How Rape Is Defined Around The World: Todd Akin's Comment, Julian Assange's Case Raise Questions Over Definition

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"Rape is rape."

That's what President Barack Obama said in response to the "legitimate rape" comment that landed Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) in hot water this week.

On Sunday, Akin, who is running for Senate in Missouri, tried to justify his extreme anti-abortion stance by arguing during an interview with KTVI-TV that "legitimate rape" does not cause pregnancy.

The following day, conservative talk show host Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association expressed his "absolute" support of Akin's view, saying trauma from a “real, genuine rape, a case of forcible rape” would make it "difficult" for a woman to conceive a child.

Despite Fischer's support, Akin -- amid an onslaught of criticism -- soon apologized and retracted his comment.

Akin, however, is not the only politician who has come under fire recently for qualifying (and some say, "minimizing") the definition of the word "rape."

On the other side of the Atlantic, British Member of Parliament George Galloway sparked outrage this week with his comments on the Julian Assange sexual assault case.

Assange is currently residing in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been granted political asylum. The WikiLeaks founder is making a desperate attempt to avoid being sent from England to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning on suspicion of rape, unlawful coercion and two cases of sexual molestation.

The allegations were made by two women whom Assange met in Sweden in August 2010. One of the women claims she was asleep and unconscious when Assange allegedly raped her. The other woman claims that she had consented to sex with Assange if a condom was used. However, she alleges that Assange both sexually molested her and committed "unlawful coercion" by having sex with her without a condom.

In a video podcast on Monday, Galloway
claimed that the allegations against Assange "don't constitute rape," but could instead be seen as "bad sexual etiquette."

Galloway said:

Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion. Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them. It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, 'Do you mind if I do it again?' It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.

Galloway's comments and Assange's alleged sex crimes have "ignited bitter arguments in Britain over perceptions of rape," according to Reuters.

While some of Assange's supporters have claimed the allegations do not constitute rape under English law, others say that the political issues surrounding his case should not be used to diminish the severity of the accusations against him.

"[This controversy around the Julian Assange case] is conflating issues around freedom of speech with debates about what constitutes violence against women. Let me be clear, as a politician and as a woman. Rape occurs when a woman has not consented to sex. George Galloway’s comments on what constitutes rape are deeply disappointing and wrong," British politician Salma Yaqoob, who is the leader of Galloway's political party, wrote on her website.

In an opinion piece on Akin and Galloway, journalist Louise Mensch of Australia's Canberra Times compared the two politicians' comments.

"On both sides of the Atlantic, from the left and the right, male politicians and two-bit 'public figures' have made common cause on rape. Not to condemn it, or to pledge tougher action in policing it; but to minimize and dismiss it as a crime," she wrote.

"Akin makes Galloway's point; that there is true rape and something less," she added.

What Mensch failed to mention, however, is that the legal definition of rape is not always the same around the world -- a difference that can often cause confusion when these conversations arise.

In Sweden, for example, there are three categories of rape -- gross, ordinary and minor (Assange is being charged with minor, or third-degree, rape) -- and in the United States, where there is no national rape law, there are some states that require evidence of "forcible compulsion" before it can be called rape.

In fact, when commenting on the Assange case this week, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told reporters that allegations against the WikiLeaks founder "would not, in any case, be considered a felony in Latin American [sic]."

So, even though Obama was right in saying that "rape is rape," it is still useful to note the legal nuances and definitions between U.S. states and countries around the world.

To learn more about rape laws in the U.S., England and Wales, Sweden and Canada, click through this slideshow:

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