This past week, along with most of the rest of America, I’ve been thinking about rape.*
It seems likely that we’re headed for a future in which laws in this country and its constituent states are increasingly drafted by people like Todd Akin, who have little knowledge of how sex works, and a vested interest in defining the word “rape” so narrowly that it rarely applies to coercive sex acts.
Being myself a rapee,** and also an empirically minded sort of person, I find myself wondering what would have been different about my life so far if I’d grown up under Todd Akin Law. And, being fully committed to empiricism even when it conflicts with dearly held personal beliefs, I have to confess: Not much.
Here are the four pillars of what I call Akin’s Theory of Rapeology:
1. A sex act is not rape unless it is physically forced.
2. A sex act that is physically forced will not result in a pregnancy.
Number 2 is demonstrably false, but, if accepted as a premise, leads inescapably via the power of contrapositive reasoning to:
3. If a sex act results in a pregnancy, it must not have been physically forced.
Thus, the kicker:
4. If it is acceptable to deny abortion to women in any circumstance, there is no need to carve out an exemption for rape victims, since no rape victim will ever become pregnant from the act.
Upon this rock of dubious logical soundness, Akin et al. presumably seek to erect a new legal edifice, which would have two main features:
1. Abortion would become unobtainable, for rape victims as well as for the general population.
2. Increasingly, the concept of “forcible” rape—a term that does crop up in the state-by-state mosaic of law on sexual assault—would be enshrined in law, and used to distinguish sex acts that are physically inescapable from those that involve coercion, temporary physical or mental incapacity or inability to consent to sex acts due to age or mental status. For all intents and purposes, “forcible” rape would be considered “real” rape, opening the door for the legal penalties accorded to “lesser” varieties of rape to be diminished.
I must be frank here; I find this prospect terrifying. But I am also honor-bound to point out that while it seems likely Akin Law would have narrowed my options for legal recourse, I have not had much in the way of justice from the status quo either, despite having sustained injuries that would probably strike the average person—perhaps even Akin himself—as an unforgivable affront to human dignity.
First, let us consider abortion. Here, I will own that I dodged a bullet: I was far too young at the time I was raped for pregnancy to be remotely a possibility. While I am of the firm belief that no one should be legally permitted to dictate for you what kinds of things should be lodged in your own body—whether that be someone else’s appendages, a medical instrument or another living being—my own personal experiences do not offer much to advance this aspect of the discussion.
I did, however, worry privately and intensely throughout my childhood and young adolescence about AIDS—a disease I lost a family member*** to in 1982, not long after the incidents in question. If anonymous HIV testing had been available to me as a second-grader, it’s likely I would have taken advantage of it, and spared myself many years of anxiety on that front.