No Standard Deviation from Our Principles

Rosie Wang, Resident Blogger (’14, Columbia Law School)

Here is an alarming fact that I didn’t know until recently: Some studies have found that it is actually more likely for a woman to conceive after rape than after consensual sex. So much for the woman’s body having a way to shut that down. On the contrary, this tragic reality seems to highlight the necessity of abortion as an option.  But what is behind the link between lack of consent and increased likelihood of conception?

Jonathan and Tiffani Gottschall looked at the results from the National Violence Against Women survey and found that out of the 405 women who said they had been raped, pregnancy occurred at rate of 6.42% Horrifyingly, this is more than twice the rate that women become pregnant from consensual sex. The Gottschalls eliminated a few possibilities: rape does not induce ovulation, nor is the sperm of the rapist unusually viable. One hypothesis they present is that of male choice. Supposedly, rapists target women who are young and desirable. And since the markers of beauty and the markers of high fertility overlap, a woman with high fecundity is more likely to be chosen by a rapist because of these physical cues. Various news outlets [Huffington Post here, Politico here, Washington Post here]  have trotted out these findings as a refutation against the blatant misinformation perpetuated by Todd Adkin and his ilk.

However, there is something very wrong with this picture.

First of all, rape is not primarily about sexual attraction, rape is about power and anger. Second, this type of correlation between visible fertility and rape veers straight into the territory of victim-blaming. I imagine wildly misguided “advice” based on these findings that puts the onus on the victims to obscure their physical cues of fertility. “If she had worn something baggier, that would have obscured her ideal hip to waist ratio, she wouldn’t have been raped.” Sadly, since two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and 38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance, it would seem like rapists do not target the women with the highest and strongest fertility cues, but those whose familiarity and trust they can exploit. Thus, even if some piece of information or research looks like a good argument for reproductive justice, it’s often worth it to dig a bit deeper and look at what the implications mean.