What Do You Mean It’s Not Rape?

Jeanette Friedman

A New Jersey writer speaks out for the first time about her own rape and her reaction to Congressman Chris Smith's bill which, she argues, is designed to demolish long-established American freedoms and to undermine the health and rights of poor and middle class women.

This article is cross-posted with permission from Blue Jersey.com.

After House Republicans removed the reference to “forcible” from the bill, the author wrote: It doesn’t really matter that these men have removed the word “forcible” from this bill. It still changes the meaning of incest, still intimidates private health insurance companies, still pushes church over state and is designed to deprive women of their right to choose.

Thirty-seven years ago, this very week, there was a snowstorm swirling outside my kitchen window, but my sixth floor apartment was so hot and dry I cracked the window facing the fire escape before I went to bed. It was about 3 a.m., and I had just fallen asleep when I woke up to find a man cutting the wires to the phone on my bedside table. Next thing I knew, I was blindfolded with my bathrobe, and could feel the point of a knife pushing into the top of my scalp. I kept thinking that what was happening couldn’t be happening, and remembered what my cop friends had taught me. “Don’t fight back, give them what they want or they won’t think twice about hurting or killing you.”

So I did as I was told, and about half-an-hour later, wrapped in a blanket, I went pounding on my neighbors’ doors, begging them to call the cops.  One of my big kitchen knives was laying on the third step of the staircase.

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I was not bruised or battered physically, but I demanded to be taken to a hospital for a rape kit. (I was the editor of my college paper and had access to information most women didn’t have. It was 1973 and women were starting to learn how to take care of themselves because, generally, men proved unequal to the task. Mostly I wanted a massive dose of penicillin, just in case I’d caught something disgusting.)

The first question these police officers asked me was what I had done to encourage my attacker.  I thought that only happened in movies! I was so furious, I shot back that at 3 a.m., as the snowstorm raged across the city, I had climbed out on the fire escape, and while swinging my panties in the air, had yelled

Here ’tis, come and get it.

They finally believed me when they heard the names of my cop friends and saw the evidence:  the broken screen in the kitchen window, the knife on the stairs in the hall and the cut phone wires. A few weeks later the rapist got his just desserts. His face was plastered all over the NY Daily News, and more women came forward to identify him. He was a serial rapist who didn’t have to beat his victims black and blue because he carried a weapon.

I wasn’t battered because I had done what the cops taught me to do. And now, thirty-seven years later, Chris Smith, a Republican congressman in my home state of New Jersey, is pushing the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” that invalidates the terrible experiences of millions of American women who were raped. His law basically says that only bruises prove rape and that it isn’t incest if the victim is over 18. By his lights, because we weren’t beaten to a pulp, we weren’t raped.  And that means victims of date rapes or designer drug rapes haven’t been raped either. Never mind marital rape. It doesn’t exist. He is saying it’s no longer rape even if there is a knife to the victim’s head-and it isn’t incest because she’s over 18, and she’s not bleeding.

So far there are 173 Congressmen rallying behind this bill-one Smith claims will cut the deficit dramatically by eliminating abortions. What this law really does is pull the rug out from beneath women’s bitterly won rights to do what they want with their own bodies. And that’s precisely the point. They are creating a ruse to stop legal abortions.

I never went back to my apartment after that terrible night, except to move out. I stayed with a friend when I was released from the hospital and spent the rest of the night trying to scrub myself clean. For weeks afterward I held my breath until I got my period. Thank God, Roe V. Wade was passed just two weeks before I was raped. Had I gotten pregnant, I have no doubt I would have gotten an abortion-by hook or by crook. Such a pregnancy would have been life-threatening to me, since I wanted to marry and have children with someone I loved-and not have to commit suicide in despair. (A victim of rape is four times more likely to commit suicide.)

Maybe I believe that women have the right to choose because I am a Jew, and in Judaism, abortion is permitted even during full-term delivery if the life of the mother is at stake. The differences of opinion among the Jews lay not in the act of abortion, which is clearly permitted; they lay in the definition of the word “life.” There are those rabbis who say that a woman’s emotional and mental state matters-especially when it comes to raising children. For some women forced to give birth to a child of rape or a severely damaged child with no hope of recovery, the situation becomes life-threatening-not only to the mother, but to the mental and emotional health of her other children. On the other hand, there are rabbis who say a mother’s life needs to be literally physically threatened by conditions of pregnancy and birth before an abortion can take place. In all cases, the final decision is between a woman, her rabbi and her doctor-and together they face God, come what may.

What is happening right now is that Smith and his cronies have wrapped their religious beliefs in the deficit and are attempting to coerce the rest of us to adhere to those beliefs by abusing the separation of Church and State. True, the separation of Church and State is not explicit in the Constitution. Neither is the right to privacy. Yet both of these principles are considered basic American human rights. They reinforce democratic ideals and allow American women to choose what they want to do, without having someone else’s beliefs jammed down their throats.

Smith’s bill is designed to demolish these long-established American freedoms as he and fellow Republican Mike Pence-whose companion bill aims to prohibit private insurance companies from covering legal abortions-attempt to bring the full force of Federal legislation to bear down on poor and middle class women.  They are forcing American women to abide by the rules of Christian beliefs that differ even from those of other Christians. They use doublespeak to redefine rape and incest, words that have accepted meanings, legally and literally, that go back to biblical times.  They manipulate the Constitution and lie about the costs of the havoc their bills will create.

If Smith’s bill passes, you will have to suffer contusions, blunt force trauma or open wounds to prove rape, and if you are an incest victim over 18, it won’t be incest. Any resulting pregnancies of these non-rapes will have to be carried to term because Chris Smith will make abortion impossible unless you are wealthy and pay for it “out of network.”  It’s already awful to know that if you are a poor woman in America who relies on federal funds for health care, you can’t get an abortion if your fetus was damaged by prescription drugs, a disease you contracted, or a genetic disorder.  The government doesn’t allow it.

If these Republicans have their way, women will be forced to go back to pre-1973 kitchen table abortions. These back-alley homemade procedures force women to risk their lives by using Betadyne and knitting needles or coat hangers to accomplish what the United States government will not allow them to do safely. The only women who will escape this desperate trap are the rich.

The rest of us will wonder what we can do for the women who develop complications from butchered abortions and how we will care for the damaged and unwanted children that will be the issue of this insane policy.  Will the greater costs lie in our souls or our pocket books?

Call your congressman and tell him or her that you won’t stand for this abuse of legislative power. This is still America-and we are still Americans-of different faiths and belief systems, and no one’s religious agenda speaks for us all, not even to lower the deficit.

(America has more reported rapes, by a huge number, than any other country that gathers such statistics, and researchers note that as many as 60% of all rapes are never reported. Last year American taxpayer paid one tenth of one cent for the 191 Federally-paid for abortions. This is hardly a buget buster.)

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.