Last week, we watched a presidential debate without a single mention of women’s issues. Now, just like in August before the national conventions, we are beginning to talk about women’s bodily autonomy again. Sadly, once more it is being framed by the so-called “controversy” of rape.
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, who is being challenged by Todd Akin for her Senate seat, released a series of ads reiterating Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments, as well as his “personal belief” that emergency contraception causes abortion and should be banned. (Emergency contraception is contraception; it does not cause abortion.) Speaking in the commercials are former rape victims, all opposing Akin’s stance that women who have been raped should be forced to give birth to their attackers’ babies against their will.
Yet, while reporting on the ads on a television station, one newscaster referred to the assault survivors as “controversial characters.”
How is being sexually assaulted “controversial,” unless you are attempting to reiterate the idea that a rape victim’s account of the event is in question?
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A “controversial character” is a politician who reminisces about sitting at his father’s knee, learning that “some girls rape easy,” an oh so poetic phrasing of “but she really wanted it.”. A “controversial character” is someone who places varying degrees of guilt on the victim based on who her assailant was and what the circumstances were surrounding the attack, but then uses those facts as a correlation to decide whether or not she “deserves” the right to terminate a pregnancy, or even worse, to continue to deny her that right all together.
As Jill Filipovic writes at Feministe, it’s all part and parcel of the social conservative worldview. “They don’t particularly like women, they don’t believe that women should have a full range of rights, they don’t want to see women in power, and so they pass laws that try to coerce women into particular roles. Sometimes their deep disdain and distrust of women slips out a bit more bluntly.”
That the discourse has deteriorated so much this cycle that political ads discussing the rights of rape victims are actually necessary is sad enough. But the undertone of sexual violence is even making it into non-specific campaign ads, such as one in North Carolina, where a state senate candidate tells voters of her opponent’s support for a mandatory ultrasound bill during the last legislative session. In the commercial, the candidate wields a large, ominous trans-vaginal ultrasound wand, a reminder of what women would be subject to under the forced ultrasound regulation.
Sexual assault shouldn’t have to be a “controversy.” People should not be sexually assaulted, full stop. Not by strangers, not by friends, not while conscious, not while unresponsive. This shouldn’t be a “controversial” issue.