TRIGGER WARNING: This article addresses rape and incest.
It seems they can’t help themselves. One after another, not inconsequentially right-wing, white, male politicians, continue to pontificate on the choices women should, and should not, be able to make in the aftermath of a rape. Specifically, now, in the aftermath of “the rape thing.”
The latest in the line of so-called pro-life candidates for office to expound on rape is John Koster, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress in Washington State. Speaking on tape to an activist, according to the Seattle Times, “Koster is asked whether there is any situation in which he would “agree” with abortion. He responds that he would make an exception for the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest, and describes his thinking in detail, using the phrase, “the rape thing” twice.
“Incest is so rare, I mean it’s so rare. But the rape thing, you know, I know a woman who was raped and kept the child, gave it up for adoption and doesn’t regret it. In fact, she’s a big pro-life proponent. But, on the rape thing it’s like, how does putting more violence onto a woman’s body and taking the life of an innocent child that’s a consequence of this crime, how does that make it better?”
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The activist says, “Yeah, but she has to live with the consequences of that crime.”
And Koster responds, “Yeah, I know. I know crime has consequences, but how does it make it better by killing a child?”
First let me say how breathtaking is this man’s statement that “incest is so rare.” While statistics are indeed difficult to gather, because of the kind of dismissive attitude and stigma so inherent in Koster’s statement, The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Abuse underscores that incest is far from rare.
One of the nation’s leading researchers on child sexual abuse, David Finkelhor, estimates that 1,000,000 Americans are victims of father-daughter incest, and 16,000 new cases occur annually (Finkelhor, 1983). However, Finkelhor’s statistics may be significantly low because they are based primarily on accounts of white, middle-class women and may not adequately represent low-income and minority women (Matsakis, 1991).
On rape, he is equally out of touch with reality. Innumerable rape victims have come forward to speak about their experiences dealing with the trauma of rape, which at times also resulted in a pregnancy. Each of these women describes the process of healing, if any is found, including the ability to regain personal agency, personal control, over their own bodies, decisions, and lives. Agency means deciding, for yourself, what to do; it means having control over the decision as to whether or not to carry to term a pregnancy resulting from rape.
It does not mean having a politician decide for you what violence is or how you should experience it.
I celebrate the decision of any woman who, faced with any pregnancy she did not intend, makes her own decision on how to proceed. I celebrate a woman facing a pregnancy resulting from rape who decides to terminate that pregnancy. I celebrate the woman who decides, on her own, without coercion, to bring the pregnancy to term. It is not the outcome I celebrate; it is the choice and agency owned and made by that woman, who in taking back control of her life decides what is best for her. I celebrate the woman.
Because as Melissa Harris Perry has so eloquently said in response to Richard Mourdock:
“You see, Mr. Mourdock, the violation of rape is more than physical. Rapists strip women of our right to choose, of our right to say no, of our right to control what is happening to our bodies. Most assailants tell us it is our fault. They tell us to be silent. Sometimes they even tell us it’s God’s will,” she said. “That is the core violation of rape– it takes away choice. Richard, you believe it is fine to ignore a women’s right to choose because of your interpretation of divinity. Sound familiar?”
In deeply personal language, she touched on the challenges of being a sexual assault survivor. “When we survive sexual assault, we are the gift. When we survive, when we go on to love, to work, to speak out, to have fun, to laugh, to dance, to cry, to live, when we do that, we defeat our attackers,” she said. “For a moment, they strip us of our choices. As we heal, we take our choices back. We are the gift to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation when we survive.”
The secondary violence and degradation of rape victims comes when politicians so nullify women as human beings with rights and agency that they feel compelled to speak at all on an issue about which they know nothing at all.