Rape is only really rape if it involves force. So says the new House Republican majority as it now moves to change abortion law.
For years, federal laws restricting the use of government funds to pay for abortions have included exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. (Another exemption covers pregnancies that could endanger the life of the woman.) But the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” a bill with 173 mostly Republican co-sponsors that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has dubbed a top priority in the new Congress, contains a provision that would rewrite the rules to limit drastically the definition of rape and incest in these cases.
Let’s outline, one more time, the reasons why requiring “force” as a part of legally defined rape is a bad idea, hey? Because there are many. And let’s skip right past the part where many rapes would no longer be defined as such (I’m… really not sure how you redefine “incest”) and into the implications of proving that someone forcibly raped you.
For one, you have to prove force. Which sounds reasonable! But let’s talk about what it actually means. Used to be, you couldn’t have your rape legally defined as such until you could prove that (a) force occurred, and (b) you “sufficiently resisted” your attacker. So, for example, if someone attempted to rape you, you’d have to physically fight that person off, and lose the fight, and prove that you had fought and lost. Physically fighting someone off, if they want to hurt you, sure seems like a good idea!
Unless, you know. They have a knife. Or a gun. Or, even if they don’t: You have to get in a fistfight, basically, and you are probably a woman, and he’s probably a man, and this person is (by definition — you have to have lost the fistfight, remember) going to have to beat you soundly enough to subdue you. And this person is already capable of rape; it’s not a bar fight, it’s a fight with someone who already has very little in the way of inhibitions, regarding physical harm, and who could very plausibly kill you or leave you maimed for life.
I don’t think the Republicans are actively advocating the “if she didn’t get beaten up or mutilated, she didn’t get raped” standard, but it is part of what’s going on: “Proving” force probably requires proving that you were physically injured in some way. In rape cases which did involve force, where that was part of the victim’s testimony, people have tried to invalidate that by proving that the force somehow wasn’t enough to constitute rape.
One illustrative example: There was a rape case where a woman was physically thrown onto a mattress by her assailant, and in order to “prove” that physically forcing someone onto a mattress was not force, the defendant had to somehow argue that she wasn’t thrown hard enough. The question was raised of whether she bounced, when she hit the mattress. And in this case, the fact that the woman said “no” had already been admitted by the accused. The “no” wasn’t enough, and the fact that she was thrown onto the mattress wasn’t enough: She had to bounce off the mattress, for this to constitute either “rape” or “force.” The “did she bounce” standard — that is, essentially, what we’re requiring when we require “force” in order to define rape.
That particular rapist walked free. He was initially convicted, but the case was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. On the basis of “did she bounce.” And this happened in 1994.
Probably not all of this is strictly relevant to the matter at hand, which is allowing abortion funding, but it’s something to keep in mind around the idea that “force” must constitute a part of rape; women are silent and compliant so as to survive the encounters, a lot of the time, which is why coercion (or age difference) are valid. If we require “force,” we require women to endanger themselves more, we make rape harder to prosecute, and, yes, as a delightful side effect, we end up ruling out the majority of actual rapes.
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”—Henry David Thoreau (Walden: Or, Life in the Woods)