A Legacy We Can Let Die

Rhiannon DiClemente, Resident Blogger (’16, Temple University Beasley School of Law)

The number of women and girls raped in conflict worldwide is overwhelming —500,000 during the Rwandan genocide; 64,000 during the civil war in Sierra Leone; more than 40,000 during the conflict in Liberia; 60,000 during the war in former Yugoslavia—the list goes on. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nearly 2 million women have been raped.

Rape is one of the oldest weapons of war, yet throughout most of history has gone unpunished—the spoils of war, collateral damage. Only in the past few decades has rape even been recognized as a crime of war. While the United States government has vowed to prosecute those who perpetrate sexual violence in conflict, it has forgotten one important thing—the victims.

Around the world, women and girls who are pregnant as a result of rape are unable to access the care they rightfully deserve. Why? A 40-year-old law named after a senator who led the crusade to reduce U.S. international aid to what he called “foreign rat holes” and compared abortion rights to the Nazi Holocaust—the Helms Amendment.

America’s “foreign policy skeleton in the closet,” the Helms Amendment prohibits that U.S. funds “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” But that’s not all—Helms prohibits that aid recipients “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” Basically, groups receiving U.S. assistance (i.e. a lot) are prohibited from discussing abortion. In practice, the Helms Amendment has been implemented as a complete ban on abortion. To top it off—this is happening in countries where abortion is legal.

Let’s be clear—rape, incest, and saving a woman’s life are not family planning. Censoring free speech is a violation of human rights. Forcing women and girls to carry unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape is torture. The Helms Amendment is reproductive imperialism.

This politicizing and stigmatizing of abortion has devastating consequences in countries with struggling health systems and unwieldy maternal mortality rates. The lives of women and girls are not a political issue—they deserve better than this archaic, over-reaching, and paternalistic law. True justice for victims of sexual violence in conflict will only be a reality when women’s voices are put at the center of our foreign policy agenda. We must ensure that victims have access to comprehensive post-rape health care, including access to safe abortion care.

At a June 2013 conference on ending sexual violence in conflict, Secretary of State John Kerry stated that “ending [sexual violence in conflict] is not just a personal priority, it is a priority of President Obama, the government of the United State[s] and our allies.” He declared that sexual violence should be “banished to the dark ages and the history books.” To that I say—if you’re serious, send the Helms Amendment there too.

It’s the World Cup Again! Time to think about RJ.

Gavin Barney, LSRJ Summer Intern (’16, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

I adore the World Cup.  I try my very best to spare my friends and loved ones, but I could happily talk all their ears off about the tournament all day without it ever getting old. And the fact that this year’s games are taking place in Brazil – the spiritual home of futebol – has made it all the more exciting.

However, given the ludicrous scale of this kind of global sporting event, some of the most important, fascinating, moving, and upsetting stories have taken place outside the newly built stadiums and team base camps. For example, with the collective eyes of the world trained on Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the months preceding the games, Brazilian citizens spilled into the streets to protest their government’s allocation of massive funds to stadium building at the expense of transportation, education, healthcare, and other vital services. Events like the World Cup or the Olympics give people around the world a unique opportunity to learn about the internal issues of the host nation because mainstream news outlets give the country more in-depth coverage than they ever would otherwise.

You might be wondering, well what does the World Cup have to do with RJ? Well, several articles have been cropping up about the effects the World Cup has had on sex work in host cities around Brazil. The tone and content of articles have varied widely, and while the influx of tourists and media has created an environment of heightened exploitation, it has also given some Brazilian sex workers an opportunity to be heard on a world stage.

Sex work is legal in Brazil, so long as the worker is over the age of eighteen, but according to the Huffington Post, the World Cup is expected to cause a marked increase in child prostitution in areas near the stadiums. The HuffPo article points out that this type of phenomenon is all too common and cites an expert writing on human trafficking at this year’s Super Bowl who wrote that events that attract huge numbers of (male) fans “could never not be breeding grounds for sexual exploitation.” Apparently, the last two World Cups also saw increases in child exploitation as high as 30-40%, and this year’s tournament will once again juxtapose the vibrant celebration of the games with the tragic reality of human trafficking. As advocates for reproductive justice –or any kind of social justice for that matter – this type of pattern is unacceptable, and the notion that it is just the-way-these-things-are needs to be strongly countered.

Elsewhere, in an altogether different kind of story, RT.com reported on a public pick-up style game of soccer played between professional (adult) sex workers and a group of American Christians on a street in Belo Horizonte. The “naked match” was organized by the Prostitutes’ Association of Minas Gerais to draw attention to sex workers’ rights and to protest prejudice and stigma. Above all else, these members of the “naked Brazilian forces” called for their profession to be treated like any other legal job. In addition to providing a refreshing take on the dignity of sex work, this event has produced some of the most striking images I have seen during the World Cup. I highly recommend that you take the time to look through them.

Ultimately, I’m not entirely sure what to take from these stories or how they should color my enjoyment of the actual soccer matches. Just as the World Cup itself is complex – simultaneously a bloated and exploitative celebration of excess and an event of pure joy – this small sample size of media coverage speaks to many more complicated issues than these journalists have the time or inclination to fully flesh out. But in the end, I suppose it is just more proof that there are very few things in this world that don’t lend themselves to some thoughts on reproductive justice.

Dropping the F-Bomb

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

How many times has one of your friends started their sentence with “I’m not a feminist, but…”? If you answered “one,” that’s already too many. We [read: self-proclaimed feminists] hear the beginning of that sentence not just from our friends, but from celebrities, professors, acquaintances, and even blind dates. Sometimes, the qualifying “but” isn’t even thrown in; sometimes it’s the conclusory “I’m not a feminist.” A few weeks ago, a fellow female law student told me after class, “I would never call myself a feminist, but pregnancy discrimination has gotten out of control.” Does that mean feminism could finally warm its way into her heart if pregnancy discrimination hit absolute rock bottom? Now, to be fair, some people just refuse to ascribe any labels to themselves [read: hipsters]. But the most common “I am not a feminist” utterer isn’t someone who really doesn’t believe in feminism or hates labels, it’s someone who doesn’t want to be perceived as a feminist, or just does not understand it. I’ve been told “I can’t possibly be a feminist because I like pink and I like to get my nails done.” But when I pressed whether this person believed that there were social and cultural forces that prevented women from achieving equality on par with men, she answered with an unqualified “yes.” So what is it about the F-word that gives people the heebie-jeebies?

Embarassingly, I used to be a feminism-denier when I was an undergrad at Harvard. But there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by scary-rich young men of privilege to turn you into a practicing feminist. It didn’t help my anti-feminism either to learn that many of my friends had been survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault; and apparently, it hasn’t gotten much better. Aside from the traditional, feminist groups on campus where I gained some much-needed perspective, there was also a growing coalition of conservative women. When one of these women (a board member of the campus republicans) was interviewed about her work, she proudly noted that she was a feminist. In response, one of her male, republican colleagues commented “that’s cute that she thinks that.” His comment gets at the source of the ire for the F-word: supposedly, it’s only reserved for certain women – women who don’t shave their armpits, who attend Lilith Fair, who go on diatribes about killing off the male race.

But the crux of feminism is that, as my Women and the Law professor reminds our class, there are many, many feminisms. They don’t all agree with each other. My feminism, for example, has been pulled in so many directions that it now feels like salt water taffy. But they all embrace the idea that something is wrong with the way our society treats women, and it needs fixing. If you can acknowledge that, then you are a feminist. And when you’re ready, I have an extra ticket to the Lilith Fair revival tour with your name on it.

#KeepItConfidential

Ruth Dawson, Resident Blogger (’12, Emory University School of Law)

Under a landmark California bill passed last year, individuals covered under another person’s insurance policy will soon be able to seek sensitive services such as birth control, STD tests, and mental health services, without worrying about the disclosure of these services to the policyholder. This person is usually a parent or spouse, a fact which often prevents people from using their insurance to get the medical care they need. Going into effect January 1, 2014, the Confidential Health Information Act (SB 138) closes a loophole in California law, where insurance plans unintentionally violate patients’ confidentiality by sending information about the services received home to the policyholder.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and is thus a particularly important time to be focusing on confidentiality of medical and mental health services. In addition to the common problem of young people heading to a free clinic for routine reproductive care and claiming no insurance (as many of my friends did instead of admitting to their parents that they needed care), this law will have a profound effect on survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and gender-based violence. Maintaining confidentiality is crucial for survivors of assault to feel comfortable and empowered to access the physical and psychological services they need, without fear of stigma, forced disclosure, or cruel yet common reactions, such as victim-blaming.

For this new law to have the wide-reaching impact advocates desire, we must create a smooth system for patients to request confidentiality, educate patients across the state that they have the option to request confidentiality, and train providers in how to effectively implement this system in service provision. The smoother the implementation of this bill, the more likely the new law will be used as a model for patient confidentiality of sensitive services around the nation.  I’m proud that California is making real strides to #keepitconfidential for all patients.

I am a rape survivor. NOT a victim, a survivor. This is my story. (Part II)

Maria Moore, Guest Blogger (’16, University of North Carolina School of Law)

I have always been very open sexually and have never had any problem expressing my sexuality. It could be argued that this is the result of what happened to me at a young age, but I don’t really care what caused it because it is a part of who I am and I would never change it.

In the summer of 2003, I decided I was tired of being a virgin, so I offered myself to a friend, who I will call Larry. It was quick, painful, and entirely unremarkable in any way. It was all over in a matter of minutes and I felt no different after it happened. Why do I tell you this? Because Larry became an accomplice to my rape.

Two days after I lost my virginity, I went swimming at a friend’s apartment complex. After swimming for awhile, I headed back to her apartment to change in broad daylight, in the middle of the afternoon, on a path I had repeatedly walked

I never made it to my friend’s apartment. Larry stopped me. He was with a friend of his, an attractive, tall, very skinny boy with dreads, who Larry told me was named Mark. Apparently, Larry had made an arrangement with Mark for me to have sex with him for a bag of marijuana. I was not party to this conversation. Larry said that since I was a “hoe” now, it should not bother me to have sex with Mark, especially since I was helping out a friend. He told me that I should go with Mark into an abandoned apartment in the apartment complex and have sex with him upstairs. Several people from the neighborhood had done drugs in the apartment so it was “safe.”

I protested that I was barefoot and a briar patch in front of the apartment’s broken back door, so I would not be able to safely make it there without hurting my feet. I then proceeded to head to my friend’s home, thinking I was in the clear.

Larry picked me up and carried me to the abandoned apartment, with Mark in tow.

Why didn’t I scream when my friends were very likely within hearing distance? Why didn’t I fight, kick, punch, scratch, tear, or otherwise try to escape? The answer is that I had been lead to believe that rape was a violent attack, one that happened in the deep of night, when a stranger dragged you into an alley. I knew to kick that stranger in the balls and run. I had no clue what to do in this situation.

Once in the apartment, Larry deposited me in the second floor bedroom and disappeared. At this point, Mark asked me if I wanted to have sex. I said no. He began to remove my bikini bottom. I said no. He put a condom on. I said no. He pushed me (not hard) onto the floor. I said no. He raped me. I covered my face in my hands and sobbed, praying that it would just be over and I could leave unscathed. All of the sudden, it stopped the same way it had started. A boy who was in my gym class at school was peering around the doorway from the stairs. I couldn’t even tell you his name now, but he knew what was happening. Mark got up and bolted. I never saw him again.

I ran to the bathroom, which was completely dark. There was no power in the apartment and no toilet paper. I sat on the seat in my bikini top and I cried and cried and cried. Finally, I managed to grab my bikini bottom and walk down the stairs. The apartment was utterly filthy, filled with condom wrappers, cigarette butts, broken glass, and the insides of cigars that had long ago been filled with marijuana and smoked.

I sat down on the fireplace and cried. I did not move until my friend, whose home I had been intending to walk to, came in and asked me what had happened. I could not speak. I allowed her to help me up off the bricks and out of the house. Larry was standing outside when I walked out, along with a crowd of other friends and acquaintances who lived in the neighborhood or frequently came to visit.

“Fuck you, Larry!” was all I could get out through my tears. I walked to an A/C unit and sat down, feeling like the absolute worst bit of nothing that had ever existed. I felt dirty, I felt used, but oddly, I did not feel that I had been raped. As I said, rape was this thing where you were beaten and tied up, maybe tortured. It was certainly not something that happened in the daylight hours in a familiar neighborhood at the behest of a friend to whom you had recently lost your virginity.

I don’t remember much of what happened next. I know that I jumped into the pool. I wanted to get the disgust off me. If I was just a hoe now, I could at least be a clean one. I know that eventually my parents picked me up and that when I wandered into the house, I told my mother that I needed to go back to see my therapist. I know that I was going to be leaving for Florida in two days so I was supposed to stay in that night to spend time with my family.

My best friend, Melinda, was not there when the events transpired, but she heard about them and she and her mother came to the house to get to the bottom of it. Melinda’s mother told mine that Melinda had just been dumped by a boyfriend and really needed her best friend, so I piled into the car and went to Melinda’s house.

Eventually, the story of what had happened came out. Melinda’s mother said to me, “Maria, you know that you were raped, right?” I was shocked. There was no way I had been the victim of such a crime. I honestly just thought I had engaged in sex that I didn’t want to have, sex that made me feel dirty and worthless, but not sex I was FORCED to have. There were no weapons or threats.

I think this is part of the problem in the United States. We don’t teach our girls that rape will most likely be perpetrated by someone that we know. The violent, savage attack by a stranger gets good ratings on TV and in movies and gets a lot of attention on the news, but it is not the typical case. Usually, the rapist thinks you will have sex with him and when you say no, he carries on anyway.

I wish I could say that the horror of my story ended here. But it was far from over.

The next day, Melinda and her mother helped me tell my mother what had happened, and we decided to call the police. A squad car pulled up and a female police officer emerged and asked me what had happened. She then asked me to show her the scene of the crime. The four of us piled into the cop car and rode the couple of miles to the apartment complex where my friend lived. We were able to get into the abandoned apartment easily through the broken back door. I walked up the stairs, irrationally terrified, and showed the officer where the rape had occurred. We found the condom wrapper that Mark had discarded on the ground.

Next, the officer took Melinda and her mother home, and took me and my mother to the hospital to have a rape kit done. For those who are unaware, this means I spent hours (nearly an entire day) in the ER getting blood drawn, giving urine samples, getting shots, getting a pelvic exam, having fifty hairs plucked out of my head at the root, and being questioned again. And again. And again.

During my pelvic exam, the police officer on my case was in the room. There was a “privacy” curtain drawn around my bed and my mother stood beside me and held my hand. The pain was excruciating due to the small tears that can often occur in the vagina when it is penetrated without enough lubrication.

The detective on my case had actually been my DARE officer in elementary school. She was very upset by what had happened and very willing to do everything she could to prosecute the man that did this to me. Unfortunately, she ultimately had to drop my case because her husband was in a very serious motorcycle accident. Without her personal interest in my case, I went to the bottom of the list.

I did end up going to Florida and I was fine until I received a teddy bear that said something like “We care!” in multiple colors and fonts from a family friend. I dissolved into tears. I begged my mother to come and the next day, she and my little sister arrived. There are times in your life when you need your mother. It’s not something that is easy to explain but you know when it happens. In the ensuing weeks, I cooperated with the investigating officers as much as I possibly could. I gave them Larry’s full name and picture, as well as where I thought he lived. I recounted my story over and over again. The cold, detached way that the questions were phrased was excruciating. I was forced to relive the most awful moments of my life alone in a room with a strange grown man. I often felt as though no one at the police department believed me and if they did, they didn’t care.

At one point, an officer came to my home and showed me a line-up of photographs. He also played me a voice recording. The person who the local police thought was responsible for my rape was currently in jail for another sex crime. Mark’s face did not peer out at me from any of the pictures, however, and I couldn’t have remembered his voice if I tried. This was their last attempt at solving my case.

Larry is active on Facebook; we currently have 13 mutual friends. The first time I saw him after my rape, I was in the mall food court with my mother and a friend. My immediate reaction was to jump under the table, hide, and burst into tears. I have since seen him around town a few times but I never let anyone who cared about me know until he was so far away that they couldn’t get into trouble for attacking him.

Remember Melinda? My former best friend? Supposedly, she smoked crack with Larry some time after the events occurred and he tearfully informed her that he thought I would say yes, that he didn’t believe I was a virgin when we had sex, and that he never thought Mark would actually rape me if I said no.

My mother and I went to the Rape Crisis Center on the advice of the initial officer on my case. The volunteer, bless her heart, started the conversation with, “As a victim –“ I interrupted her, “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I am not a victim.” I have never been a victim and will never be one. I understand that rape derails the lives of many women and I understand why that is the case. But that’s not me.

Often when prosecutors put rape survivors on the witness stand, the jury is unmoved without some grandiose show of emotion. There is no specific way that a rape survivor “should” act. Each of our experiences is unique and each of us expresses the feelings it has caused in different ways. Most of us would not be willing to share our true feelings in a courtroom filled with strangers about something so personal that it is often difficult to talk about to our closest confidants.

At least in my situation, I found that it was helpful to word vomit as much as humanly possible. I talked about my rape to anyone and everyone who would listen. I still do. Call it attention seeking, hell you may think this essay was written merely to garner sympathy or attention. But if that is the case, you are missing the greater point – that the survivors of rape should not be silenced or shamed when they choose to speak. We have done nothing wrong. If, when, and how we choose to share our story should be our right and ours alone.

I was raped nearly ten years ago. I have no foolish ideas that this essay will affect my long-dead case or the cold hearts of the police department in my hometown. This is not why I have shared my experience with you. I have chosen to tell my story because I am tired of the ignorant statements about rape that even well-meaning people espouse in front of me on a regular basis. I’m tired of the rape jokes, the snide comments, and the overarching idea that somehow a woman is “asking for” rape.

Was I wrong to have sex at the age of fifteen? Was I wrong to lose my virginity to someone random and ultimately awful? Was I wrong to walk by myself, regardless of the fact that it was broad daylight, and I had made this walk on countless occasions for years? Maybe. Am I wrong now that I sometimes go out in skimpy outfits or actually enjoy having sex with someone I have no emotional connection to? Perhaps. Does any of that make me culpable in my own rape? Absolutely not.

I am not scared. I am not ashamed. I will not be silenced. I think it is a cultural imperative for us to understand the experience of being a rape survivor so that it is understood how truly sensitive you must be when discussing this subject.

My name is Maria. I am a daughter, sister, friend, law student, volunteer, and much more. I am also a survivor of rape, and I am not afraid to say so.

I am a rape survivor. NOT a victim, a survivor. This is my story. (Part I)

Maria Moore, Guest Blogger (’16, University of North Carolina School of Law)

My story actually starts several years before I was raped, on March 7, 1997 when I was in third grade. I was called to the principal’s office, and the usual chorus of “OOH!”s that can be expected from a group of third graders accompanied me as I left the classroom. I walked the familiar path to the office of our school disciplinarian, wondering what I had done this time.

It was not the principal who awaited me, however. It was a stranger, who told me she was a detective, and that everything was okay now and that I had nothing to worry about as long as I told the truth. Then she told me that she knew I had been touched in an inappropriate way by a family friend and that as long as I did everything I could to help, I would be safe from that ever happening again.

My parents were not present. A lawyer was not present. The principal was not present. It was just me, the detective, and her tape recorder. I was 8 years old. Little did I know that my little sister, age 5, was in another chamber of the catacomb that encompassed the administrative suite of my elementary school. She was being asked the same uncomfortable and odd questions about a family friend we both loved.

The detective proceeded with a line of questioning that included everything from my usual activities with said family friend (let’s call him “Q”), which involved the types of innocent enjoyment a normal grown man can be expected to have with the daughters of two of his closest friends, to my vivid and unusual nightmares. Somehow, these two things were later combined and used against Q in the papers. Later that day, a female police officer picked my sister and me up from our after-school program and brought us home in a squad car. The police had already arrived at my home and discussed the situation with my parents, who allowed entry because the police officer who knocked on the door said simply, “Your children have been hurt.”

When we walked in, my mother called us to her room and asked whether there was any truth to the allegation that Q had ever touched either of us in a sexual way. The answer was a resounding “no.” When we emerged from the room, a man I did not recognize proceeded to scream at my mother for allegedly “yelling at us” and “telling us what to say.” This upset me and my sister greatly. Never once during the harrowing 6-month investigation was any evidence uncovered that Q had indeed abused us. We went through family therapy, individual therapy, physical examinations (this being a euphemism for having cameras and fingers shoved in our vaginas and anuses), repeated visits from a social worker and various police officers, and countless questions.

This man did not abuse us. This was an innocent man who ran afoul of some of his co-workers and whose life was destroyed because of it. He was described in the paper and on the news as a Satanist and a child molester. He, along with unnamed others (including my parents), were supposedly part of a group engaging in Satanic ritual child abuse.   I believe the lead detective on the case wanted to make a name for herself with one or more convictions.

Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence, my parents were warned that my sister and I could be taken from them and that we were not to leave town. Q was forced to serve 30 days in jail on a trumped-up pornography charge for the heinous crime of having obscene pictures of an adult ex-girlfriend in his attic. He has never set foot in the state of North Carolina since he got out of jail, with one exception – my wedding day. This is a man who loved two little girls in every sweet way that an adult man can. His absence from our lives is deeply felt and incredibly unfair.

One good thing, if you can possibly stretch the meaning of “good” that exceedingly far, is that Q’s lawyer was able to keep his name off of the sex offender registry. Yes, you read that right. No evidence of any wrongdoing was ever found, yet the prosecutor was still aiming to put the name of an innocent man on a list that would act as a scarlet letter branded on his chest for the rest of his life. For no reason.

During the time that our local police department actively and tirelessly wasted taxpayer money pursuing this entirely meritless case, there were undoubtedly  an innumerable amount of girls and women actually being sexually abused and assaulted, women whose attackers were less visible and whose stories were less striking, and who therefore garnered significantly less attention (read: none.)

I know this because I was eventually one of those girls.

It’s a “Football Thing”

Melissa Torres-Montoya, Resident Blogger (’11, University of California, Berkeley School of Law)

When a prosecutor announced in early December that now 2013 Hiesman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, would not be charged with rape, his attorney took to Huffngton Post and described Winston and other athletes as “targets” for rape accusations.  Specifically, attorney Tim Jansen said,

“If anybody that knows this young man – he’s poised, polite, he’s the nicest young man and I believe he was targeted. These athletes are targeted by these young women. And if they don’t get what they want, or they expect more, a lot of times you see in these, date rape things, maybe they’re embarrassed, maybe they regret it, maybe he didn’t call her, it’s not the first time I’ve had a case like this with an athlete.”

The best defense is a good offense.  And here, Jansen, attempts to create a narrative that obscures the more prevalent issues that our society faces with rape, binge drinking, and sports culture.  I am not contesting that false rape accusations may occur and that such false accusations are problematic because they diminish the credibility of rape victims, I am arguing that the bigger issue here is not that athletes are targeted but that far more rapes occur then are reported or prosecuted.  That the day the charges were dropped, the media blasted out his attorney’s response to this instance of rape as male athletes at large being “targeted,” loses sight of how only 40% of rape gets reported to law enforcement, only 37% of reported cases are prosecuted, and only 18% of these cases end in a conviction.  These statistics indicate that rather than there being an epidemic of targeting men with false accusations, instead perpetrators of rape are often unlikely to face legal consequences for their actions

Moreover, if we are discussing targeting, I would argue that on college campuses it’s more common that inebriated young women are targeted for sexual intercourse — consensual or otherwise.  The culture of binge drinking leads to situations where one or even both parties of a sexual encounter lacked agency creating a problematic murkiness regarding consent of the encounter.  This case is no exception, whether or not Winston is guilty or innocent of rape, it is clear that drinking was involved and clouded the perceptions of the events of the night by all involved.   Facts also point to some seriously troubling sexual norms for those athletes – Winston’s teammate described going in and out of the room where Winston was having sex with the accuser to also have sex with her, citing such behavior as a “football thing” because she was acting like a “groupie type.”

In short, rather than spotlighting comments about athletes being “targeted” by rape allegations because a girl didn’t get a call back, the media should be exploring how we have a long way to go as a society so that all victims of rape can come forward and report this crime and sparking conversations about how problematic binge drinking and sports culture perpetuates this very critical issue.

The Rape Apologist

Amanda Shapiro, Resident Blogger (’15, Brooklyn Law School)

As a TA for a criminal law class this past semester, I witnessed some pretty scary comments about sexual assault from law students.  Those comments were the inspiration behind this post.

A “rape apologist” is someone who sympathizes with the rapist (The onion has summarized this affliction oh-so-well.)  Here’s how to identify and treat the symptoms of such a person:

  1. The raised eyebrow at the mention of rape. Treatment: pretend you were talking about rate…s of inflation in this country. Get out while you still can!
  2. Outlining his perfect rape apology scenario: “So things are getting hot and heavy between a girl and a guy. She decides she’s not into it, but she just lies there, and doesn’t say anything. And the guy still thinks it’s great, so he keeps going. How can you blame him when she doesn’t say anything?” Treatment: “Does that sound like good sex to any reasonable human being? You make sure your partner is properly lying like a frozen, dead fish, you don’t speak, and you just continue? LADIES: GET IN LINE, THIS GUY JUST CONTINUES.”
  3. The proper allocation of blame: “The ‘victim’ [read: air quotes] needs to ask what she was doing to cause her rape.” Treatment: “Sir, I believe you are speaking to personal responsibility. You know what’s a good barometer for personal responsibility? Simply asking your partner, ‘is this ok?’
  4. “Science” that conveniently apologizes for rape: “Besides, science says that men are biologically predisposed to commit rape. So, come on: science…” Treatment: “I believe you are referring to Thornhill and Palmer’s A Natural History of Rape, which can be summarized as: ‘male scorpionflies seem to rape, therefore male humans obviously need to rape.’ You should read Besteman and Gusterson’s book, Why America’s Top Pundits Are Wrong. They are leading anthropologists who de-bunk biological determinism. But I understand if you’re too busy reading… Reddit…?”

If you or someone you know suffers from rape apology, there is still hope. Call that person out on it today!

Reproductive Justice as Self-Determination

Ruth Dawson, Resident Blogger (’12, Emory University School of Law)

A report recently came out about the conditions of women members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s biggest rebel group.  Though there is a “veneer of [gender] equality” in the organization, the report tells horrific stories of women, including young teenagers, forced to receive contraceptive shots and forbidden from having children.  Perhaps most sickening are the accounts of FARC women being forced to have abortions, or losing their infants to infanticide, in the instances when they did become pregnant.

But I am not disgusted by the bare fact that the women had abortions or used contraception.  Instead, as a reproductive justice advocate, I am most deeply troubled by the way these women were stripped of agency.  Forced contraception, forced abortion, and – not unlikely – forced sex, all strip women of self-determination.

Reproductive justice encompasses far more than the affirmative right to access birth control or abortion, as many opponents seem to believe.  Instead, RJ is about all people deciding if they want to have children, and if so, when and how to have and raise them.  Reproductive justice represents a broad universe of control over one’s own body, and over one’s self.  And that control goes in both directions.  The key to reproductive justice, then, is not just that people are using birth control, or that people are having abortions.  Rather, it is that individuals are making these decisions, unforced and uncoerced, for themselves.

Today’s Special: Red Herring

S J Chapman, Resident Blogger, (’12, Northwestern University Law School)

Abortion and rape are two emotional issues, which is why it is critical to think before speaking about either.  In a recent Slate article, Emily Bazelon underscores this point by examining the claim made by anti-choice lawmakers that rape rarely results in pregnancies.  The claim is made in an effort to oppose extending late-term abortion access to rape victims.

Bazelon reveals that the only science backing this claim is experimentation in Nazi Germany.  During Hitler’s regime, anatomist Dr. Hermann Stevie used the bodies of 174 executed – mostly reproductive-age – females to study the effects of stress on the female reproductive system.  He found imprisoned women awaiting execution experienced less ovulation and sometimes had “shock bleedings.”

In 1972, anti-choice obstetrician Fred Mecklenburg butchered Stevie’s research, writing that the Nazis selected women who were about to ovulate, sent them to a mock-gas chamber, then brought them back to study the effect on their ovulatory pattern.  The result, he reported, was that an extremely high percentage of these women did not ovulate.

As Bazelon points out, “prison wasn’t the gas chamber.  And the prolonged trauma of anticipating execution isn’t the same as the shock of rape.”  Yet Mecklenburg’s report is the basis for anti-choice claims that women don’t get pregnant from rape.

We all have reasons for our stance on abortion.  They may be rooted in fact, ideology, or personal experience.  But please, not in German Nazi-era science.  It’s imperative that when it comes to abortion politics, we do more than just appeal to emotion. That won’t get us anywhere.