Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rape and Its Consequences

During one year I had three friends come to me and tell me about their rapes. The circumstance were all quite different but the result was the same - shame, fear and on-going and long lasting consequences. The one obvious similarity with all three was that it was not just about sexual gratification (if it was that at all). It was about power and control. Those who ended up having abortions (only recently made legal and still with a stigma attached to them) then had to deal with the on-going guilt and trauma from having made the only decision they could.

These women were fortunate in that they were living in a country that recognised sexual assault could be life-shattering and had put in place non-judgemental ways to help the victimised survive. Sadly, none of their rapists were ever punished. Why? Because these rapes were never reported to the police. The rapists had too much power over their targets. They feared ostracism, disbelief and slut shaming. If you hadn't gone out with him this would never have happened. You had been drinking. Your dress was too short or too tight. You must have encouraged him. You were alone with him. What did you expect? These women were respectively a victim of date rape in a relative's house, a gang rape at a party and incest but they still felt these societal pressures and feared their judgement.

I've met other rape survivors since then who have shared their stories with me. They are all horrific. It doesn't matter if the victim is beaten to a pulp, unconscious or is terrified into submission, the result is similar - long-lasting emotional and, all too often, physical damage.

Because rape can lead to pregnancy inevitably the issue of abortion comes up. First a disclaimer: the only circumstances in which I could see myself agreeing to an abortion are rape, if my life was threatened by the pregnancy or if the foetus had died or was non-viable but that is for me. No-one else. It's not for me to judge or enforce my views on anyone else.

Having said that, a zygote is not a person - nor is a blastocyst - and any woman who chooses to abort has every right to do so. To suggest that anyone decides on an abortion without considerable thought is simply ridiculous. While you or I may not agree with their reasons does not mean they have not thought about it. They have and they have made their choice and I, for one, see no reason to judge them nor to have the government or anyone else do so.

But the pro-lifers cry, it's a baby. Well, no. It isn't. It's a non-viable collection of cells and it remains non-viable for months. The specious argument that the 'life' the woman is carrying has rights over hers is appalling. Quite apart from having to carry a constant reminder of the attack with her, pregnancy is not a risk-free process. Even if we discount all the discomforts of pregnancy (they are many and varied but endured willingly if the child is wanted - although after seven months with my head in the toilet I was beginning to wonder) there are so many things that can go wrong from minor to life-threatening. Women still die in child-birth and to decide to abort is not an unreasonable response.

What made me think about this was a blog post by US author, John Scalzi. In his Fan Letter to Certain Conservative Politicians (and writing from the point of view of the rapist) he addresses the reality of rape and its consequences. Scalzi's post and the comments that follow are shocking and triggering for rape and sexual assault victims but they are also compelling. I recommend it and, because he keeps such a tight rein on moderating comments, don't be afraid to venture there either - but be warned some of the shared experiences are heart-wrenching. The discussion is US focussed but much of what is said is relevant to other countries. He has also written a follow up post explaining how the post came about in this form.


Jo said...

But didn't you read the US politician recently (I blogged about it) who said if it was legitimate rape, women's bodies knew how to close themselves against pregnancy. I am surprised more wasn't done to that idiot.

Most of us don't bother with Captcha any more, too frustrating when you are commenting.

Helen V. said...

I agree he was an idiot. I think he got dumped in the election and so he should.

I know moderating causes some irritation but I had some issues with comments a while back so, although I don't get all that many, I decided moderating was a wise step.