Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rape as Political Capital

If you had asked me what crime and punishment issue would become a hot topic for the 2012 election season, I would have said something like mass imprisonment, torture, the death penalty, whatever. The last thing I would have ever said was the "crime of rape."

In the last few weeks we've heard astonishing comments related to rape, pregnancy and abortion uttered by two leading candidates for the United States Senate.

Richard Mourdock, Republican, Indiana: "The only exception I have to have an abortion is in the case of the life of the mother," said Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed state treasurer. "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. I think that even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." 

Todd Akin, Republican, Missouri: First of all, 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 on the rapist and not attacking the child.

Then there was the little-noticed redefining of the crime of rape done by the House of Representatives last year (and co-sponsored by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan), adding the adjective "forcible"to the crime as it relates to federal funding of abortions:
Under H.R. 3, only victims of “forcible rape” would qualify for federally funded abortions. Victims of statutory rape—say, a 13-year-old girl impregnated by a 30-year-old man—would be on their own. So would victims of incest if they’re over 18. And while “forcible rape” isn’t defined in the criminal code, the addition of the adjective seems certain to exclude acts of rape that don’t involve overt violence—say, cases where a woman is drugged or has a limited mental capacity. “It’s basically putting more restrictions on what was defined historically as rape,” says Keenan.

It passed the House earlier in the year but died a rightful death in the Senate. Again, I have a hard time believing rape has become a political issue, but then it's always been a political issue in terms of political capital and funding. Rape victims and their stories get in the way of social agendas, particularly as it relates to rape on college campuses, as this victim's story illustrates.

One of the dirty secrets out there is how big-dollar colleges and universities have a way of disappearing student reports of rape, either by moving the reported rape from university police to local police (thus disappearing the crime from the college's official crime reports), sending the cases to ill-trained college judiciary panels (and with a straight face expecting the dopes in Legal Affairs, whose only mission is to protect the university, to have the victim's best interests at heart), berating the victim with blame-the-victim questions (see this photo essay, which is astonishing) or encouraging the victims to just withdraw and leave. Heaven forbid Shangri-La should be interrupted and ruined by some pesky rape victim and their "story," right?

My point being: it's incredible in the 21st century that we're still actually debating what is rape ("legitimate," "forcible," "intended," "date," or whatever the hell) and what isn't. Fifty years + of criminological data and politicians (men, let's fact it) still have a hard time understanding that rape is rape.

You know who understands that better than anyone else? The victims. So if you're not the victim of rape, then you should really STFU when it comes to the crime of rape. And while I realize that's a terribly un-academic way of viewing things, I'm also sure that I could not care less.

UPDATENick Kristoff at the NYT had an op-ed in today's edition that I missed earlier. He addresses similar concerns regarding the shabby treatment of rape victims that I mention above.
Our political system jumps all over verbal stupidity, while giving a pass to stupid policies. If we’re offended by insensitive words about rape, for example, shouldn’t we be incomparably more upset that rape kits are routinely left untested in the United States? And wouldn’t it be nice if Democrats, instead of just firing sound bites, tackled these underlying issues? 

According to data from the Department of Justice, one person in the United States is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes. A slight majority of rapes are never reported to the police, and others are never solved. For every 100 rapes, only three lead to any jail time for the rapist, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Yet another indication of cavalier attitudes: In 31 states, if a rape leads to a baby, the rapist can get visitation rights. That doesn’t happen often, but the issue does come up. In Massachusetts, a convicted rapist is suing for access to the child he fathered when he raped a 14-year-old girl.  
Read the case above from Massachusetts. "Melendez pleaded guilty to the rape in 2011 and was sentenced to 16 years probation." Probation...for the crime of rape.

And just when you thought you'd read everything, there is visitation rights for rapists. Can you imagine? "Mommy, why didn't you and daddy ever get married?" "That's because, son, your father is a rapist, but he really wants to be involved in your life."

On the issue of rape, we are a sick society, folks.

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