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Todd Akin's Remarks: The Broader Meaning

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Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin's vile remarks about "legitimate rape" and women's natural resistance to pregnancy from forcible intercourse disturbingly parallel the views of many in law enforcement and recall the sorry history of the crime of rape in American jurisprudence.

The notion of "legitimate rape" -- or "real rape," as police often refer to it -- is often bandied about by police officers and even some prosecutors to distinguish four loosely defined classifications of rape accusations. In descending order of "legitimacy," the belief goes, they are: "real" rapes in which depraved perpetrators spring from bushes or climb through bedroom windows to victimize our wives and sisters; "date rape" in which the alleged victim assumed the risk by consenting to the date; "deserved" rape, as in "she-got-what-was-coming-to-her," for dressing "provocatively," visiting a seedy bar, traversing a dangerous street, or being flirtatious; and utterly false accusations of rape conjured up to explain to boyfriends or husbands discovered acts of infidelity, or to punish partners when love turns to loathing.

Although police departments have improved markedly in the handling of rape accusations over the last three decades, the tendency to blame the victims or turn a blind eye to violence against women persists within these bastions of machismo and, as Akin's remarks and his remaining support attest, within our society.

While the bizarre myth of a biological defense against pregnancy from rape has not entered the discussion of the crime of rape, similarly outrageous claims have masqueraded as medical fact in the evolution of the elements of the offense in American jurisprudence. Marching in lockstep with the proponents of Freud who posited a tendency of women to fantasize rape, predominantly male legislatures have adopted the requirement that a rape victim's testimony be independently corroborated by other evidence. That requirement, nearly nonexistent outside of a crime usually committed by men against women, ensures that a man cannot be convicted of a crime as serious as rape solely on the testimony of a female victim. A corroboration requirement for any other heinous offense, be it kidnapping or arson or armed robbery, would be an unthinkable affront to the victims.

Akin's sponsorship, along with Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, of a bill to limit the definition of rape-intrinsically a crime of force and violence-to instances of "forcible rape" is reminiscent of another unfortunate chapter in the evolution of the offense. The requirement that the victim of a rape, despite the attendant dangers, must have "resisted to the utmost" discounted the credibility of women. If the victim didn't fight back, the act wasn't sufficiently forcible in the eyes of the law. The "prompt-outcry" requirement, -- the rule that the victim of rape must report the crime within a relatively brief period of time, -- was yet another indignity aimed at women.

As with the medieval belief that divine intervention would assure justice in trial by battle and ordeal, Akin and his ilk proclaim a natural defense against pregnancy from rape that assures that an absolute ban on abortion is just.

Akin, however, is not the real problem, so his seemingly inevitable exit from the national scene is not the solution. Indeed, his "misspoken" remarks, as he now calls them, are yet another sore reminder of the distance we have yet to travel -- inside and outside of the law and law enforcement -- in confronting insensitivity to violence against women.

This piece appears in Issue 12/13 of our FREE new weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store.