‘Illegitimate’ Rape Is Still Rape

The Respect Program in the Office of Health Promotion engages the Emory community to prevent and respond to sexual assault and relationship violence. As the primary office for preventing and responding to interpersonal violence for students, we believe students disclose that they’ve experienced sexual assault or rape. This should go without saying, but I think it is critical to address the idea of “legitimate rape” that has been floating around. Even though these comments have been criticized already, I feel a need to debunk Congressman Akin’s statements in the context of Emory University. This is not about politics or elections or party affiliations. These comments are objectively offensive and medically unsound. Survivors deserve respect.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape is] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Akin said.

Between Aug. 2011 and the end of July 2012, I worked with over 100 undergraduate and graduate students via almost 200 individual consultations. Every single one of these students’ experiences are legitimate. The one in four women and one in 13 to one in 33 men who’ve experienced sexual assault on college campuses are legitimate. Some of those students became pregnant from what happened, and they made all sorts of choices about those pregnancies.

I have the privilege of engaging with student leaders, interns, and advocates. Their work is also legitimate. Sexual assault is a serious and pervasive public health problem, including on college campuses, including at Emory. Pregnancy is a potential consequence of some forms of sexual violence for individuals who can physiologically become pregnant.

Here are some facts:

– The U. S. Department of Justice has found that false reports of sexual violence are rare. Less than two percent of reports are actually false.

– Seeking medical care after sexual assault can be critical for survivors. There’s a risk of physical injury, STIs and pregnancy. A lot of survivors are scared to seek medical care because of fear they won’t be believed or feeling a loss of control of their bodies.

– A NIH study reported that about 32,101 pregnancies in the U.S. a year result from rape. That’s about a 5 percent possibility of pregnancy from rape.

– No one asks to be raped, and the body has physiological reactions to nonconsensual sex that it could have to consensual sex. This can be used by perpetrators to manipulate survivors. The idea of pregnancy not being possible after rape has a history in invalidating and disbelieving folks who were sexually assaulted even though this is medically inaccurate and damaging misinformation.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, what you or they have experienced is legitimate. There is no such thing as an illegitimate rape or experience of sexual assault or relationship violence. There’s a continuum of violence and abuse, and none of it is OK. All of those experiences are legit. and real.

If you’ve been triggered by this conversation in the media or want to get involved to change culture around this issue, contact me. You have support at Emory. You can start by giving me a call at 404.727.1514 or emailing me at [email protected] to talk or to get involved. The DeKalb Rape Crisis Center also has a 24-hour hotline at 404.377.1428 and RAINN has a national 24-hour hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE or online at rainn.org.

Survivors deserve respect. It’s not political to say that sexual violence is not okay in our communities and that we should support survivors and medical facts related to sexual assault — it’s common sense.

We are all a part of ending sexual violence and challenging comments like these are a great first step. There are many ways to get involved in ending sexual violence at Emory. One way is to attend the Emory @ the Red Zone Rally on Fri., September 14 at 5:45 p.m. in Asbury Cir. to show that, as a community, we are intolerant of sexual violence, which is most common in the first three weeks of school. Join us.

Lauren (LB) Bernstein, MSW is the coordinator of the Office of Health Promotion’s Respect Program, which engages the Emory community to prevent and respond to sexual assault and relationship violence. You can learn more about the Respect Program at http://www.bewellexcel.org/respect.