape, Congressman Todd Akin replied with his now infamous quote:
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”
In those few sentences Congressman Akin managed to offend in not just one but three very different ways:
- He implies that there are legitimate and non-legitimate rapes.
- He claims that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare.
- He doesn't seem to emphasize punishment.
And while most of the political world was quick to shun him, with even his closest allies calling for him to drop his bid for re-election, I can't help but feel annoyed by the mindlessly reactionary responses. I'm no friend to Republicans, I disagree with most of the claimed conservative values, but I am no more a friend to the Democrats and progressives when they seem unable to look at things rationally and instead seek refuge behind politically correct positions and chants.
I don't think most congressmen belong in congress, and I see no reason to think any differently of Congressman Akin, but that doesn't mean I find his statements worse than they are.
Let's take a look at Congressman Akin's offenses in turn.
Congressman Akin's statement about legitimate rapes does certainly imply there must exist illegitimate rapes. Most of the furor surrounding this quote seems to rest on this point. But while I understand that his statement could suggest the disgustingly archaic viewpoint that women invite, allow, or invent almost all of the sexual assault they report, it seems far more reasonable to imagine he meant only to exclude those who fit this last criteria. A congressman could make a statement like, "If it's a legitimate robbery then this bill will force the insurance companies to pay up." without anyone getting even remotely upset. It acknowledges the existence of the same phenomena, false reporting of a crime. His poorly phrased statement seems to be trying to address his response at the (majority of) cases where rape was not falsely claimed.
The reality is that some percentage of all reported crimes are wholly false, the alleged criminal act did not occur at all. The heinous crime of rape is not immune to this deceit. A few studies have been done to try to determine what percentage of rapes are false but to date there are no universally accepted statistics. Frequently mentioned statistics seem to range anywhere from 2% to 12%. The most common figure I've seen on sites supporting women's causes is roughly 6%. The Violence Against Women journal included a study based on a thorough review of college rape investigations and puts the number of false allegations at 5.9%, as mentioned in this blog entry of the title False Rape Allegations Are Rare. I've seen many quotes from people on the left saying exactly the same thing, that false claims of rape are "rare". "Rare" is the key word here, as they are applying it to something which they agree happens roughly 6% of the time.
The phrase "illegitimate rape" should clearly never be uttered because it offends and is taken with historical context to de-legitimize those who have been raped. But we must as honest men and women acknowledge that a small percentage of rape claims are not true, and must allow others to acknowledge this fact as well, and be able to refer to them in discussion, even when it involves charged topics like abortion. We cannot simply shout down our adversaries for poor phraseology, those are the chief argumentation tactics of the Rush Limbaughs and the Howard Sterms.
As an aside, I was stunned when I first learned that ~6% of rape accusations were wholly false. The figure is touted by women as a positive, as though the number was impressively low, which is likely because of the historical context of the public apparently believing that most rape allegations are false. But I grew up assuming that 99.9% of rape allegations were true, not comprehending that anyone could or would make up such a thing, and so for me to discover that 6% were false was shocking and vastly more than I would have ever imagined.
Pregnancies from Rapes are Rare
Congressman Akin's claim that women's bodies have some mechanism by which it can prevent unwanted fertilization of an egg is not supported by science or medicine. While many wish to see it as an evil statement, born of a desire to blame the woman should she become pregnant, such an explanation is not required. It may be plain but unremarkable ignorance.
What I find most infuriating about the anger at Todd Akin is that it suggests that all those condemning him know so very much better, and I am very sure most of them do not! Those pillorying him may assume better, may have guessed better, or may just know better how to toe the politically correct party line, but very likely most of them are no more scientifically or medically informed or grounded.
Considering first exactly what he said we find rank hypocrisy coming from many of his accusers. His claim (leaving out for a moment his incorrect explanation) is that pregnancy as a result of rape is rare. And in that he is correct if we use the definition of "rare" that all those who are most vitriolic towards Akin are. Various studies have strongly suggested that 5 - 8% of women who are raped become pregnant as a result. If we consider that many advocates for women argue that false rape accusations are rare at 6% then surely we would expect them to consider pregnancy as a result of pregnancy at 5-8% to be a similarly rare occurrence. If they did, however, this aspect of Congressman Akin's comment would not be worth mentioning. To have useful discussions and dialogue we must be consistent in our use and interpretation of language, to make language or math political is idiocy.
But let's look at his erroneous explanation of why pregnancy from rape is rare. Taken at its core his statement requires that women are less likely to become pregnant as a result of rape than consensual sex. On this point he seems proven entirely wrong, studies have only suggested the opposite. But his (and others') expectation that rape would be less likely to produce pregnancy is easily explained, logical, and almost certainly the common belief until recent studies began to show otherwise. There are many objective reasons to suspect rape would be less likely to result in pregnancy. I am sure most of his attackers are no better read on the available studies than he was. As such, lets consider not his logic, which apparently depended on only one particular doctor's viewpoint, but on the overall expectation which exists to draft most people's expectations. Included in these facts:
- Rapists often do not ejaculate. While exact numbers are hard to come by I saw some things which said that only 10% of the time was semen recoverable from rape victims, meaning the attacker did not ejaculate, withdrew before ejaculating, or wore a condom.
- Rapists use condoms as often as 10-15% of the time.
- Stress is widely believed to increase miscarriages and many have assumed stress hormones would interfere with conception, implantation, and fetal development. Rape marks the beginning of a long and horribly stressful journey back to any sort of normal.
- Rape is (generally) a single event, relatively short in duration, whereas consensual sex is more likely to be prolonged and repeated.
Taking just the above objective facts a reasonable person would conclude that pregnancy as a result of rape should occur much less often than from consensual un-protected intercourse. And if we know that the average likelihood that a woman will become pregnant as a result of unprotected consensual sex is 5% then surely many reasonable people would estimate a rape would result in pregnancy at a rate one order of magnitude less than with consensual sex.
That "reasonable" guesstimate happens to be wrong, as has been established in studies, but the conclusion was not the result of stupidity. There were, however, some key factors that were overlooked:
- Rapists more often prey on victims during their most fertile years, so the overall rate of pregnancy from one incident of intercourse within that age range is higher than 5%, making pregnancy from rape also higher.
- Unknown evolutionary forces might be at play giving aggressive males an advantage at fertilizing women. This is wildly speculative, but has been offered as one possible explanation for what otherwise seems unexpected. No studies I'm aware of support this as yet.
I don't want to discourage people from trying to understand the world in which they live using the facts available to them. We should not call the conclusions people come to nor the people themselves "stupid" as a result of a genuine attempt to figure things out as best they can. People are only stupid when they choose to ignore facts which might have otherwise altered their positions.
Todd Akin is no more nor less intelligent than most of his detractors, no more or better informed. We must be able to present him with new evidence and only deem him worthy of contempt if he fails to update his view based on superior evidence.
Punishing the Rapists
When I heard the offensive quote what offended me the most was in fact the last part of the oft repeated quote. He seems to show so little interest in the prosecution of the guilty. "I think there should be some punishment..." sounds so anemic, as though he feels forced to grudgingly acknowledge some mild punishment is expected. His statement is something I'd expect a disinterested father saying to a supermarket cashier after his child was caught with a pack of gum he didn't pay for. If I were of a mind to be outraged by my interpretation of the first part of his quote then this line would absolutely be the nail in the coffin for me. Not only does he seem to think many victims deserved what happened to them, not only does he not acknowledge the problem of further traumatizing victims and populating the planet with children born from violence, but he proves he doesn't think it's a real crime by barely conceding that any punishment is warranted. I likely am reading way too much into this portion of his statement, but in part that's my point. Others who found this quote offensive were apparently willing to give this part of his statement a pass, assuming he really meant something different, or at that this wasn't the worst of what he said, when for me it was. I have yet to hear anyone even mention this part of the quote in the discussion.
Rape is in no way to be tolerated, and I cannot fathom how our legal system permits the freeing of those who are found guilty of heinous crimes such as rape, molestation, kidnapping, murder, etc. In my view, society should be forever protected from people who have demonstrated certain criminal tendencies. Having felt the intense violation and fear that comes from being a victim of far lesser crimes, I can only begin to dimly imagine the horror one might feel as a result of this sort of sexual assault. I do not support Todd Akin or anyone espousing archaic views about women, sexuality, gender, etc. I just want to ensure that all of us can communicate about these topics, can freely discuss them without the ignorant, knee-jerk politics or political correctness that only entrenches people further in their ignorance. Only through that openness is there any hope for them or for us.
I've always been frustrated by what feels like the often perverted goal of feminism. Feminism should be (I think) the struggle for equality (in opportunity, in treatment, etc.). We should ALL (intelligent, forward thinking males and females) be that sort of feminist. Too often, though, feminism (the term as used by various groups and individuals) feels reactionary and unequally anti-male.
One of the problems is that certain issues are improperly linked to the feminist movement, such as the requirement that abortion be available. Fetal rights may historically have something to do with women's rights but as a legal, philosophical, biological matter there is (or should be) no relationship. A fetus is either a life deserving the equal constitutional protection afforded all other human life or it is not. If it is deserving then any woman's input is irrelevant and any abortive action is logically prohibited. If it is not deserving then women can do as they like. The problem is that the feminist movement knows the answer they want and are thus unwilling to solve the problem they actually have. Their position is that for women to be equal, for them to have the same opportunities as men, women must not be saddled with the burden of unwanted children. They know the only guaranteed solution to this problem is abortion (prophylactics being limited in effectiveness and unwanted sexual assault always being a possibility). But again, the answer to when legally-protected life begins cannot be guided by personal, political, or religious motives.
The problem is that the feminist movement seems to overlook the fact that balancing any equation can be done not merely by altering one side of the equation, but by altering both sides. Equality for women does not require that abortion be available, altering the other side of the equation can achieve the same equality through the reduction of men's rights.
For example, let's say a female high school student aged 15 is impregnated by a 17 year old high school student. The feminist argument is that the 15 year old is unequally punished by the pregnancy because her future (statistical) chances of a full, rich life are diminished as a result of (among other things) difficulty completing high school, difficulty proceeding on to college, and resultant difficulty in forming her career. Rather than solving the problem of equality in this scenario through abortion society could instead impose similar restrictions on the male involved, ensuring that his future is put equally at risk. Not content to merely ensure the equal damage of both parties, society could pursue a course by which both parties improve their individual and collective chances through action. One such approach might make the father of any newborn perform X hours of public service and/or pay Y dollars per week (meant to roughly equal the physical/financial demands on the mother). This legal demand on the father would be mitigated by the degree to which he meaningfully alleviates the burdens (associated with this child) on the mother. The public service could be a civil works program, government/corporate labor for societal benefit, ideally one in which the human labor generates real dollars, so as not to be a financial burden on the government. This 17 year old father may be required to perform 45 hours a week of public service for the child's first two years of life (altered after that to reflect the changing impact on the mother). If he takes exclusive or shared (with shared responsibility) care of the child for 20 hours a week then his public service debt is reduced accordingly to 25 hours a week. He may alternatively provide monetary support to reduce those hours. If he refuses to work those hours or pay in lieu of those hours, he is jailed until he is willing to participate. The mother, along with involved parties and a child welfare agency, determines the volume and quality of the father's participation.
Creating the appropriate civil works program and the oversight agencies involved would be no small matter; this particular approach may be wholly unrealistic. The primary purpose of my mentioning the specifics of a solution is to show that there are in fact available alternatives which can secure equality between men and women. The failure to explore, examine, pursue these solutions, by the feminist movement, reflects odd unilateral, ulterior motives which have no place in a society struggling to be free of our inherited, short-sighted prejudices.
Why provocative female attire/behavior must correlate to a higher incidence of rape and sexual assault…
Let me make it clear, I am in no way suggesting that provocative attire/behavior is a factor in the vast, vast majority of sexual assault. What I am going to try and argue is that it must logically be a factor in a non-insignificant minority of sexual assault, perhaps assault fitting one or several specific profiles (e.g., late night post bar outing sexual assault by an intoxicated male). While I have no studies to back up what I'm saying, neither can I find any studies backing up the opposing position (that provocative attire/behavior has zero correlation to any kinds of sexual assault). What I have found is lots of groups proclaiming this idea is a misogynistic myth, despite offering no evidence. If those groups claiming it is a myth mean that clothing/behavior is not a factor in most assaults, then obviously they are absolutely right, but that seems a straw man argument; I am unaware of any such claims by even moderately sensible people. Most rapes are committed by someone the person knows, are premeditated, and are driven by things which have nothing whatsoever to do with any factor the victim could reasonably influence. Let me also make clear, a victim is a victim. No victim behavior makes them deserving of assault. The purpose of my discussing this topic is that I am trying to explore what I think is misdirected energy against warning women that their clothing and behavior may elevate their risk for sexual assault (see the my discussion of SlutWalk marches), and that they may wish to take additional precautions as a result when they exercise their absolute right to wear and be as they wish. If you have studies to counter anything I'm saying or have alternative logical arguments, please share them. If I am wrong here I eagerly want to know the errors. I would love nothing more than to believe I am entirely wrong, that would be a far more interesting reality; discovering you are wrong is terribly exciting, as new worlds of understanding open up before you.
Here are the reasons I believe provocative female attire must correlate to a higher incidence of rape. I do not agree that the following is desirable or proper, I am merely stating what my observations have been (detailed explanations follow):
- Male behavior around provocatively dressed females (relative to context) is observed to be markedly different than male behavior towards normally dressed females.
- Aroused humans behave more dangerously than unaroused humans.
- Provocative attire puts females in greater contact with males, with those interactions tending to be less bonding and more sexual in nature.
- Men who look for provocatively dressed women are more dangerous.
- The self-fulfilling prophecy of the provocative behavior/attire myth.
If some things are different, their sum is unlikely to be the same. If we can logically establish that provocative female attire and/or behavior significantly alters male behavior, especially related to sexuality and aggression, then it seems unlikely to imagine there is no impact upon the incidence of sexual assaults committed by men. How much of an impact is probably impossible to logically argue, but with over 230,000 sexual assaults against women in US every year, any impact would be significant.
Male Behavior Around Provocatively Dressed Women
Surely everyone has seen men leering at, approaching, commenting about provocatively dressed women in a way they do not with more normally dressed women. I relate this story elsewhere, but a couple of days ago I'm sitting at a cafe when a stranger next to me, who I’d earlier asked about the wifi password, prods me and says, “Look at that ass.” directing my attention to a provocatively dressed woman passing by. Several hundred women must have passed in the time I’d sat there and he’d said nothing (it’s down the street from a popular bar). Yet he felt comfortable pointing this one woman, and this one feature out to me, a complete stranger, because the woman was dressed that way. I ignored him, because quite frankly I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to say to something like that; I don’t personally think of women on the street in those terms. In the few times I've been to bars or clubs (and even out on the streets) I’ve certainly seen guys behaving as though a woman’s provocative dress was an invitation to be more amorous than I suspect they would if she was dressed less provocatively. I do not agree with this behavior, I do not engage in this behavior, but neither can I deny it exists. If you have observed behavior like this as well, how can you not agree that such social aggression (which moves into the areas of sexual aggression) is more likely to approach and cross over a line of sexual assault than would more staid interactions?
Aroused Humans Behave Differently
Very closely related to the first point, aroused humans behave differently than unaroused humans. Aroused humans are notorious for forgoing condoms and the risk of pregnancy, ignoring the risks of disease, detaching from vows they have made to wives/partners, turning away from the disruption that may result in their family unit (and their relationships with their children), disregarding risk to their job, etc. Many are willing to hurt others (or risk hurting others) for selfish sexual gratification. The vast majority of humans are not amoral pigs and are able to recognize and respect the consent (or lack thereof) of a partner, but clearly some small and hideous minority do not. While rape is not usually driven by a desire for sexual gratification, clearly some rape is, and unaroused males must therefore be safer than aroused males.
Provocative Attire Puts One in Greater Contact with Males
Time and time again I've seen women who dress provocatively get more attention from guys; and by that I mean more attention from more guys, and the attention is of a nature which is more superficial, more sexual, and less likely to create an emotional bond which might discourage some types of male sexual aggression.
On a pure numbers basis, a woman normally dressed sitting alone at the bar is going to get fewer guys interacting with her than were she sitting alone and provocatively dressed. If we assume that some fixed percentage of men are dangerous, more visibility to and interaction with more random men would seem to put one at elevated risk. Every day we queue up in grocery store and bank lines behind people who must occasionally be muggers, rapists, pedophiles, drug dealers, but the slight nature of our interactions afford us protection. The nature of the interactions is key. And I would posit that the nature of the interactions between a provocatively dressed woman and a random man who approached her based on attire is going to be more superficial and less protective than a similar interaction without the provocative attire. While an emotional bond is only protective in some cases, we hear it routinely cited as the reason why some victims of kidnap, rape, and other crimes ultimately survive, because their assailant came to see them not merely as an object.
It's important to note that my take on this could be backwards. It could be that while it might diminish some classes of rapes it might elevate others. Perhaps women would be less likely to be assaulted from these sorts of men and more likely to be by other sorts of men (the types they might meet in more significant contexts and develop more emotional bonds with). I suspect that's not the case, but I can't deny it might be.
Men Who Look for Provocatively Dressed Women are More Dangerous
The men who are attracted to superficial qualities like provocative dress (to the point that they initiate interaction) seem less likely to be currently in, or have been in, significant, emotionally deep relationships. As such, they seem less likely to be empathetic towards women, and more likely to objectify them, ultimately seeing them as a disposable means to an end. I can't shake the feeling that those men pose more of a danger to women statistically than a guy who initiates interaction because of some more significant and instructive quality about her (e.g., the esoteric topic of a book she's reading). I see this focus on more substantive qualities as being a quality more likely found in a well-governed male, one who has chosen (or been genetically/environmentally predisposed) to cast off some of his baser urges.
There is a possibility that the opposite is true, in as much as sexually aggressive males could be less likely to commit sexual assault because they know how easily they can find another woman to engage in sexual relations with. I doubt it, though, since I think the "self-governance" aspect is the key point.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of the Provocative Behavior/Attire Myth
The horribly sad fact about humans is, many will do what they think they can get away with. We hear stories of societies all around the world which still (wrongly) believe that provocatively attired/acting women are "fair game" for unwanted sexual advances and assault. If prosecution occur at all the men claim they were provoked and juries far too often agree, leaving the woman further victimized, stigmatized, and sometimes even punished criminally. I find it very hard to imagine that this atmosphere would not greatly encourage some men to sexually assault women, with many specifically targeting women who they and the courts see as "fair game". In South Africa, for example, 25% of men admit to having raped a woman (and half of those to having raped more than one). Even the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was tried for rape. He was acquitted, after his mounting a defense based on her supposedly provoking him by wearing a particular outfit. His "innocence" and the apparent acceptance of his excuse (in the minds of those listening to the abstract of the case, if not the details) surely makes many South African males feel ever more that their monstrous treatment of women is justified, is acceptable, and is unlikely to be punished, so long as they only rape the ones who "deserved it". But the answer to this problem is not to hide from women the fact that many horrible people in South Africa feel safe abusing provocatively dressed/acting women, it is to challenge the ridiculous public and legal notion that such behavior is anything less than evilly felonious, while simultaneously alerting women to the disgusting erroneous views of many of their men.
Imagine your daughter was going to South Africa on a semester abroad from college, wouldn't you want campus police or trip organizers to warn females participating in the program that sexual crimes against their gender is so alarmingly common and that the attitudes of the legal system and the general public likely mean that a shocking number of South African males feel justified in their assault on provocatively dressed/acting women? Would you not want the women to know this and be encouraged to reduce their likelihood of victimization, mentioning ways they could optionally choose to minimize their risk, including modifying their attire, traveling in groups, reducing alcohol intake, carrying mace, etc.? That seems like a reasonable, intelligent response, one likely to protect students while letting them exercise their freedom to choose whatever remedy they wished. But this solution would appear to be one that the supporters of the SlutWalk marches would feel is inappropriate, if I am correctly interpreting their position. And while the United States and Canada are far more advanced on gender and sexual equality than once they were, I'd argue that social attitudes are not so improved that we can claim women here do not deserve a warning not unlike one might give to a daughter heading off to South Africa; numerous jury-related studies prove the point that in the minds of many North Americans provocative attire/behavior is still a partial justification for sexual assault.
The incident that touched off the SlutWalk protests was offensive, the constable who warned women not to dress like sluts made an overly broad statement that implied, or could have been interpreted as supporting, the absurd notion that women had primary control over whether or not they were victimized. But rather than attack one constable's specifically terrible wording the SlutWalk protests seem to promote the idea that women have almost zero ability to alter their risk factors, which simply cannot be true. Some risks are inescapable, other risks could theoretically be reduced but practically speaking shouldn't be if one wants to lead a normal life, but other risks could be reduced without giving up precious freedoms.
Warnings about negative attitudes do not usually aide and abet those negative attitudes. Warning women about the corrupted minds of a minority of men and how they might avoid those situations does not provide safe harbor to those men, nor does it encourage others to become corrupted. Our society warns potential victims about the nature of potential criminals all the time without sanctioning or emboldening those criminals; safety seminars teach people about everything from securing your home, to avoiding internet scams, to safely traversing dark mall parking lots.
What to do about it?
If what I'm suggesting is in fact true then I'm not suggesting the remedy requires suggesting women be encouraged to cover up or stop behaving as they wish. I am simply arguing that we should not be afraid to tell women about the risks as they are, not as we might wish them to be. What is being done now smacks of politically correct censorship to me; we can’t openly discuss this possible risk because some people fear it will be misunderstood by the masses as tacit permission to assault women (rather than as a targeted message to reduce specific correlated assaults). I can't think of any other topic where this sort of logic is argued. Quite to the contrary, society is seen as smart enough to understand the message that we shouldn’t let our young children wander off alone in a mall, without thinking such a warning emboldens pedophiles to abuse our kids. Why then do some insist an advisory to women emboldens abusive males?
The solution to the problem would not necessitate alterations in provocative dress or provocative behavior. For example, advice might sound like the following, "Women who dress or act provocatively are suspected to be victimized somewhat more often than average women. Any additional risk can me eliminated by traveling in pairs and reducing alcohol consumption in those circumstances." Obviously I'm not sure what the real advice might be, that would require study, but something along those lines which makes it clear to women that they can choose their options for reduced risk.
And finally, let me just re-iterate, nothing I've said alters the absolute necessity that we continue educating society and revising legal systems to ensure that everyone well understands that assault of any form against anyone is wrong. I just don't see how we are served by a hypocritical refusal to seriously discuss or at least disprove the correlation between provocative attire/behavior and some sexual assaults.
And if my argument is flawed, please let me know how and why!