“I Pray for Them” is Not Good Enough

Congressional candidate Rep. Todd Akin has put a religious spin on his pseudo-science about women having some biological powers that protect them from getting pregnant if they are victims of ‘legitimate rape’. In an appeal to Christians who value forgiveness, he tries to distract from the plain meaning of his words, backed up by his actions in Congress. He has made a campaign commercial for the base…

“Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way and for that I apologize. As the father of two daughters, I want tough justice for predators. I have a compassionate heart for the victims of sexual assault. I pray for them,” Akin says. “The fact is, rape can lead to pregnancy. The truth is, rape has many victims.”

Akin continues: “The mistake I made was in the words I said, not in the heart I hold. I ask for your forgiveness.”

I would ask Christians to consider that forgiveness doesn’t require voting this man back into Congress. I would ask them to consider that denying a woman emergency contraception to prevent pregnancy after rape is respecting her life. Giving her compassion and praying for her is not enough.

Talking tough is not enough. We have a long history of justice denied for victims despite harsh laws. We have a long history of harsh laws being used to imprison innocent men. Rape has many victims, yes, and one casualty is our peace of mind. If the only answer is death to the rapist then society will refuse to prosecute the husband, the brother, the son. Rapists are not usually so outwardly criminal that they don’t have a circle of people who see them as ‘a nice guy’.

It’s an evil act, yes, and an ugly truth. As long as we cling to a past that separates the virtuous women from the impure, the ones whose humanity is lesser because they deserve it, we will give cover to crimes. Predators in society, like predators in the wild, choose the unprotected. It’s necessary to face facts we would rather bury, and defend the rights of people who make choices we would not make. It’s necessary because we are fighting a crime and putting a few individuals in prison is not the whole answer.

Promoting respect for women, because we are equal human beings, is the answer.

I wondered last night if I was making assumptions about Rep. Akin’s religious pandering. Today shows that he’s out there claiming the blessing of forgiveness to hang on to religious voters.

There’s a segment of the religious Right that dwells on forgiveness, but overlooks repentance. It’s like the Ted Haggards who get caught in immorality but think they can reclaim their pulpit and collection plate after a few expressions of remorse. It’s like the many religious groups who found it expedient to cover up sexual crimes in their own community while exhorting victims to ‘forgive’. Anything can be used as spin in politics.

Todd Akin does not intend to change his actions or votes against a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, or even to prevent conception after rape. But he has compassion and will pray for those people. He feels real sorry for them.

No woman wants to think that they will ever be in a situation where this will be personal. But if we let law for women be made by men who don’t know and don’t care about reality, and who confuse condescension and pity with respect, we will abandon the women who need real help and the standard of medical care.

Bible Verses for Todd Akin

‘Gaffe’, how did this Frenchified word get into American politics? We needed a way to point out that someone smart who has to meet the public and give speeches for months of sleep-deprived campaigning will inevitably say something regrettable.

Here are the Merriam-Webster dictionary examples of ‘gaffe’…

He realized that he had committed an awful gaffe when he mispronounced her name.
committed a huge gaffe when she started drinking from the finger bowl

A cynic joked that a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. There are slips, Freudian slips, and entire detailed statements where it’s hard to interpret the words to be anything but what they mean. Congressman Todd Akin’s outrageous statement about rape, and the weird idea that an innocent woman can’t be made pregnant against her will isn’t an accident– it’s a belief with a history in our culture and roots in the more extreme corners of the religious right.

These kinds of beliefs provide cover for rapists who use intimidation and prey on the vulnerable. Tina Anderson was only 15 when she was raped and made pregnant by a much older man in her church.

Fifty-two-year-old Ernest Willis of Gilford apologised on Tuesday saying he was ‘sorry and ashamed for this thoughtless act of sexual misconduct.’
But he did not admit to forcibly raping the teenager.

Miss Anderson, now 29, told The Associated Press she felt vindicated.
She said she was never really believed that the sex was not consensual until a court found him guilty.

The teen was forced to face hundreds of churchgoers at Concord’s Trinity Baptist Church and say sorry for getting pregnant.

She said: ‘I felt completely humiliated. I felt like my life was over.’

The then-pastor of the New Hampshire church, Chuck Phelps, arranged for her to move in with a Baptist family in Colorado and place her infant daughter up for adoption.

She said she believed ‘for years’ what the church leaders had told her which was: ‘The rapes were her fault and she must learn to forgive and forget.’

During cross-examination Anderson lashed out at defence attorney Donna Brown for ‘badgering her’ about discrepancies in her recollection of the sequence of events that summer.

She said: ‘You cannot remember when you are 15-years-old and scared out of your mind. It doesn’t mean I was lying. I felt like my life was over.’

The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy 22 20 gives instructions on when a husband may have his wife stoned to death for being unable to prove she was a virgin on their wedding night. The penalty for getting raped in the city is death, because presumably the woman failed to call for help.

Imagine a woman forced to drink poison because her husband suspects she has been impure. Numbers 5 23:29

23 ‘The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall [k]wash them off into the water of bitterness. 24 Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her [l]and cause bitterness. 25 The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the Lord and bring it to the altar; 26 and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. 27 When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her [m]and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will [n]waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. 28 But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive [o]children.

29 ‘This is the law of jealousy: when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, 30 or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the Lord, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. 31 Moreover, the man will be free from [p]guilt, but that woman shall bear her [q]guilt.’”

Imagine the terror that woman would feel, drinking the cursed, dirty water. This is what is known as an ordeal. If she gets sick from the dirt or the power of suggestion– well that proves it. No mention of how many times a husband can demand this ritual, as often as the spirit of jealousy calls to him apparently.

The net is full of better writers than this one, once again explaining that rape is a crime. Brave women are coming out and talking about their own survival. This reminds me of the periodic emergence of Roman Polanski from his European bunker, forcing the woman who survived his assault as a child to once again ask the press to please go away. It should not be necessary to refute these bad ideas over and over, but here we are.

The Republican Party may be racing to distance itself from Todd Akin’s remarks, but it’s important to know that they are not his alone, and do come from an important part of the Republican base. He’s not the first to pass judgment on who is ‘really raped’ and who deserved it. His real gaffe was to expose the contradictions between the wing of the GOP that will frankly say that they would force a woman to continue a pregnancy caused by rape, and the much more moderate American public. When you breach the consistent position that abortion is forbidden in any circumstance, you open the door to circumstantial morality. If you believe, as I do, that life is circumstantial and that there are many hard decisions that belong to the people most affected, you can live with grey areas.

What is contemptible about Todd Akin’s statements is that he won’t face the reality that a rapist is not usually a deranged man jumping out of the bushes. That’s why Ernest Willis was able to prey on a child in a church and engage the pastor in covering up his crime.

And as Black Max at Daily Kos points out, if you believe the pseudo-science that a woman’s body has some contraceptive powers against rape, pregnancy proves that she was asking for it. In the old days, like about fifty years ago, the forces of law and order would just disappear the girls to reform school.

It’s only different now because so many brave women spoke truth in the face of personal destruction. Their witness stands against obstinate ignorance. Like they say, you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. If anyone presumes to represent the people, they have to face the consequences when they slander half the population.

AN AGENDA: Emergency contraception is the standard of medical care for victims of rape. Too often this standard is not kept because of a mistaken idea that emergency contraception is a form of abortion. The belief that any victim of a violent crime should have to prove themselves by showing visible injuries, and that only ‘forcible rape’ is real, and that a victim of ‘forcible rape’ can’t get pregnant supports the agenda of denying contraception even in the most dire circumstances.

Here’s more from CNN on Congressman Akin’s views…

Akin, a six-term U.S. congressman, touted his socially conservative values on the primary campaign trail.
He opposes abortion in all circumstances and has said he also opposes the morning after pill, which he equates to abortion.

Believing that no decent woman would ever find herself in an emergency room needing emergency contraception is necessary to make these views seem less than oppressive.

Standing With the Victim

Rei at Daily Kos says something that really needs to be said– A person can do lots of good things and still do something horrible. Julian Assange has won the admiration of many on the left for taking a stand against government secrecy with Wikileaks. At the same time, he is evading charges of rape.

It’s painful and disillusioning when someone we admire has another side. Or when someone who helped us wrongs someone else.

But not recognizing this aspect of human nature– the capability of doing both good and evil, allows the Jerry Sandusky’s to go undetected, and the Roman Polanskis to claim they are victims of conniving children.

A long article last year in the New York Times paints Assange as a complicated man with mixed motives. That article also links to other sources. How accurate the NYT is in the portrayal is under debate.

This is not to declare Assange innocent or guilty. He is doing his best to evade his day in court– which is where these charges belong. It’s not to weight whether his evasion is justified, given the political stakes.

It’s just a few words in support of Rei’s brave post, and in support of all those who are not believed because the perpetrator was above suspicion.

Originally posted on Therapy with Kiersten Marek, LICSW:

I wrote the following letter at the prompting of Stop it Now, a great organization that advocates for public education and action to prevent sexual abuse.  As a clinician who works with sexual abuse, it has been both horrifying and all too familiar to hear the testimony that has come out of this trial.  It seems clear that Sandusky’s actions were very pre-meditated and involved finding victims who would be less likely to speak out, such as the boys from The Second Mile.   This should be a wake-up call for all of us to be more vigilant and attentive to children, and to find ways to ask questions when things don’t seem right.  I was glad when the email came from Stop it Now, providing some samples of letters to send to the editors, and so this is mine.  I hope the Providence Journal publishes it.

Dear Editors,

View original 320 more words

Not Above the Law

This case needs a day in court–

Michael Appleton for The New York Times
A judge has rejected Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s claim of diplomatic immunity in his effort to dismiss a civil suit filed by a hotel housekeeper who claimed that the French leader had sexually assaulted her.

Justice Douglas E. McKeon of State Supreme Court in the Bronx characterized Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s attempt to claim diplomatic immunity as “his own version of a Hail Mary pass,” noting that he had resigned from his position as the head of the International Monetary Fund when the suit was filed.

Justice McKeon cited Nafissatou Diallo’s right to clear her name, and certainly the media trial was a poor substitute for justice.

Read the rest at The New York Times.

Talking Dirty to Ron Paul

Remember Dan Quayle? He was the vice-president for George Bush I who was cruelly and sometimes unfairly mocked in the press for being really dumb.

He did say things that were ignorant, and callous, too. Here is what he had to say about abortion in the case of rape…

“My position is that I understand from a medical situation, immediately after a rape is reported, that a woman normally, in fact, can go to the hospital and have a D and C. At that time… that is before the forming of a life. That is not anything to do with abortion.”

Vice President Dan Quayle explaining that Dilatation and Curettage, a form of abortion which occurs after fertilization, is not really abortion.
Reported in the Washington post, 11/03/88

Medically this is insane. A woman who has suffered a rape, possibly an exposure to a disease, will not stroll into the hospital to have her womb scraped out–(presumably to remove all the microscopic sperm that are striving to create the miracle of life.) In 1988 that woman would be lucky if she were even able to get competent and compassionate medical care at any random ER. The practice of the forensic exam for rape and medical treatment of victims is a recent development in women’s care.

You might not expect a politician whose greatest talent was looking good in a suit to be well-informed about these things, or especially concerned for victims of crime. But it really is frightening that Quayle’s statement was in the context of stating his opposition to legal abortion in all cases, and knowing that he had considerable power to influence policy that affects women’s lives. And knowing that he was so callously disinterested in those women that he never even bothered to find out what happens to a rape victim who seeks emergency help.

Legal abortion remains controversial. There are a range of opinions on when, or whether, it might be necessary for a woman to terminate a pregnancy. Surely an obstetrician, a man who puts his experience as a doctor front and forward as a reason to trust his judgement on matters related to the practice of health care in America– surely that man should speak with knowledge and compassion. Surely his experience in caring for thousands of women would put a face on the reality of sexual assault. Sadly, this crime is so common that anyone who is dedicated to women’s health has heard survivor stories.

Instead, Dr. Ron Paul shows his disinterest in the reality of women’s lives, in current practice for care of crime victims, his judgementalness and lack of curiosity or willingness to look beyond the rigid thinking he has shown on this issue.

In an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Ron Paul echoes Dan Quayle.

He says that ‘if it’s honest rape’ a woman should go ‘immediately to the ER to get a shot of estrogen. An hour or a day after, you have no medical or legal problem.’ When Piers Morgan asks Ron Paul what happens if the victim is ashamed or unable to get help and shows up days or weeks later, Paul dodges the question and goes into a rant about women demanding abortions of late-term pregnancies.

I will post a transcript when one becomes available.

Just for the record, ‘a shot of estrogen’ is not the current standard of care for a rape victim. The infamous ‘morning after’ pill is what is given. The rape exam can be done up to 4 days after the assault, though the chance of getting DNA evidence decreases with time. Medical care for a woman who has been injured, fears a sexually transmitted disease, or an unwanted pregnancy can be done later.

Ron Paul seems to be saying that if you can’t prove sperm met egg, it’s okay. He also says, ‘if it’s honest rape’. Who will be the judge of that? Anyone who has worked with victims of crime– any crime, knows that the story can be confused, contradictory and sordid. Should the rape exam include an inquisition as to whether the victim has a right to treatment at all?

We’re almost thirty years on, and still a man presumes to make policy for women’s lives– displaying a mistrust of women’s honesty, and a disinterest in the dirty details of what happens in the real world.

Follow this link for the standard of care for sexual assault survivors.

Follow this link for information about Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) , a nursing specialty instituted because doctors were unable to provide the sensitive, meticulous and time-consuming care needed by victims who come to the ER.

Any time a rapist is brought to justice by DNA evidence we should thank the SANE nurses who give respectful care to all victims. We should thank the women, physicians and nurses, who created this nursing specialty to help women to find care and healing.


[I wanted to write about some very dark things, responding to recent stories in the press about rape and child abuse. Joe Paterno's story provides context, but a dilemma. Piling on an 85 year old man is unseemly, so is glossing over the damage he did by allowing a coverup and abandoning the children he should have protected. Readers, I do not intend to excuse anything that was done at Penn State or in other institutions that value their reputation more than their integrity.]

Coach Joe Paterno has passed. This should have been a semi-private bereavement for sports lovers and the community of Penn State, but this revered elderly man was undone in his last days by unspoken pacts not honored and a foundation of lies that crumbled under his feet. He made headlines, not for praise but for notoriety.

Nothing makes sense out of context. In the context of the old school that formed him, Joe Paterno could have calculated the cost of taking his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, to the law, and found it better to write off the injured boys and their families as a loss. Too bad. He could not predict that the bill would come due with interest.

This awful case gives support to the convention of keeping sexual assault accusers anonymous– after Paterno stepped down violence broke out at Penn State

Penn State University has had a few destructive riots since the 1990s that have resulted in thousands of dollars in damage and several arrests.

But none has been as destructive or consequential as the one Nov. 9 following the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno.

Thirty-eight people have been charged with participating in destructive behavior, and seven more arrests are pending, police said.

And later, the adults had their say…

BRADY: President Erickson referred questions about Paterno’s firing to the board of trustees, which issued a statement Thursday. It said trustees unanimously decided letting the coach go was in the best interest of the university.

That didn’t go over well at another meeting in the same hotel last night. Downstairs, a group of alumni who want to get rid of the entire board of trustees held a competing conversation. Former Penn State and pro football player Franco Harris responded to the board’s statement that it acted in the best interest of the university.

FRANCO HARRIS: They think that we are that dumb. That’s exactly what they said two months ago and they still want us to swallow that.

I heard that broadcast, the alumni sounded outraged that this mess was interfering with their football.

When the kids are trashing news vans and the adults are demanding a purge, you don’t want to be caught alone after dark…

Penn State says Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who saw the alleged 2002 incident involving Sandusky and a young boy, will not be at Saturday’s football game because of “multiple threats.”

It’s fortunate that the young men who allege that Sandusky abused them haven’t had to face the mob.

Penn State suffered a violation, and the community may feel disgust and rage– either at the perpetrators or the victims for disturbing the peace. They feel hurt and aggrieved.

But for the victims and their families, there is uncountable loss. For them it is a grief like a bereavement. The children suffer a violation of their innocence, the parents will forever question why they so misplaced their trust. That poor and disadvantaged children are targeted for this kind of abuse just adds to the awfulness of the crime. And the rapist is a nice guy, who everyone likes, and no one would listen to a word against him. Imagine a child in the hell a perverse adult could create– with no way out and on one who can protect them.

If they choose to speak out in court, we will hear their side of the story. Perhaps then we will have to acknowledge how destructive this kind of crime is.

Three authors this month have published dispatches from the gates of hell.

Margaret Atwood’s short story, ‘Stone Mattress’ is described by the author as a crime story. A woman calculates whether she can get away with murder. Atwood’s fictional rapist, a rich boy who lured the woman years ago to what was supposed to be a prom date, but was a setup for a gang rape, is a character so vile that– Margaret, I would have kept him alive a bit longer. Perhaps long enough to see his ship disappearing over the horizon as he waves unseen on the shore while night falls and the wolves howl behind the next rise. Just a suggestion.

Dorri Olds, in the New York Times 1/15/12 has an essay, ‘Defriending My Rapist.’ This story is a horrific echo of Atwoods fiction, taking place maybe 20 years later, in the 70’s. In this memoir the same dynamic is in play. A thirteen year old girl, excited to be included with the cool kids, is lured into the woods and gang-raped. She has no more power to make sense of this crime or seek justice than Atwood’s fictional protagonist. Years later she gets a ‘friend’ invitation on Facebook. The rapist is just a regular guy. She sends an oblique message that she hasn’t forgotten what they did to her. Is there a person with a conscience to read it? What does that man think when he looks at his own children?

In the same issue of The Times,
Dr. H. Lee Kagan writes
about providing emergency care to a rape victim in Haiti. Dr. Kagan delegates the rape exam to a nurse who is competent but gives no word of comfort. The victim has no other choice than to go back to the camp where her attackers may find her. There is no evidence taken or hope of justice.

If you think that can’t happen here, think of Dorri Olds having to go back to school and face those boys. Look at the violence and outrage at Penn State and imagine why a ten year old boy would have no safe place to go. It does not excuse criminals to say they act within a culture that shelters and allows them to rationalize their crimes– rather it’s an indictment of the culture.

There are people who are psychopaths, who lack a conscience, who sit in solitude inventing new ways to damage the world. But they are not so common. More common are those who go along to get along. Those who who only take out their rage on someone who’s asking for it. Regular guys.

That’s the way grown men convince themselves not to call the cops when one of them is caught raping a boy. Without the groupthink, rapists and child abusers would have a harder time hiding in plain sight.

If Jerry Sandusky feels any remorse for sending Joe Paterno to his grave in scandal he should. If Joe Paterno felt remorse for not protecting those children, he is beyond suffering now and beyond justice. The young men will have to live with the memories of what was done to them. What could we do to protect other children from abuse?

Day One RI has programs for all ages to teach children and young people how to recognize and respond to the pressures and social conditions that lead to abuse.

If you google ‘men against rape’ a page of sites come up. Men Can Stop Rape has good teaching materials and ideas for what young men can do to recognize and stop violence.

The abuse at Penn State is not an isolated act of criminal genius. It’s a sad story too often told when an organization is more invested in its image than in serving the children and youth they claim to exist for. It’s the kind of abuse that can happen when some people are deemed to be a little less important, expendable, not to be believed.

This truth-telling is very painful. It damages our sense of safety. It’s ugly.
But worse is to require victims to suffer in silence so that the rest of us can keep our illusions. In this imperfect world, the best we can do is to try to let children know that they are no less valuable than anyone else, and that if they are wronged they will be believed. And to value justice more than complacency, because we all might need a defender some day.