I’ve been listening to the radio this morning about the Republican Party platform and abortion and rape. I’ve never had an abortion; thankfully I’ve never been in a situation where that seemed like a viable option. I am thankful that the Church handbook allows for abortion, but even there the wording is “forcible rape or incest” [fn1]. And apparently Representative and would-be Senator Akin meant to say “forcible rape” rather than the terribly unfortunate “legitimate rape.”
But what does “forcible” mean in terms of rape? That a woman or girl [fn2] is held down and raped against her vain struggles? That she is forced to comply on imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm? That she is threatened overtly or implicitly with harm to herself or her family if she does not comply with the rapist’s demands? Does a woman have to fight back? How firmly must she say “NO” for any subsequent action to be considered a rape?
It’s not everyone’s natural reaction to fight back during a sexual assault. My reaction was to shut down, to be still, and hope he would lose would interest and just stop [fn3]. Playing possum is a survival strategy for those who are small and weak when confronted by a larger predator, and I’m not the first or only girl who has ever tried it. Joanna Brooks writes about feeling detached from her body as a boy felt her up [fn4]. Of course, afterward I felt guilty for not fighting, for being so passive, and especially for my traitorous body for feeling aroused. I went through depression, guilt, withdrawal from everyone, all of which, it turns out, is a completely normal reaction to sexual assault [fn5].
So what happened? When I was a college freshman at BYU I was asked out on a date. The young man had served his mission in my home ward; the other girls and I talked to him and his companion in the hallways on Sundays while I was in Young Women’s. He seemed like a nice guy.
Kant wrote “There is something splendid about innocence; but what is bad about it, in turn, is that it cannot protect itself very well and is easily seduced” [fn6].
The returned missionary picked me up at my dorm. Drove past the temple, talked about how beautiful it is, how nice it is inside. Went to a house, the basement, to watch The Muppets. But we got started late; I was tired and asked to go back to my dorm. Later he said. Just relax here for a little while. Should I be damned because I did? Because his hands started running over me, drawing me out of my sleepy haze. I couldn’t say anything; I hoped that if he thought I was asleep, he’d leave me alone. He didn’t. But he didn’t rape me either. Holding me against him, sliding his hand down my abdomen, he stopped. “Can’t go any farther than this,” he whispered into my hair. “If we do, I can’t go to the temple anymore, and we don’t want that, now do we?”
He took me home not long after that. I was polite when I got out of his car. And I never talked to him again. I didn’t protect myself from going with him that one time, but there wasn’t a chance he would ever get close to me again. Maybe he considered it a NCMO (non-committal make out) session. I didn’t care what he thought of me, as long as I never saw him or talked to him, and he never got close enough to touch me again.
So I’m lucky, right, that this guy’s deep respect for the temple stopped him from having sex with me when I was just barely 18. I wasn’t stopping him, so by the Church and Akin’s definition, it wouldn’t have been “forcible” rape.
I am thankful he didn’t full-out rape me. I am thankful I didn’t have to worry about being pregnant; after all, in that situation, Akin’s reproduction system shutdown wouldn’t have occurred. Even though it wasn’t a legitimate rape, I felt violated enough to be ashamed, guilt-ridden, depressed, and inclined toward self-mutilation. It took a long time to begin to heal; I can’t imagine how much harder that would have been with a pregnancy.
[fn2] Although a serious crime, we’ll not talk about the rape of boys and men here because those don’t enter into the abortion issue.
[fn4] Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl, p. 116.
[fn6]Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.