Dear John: On Redefining Rape

Have you heard about H.R. 3, the proposed bill that will further limit funding for abortions? Maybe you have noticed the #DearJohn activity on Twitter in protest. So why should Treating Trauma readers care about this? Why is this significant for trauma survivors?

Abortion is a controversial issue. No matter what you personally believe about the ethics of abortion, if you care about rape victim rights (or the rights of women in general for that matter) you may want to learn more about the impact of this proposal. A compromise between the opposing factions has existed for years in which abortions are not federally funded, with certain exceptions: rape, incest, and danger to the mother’s life. Those in favor of H.R. 3 want to further limit covered abortions by qualifying rape and incest. Rape must be “forcible” and incest must occur before 18. One major concern is how this may further contribute to our cultural minimization and misconceptions regarding rape and incest in general. The risk here is that a precedent could be set, redefining rape and incest overall.

By naming a category of rape “forcible rape” it opens the door to make distinctions about what kinds of rape matter, what kinds of rape are valid. This may be an issue a rape survivor struggles with anyway given that we all live in a culture that is keen on victim blaming. Many still believe the myth of “stranger danger”, when the reality is that most rapists know their victims and that 70% of rapes are “non-forcible.”. Assault survivors often struggle with understanding and defining their own experiences as a result. If one’s experience is also being trivialized institutionally, far fewer survivors are likely to seek needed help of any kind, not just abortions. That any of our elected officials would support such measures (and 173 are) is incredibly problematic. Actually, it is astonishing and enraging. Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown (and force behind the #DearJohn Twitter campaign) elaborates on who will be harmed if such a law is enacted:

Under this new bill, the only rape survivors who would be able to receive funding would be those who were able to prove that their rapes involved “force.” If your rapist drugged you, intoxicated you, or raped you while you were unconscious, you don’t get coverage. If your rapist used coercion, you don’t get coverage. If this is a case of statutory rape — that is, if you are a thirteen-year-old child, raped by someone outside of your family — you don’t get coverage. If you’re an incest survivor over the age of eighteen — if, say, years of abuse only culminated in a pregnancy after your nineteenth birthday — you just don’t get coverage. And if you live in a state that doesn’t distinguish “forcible rape” from “rape,” you might not qualify, meaning that no matter what the circumstances of your assault were, well, sorry: You might not get coverage.

Women (and men and transgender people) who are raped need to know that their experience matters. Incest that continues into adulthood can happen, given the dynamics of power and control, and it is incest. Acquaintance rape is rape. Coerced rape is rape.  Rape that occurs when you are drugged, drunk or unconscious is rape.  Sex without consent is rape. Rape is rape.

Before you write this off as politics as usual or not impacting you because you do not rely on federally funded health care, consider also how this may impact insurance coverage for abortions in general. And more importantly consider the glaringly apparent classism and misogyny behind H.R. 3. What it really boils down to greater government control of women’s bodies and their ability to make choices about their own health and family planning, especially for those with the least economic resources.

Want to do something?

Sign the Petition to Stop Redefining Rape

Join the Twitter #DearJohn campaign

Read more about Redefining Rape–A list of resources related to the #DearJohn campaign

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This entry was posted in Activism, Health, Mental Health, Psychologist, Rape, Trauma, Twitter and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dear John: On Redefining Rape

  1. Luckily, the Republicans are backing down on this issue, after the huge amount of emails and bad publicity they got for it.

  2. Pingback: Best Tweets for Trauma and PTSD Survivors « Third of a Lifetime

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