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10 Crucial Facts About Rape Kits -- True Even in Texas

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It's that time of the year again. The one where we have to say out loud that facts are empirically verifiable things that make sentences true. Even when women's endlessly magical bodies and rape are involved.   Just when I thought nothing could get more ridiculous than last week's "masturbating male fetus" rights argument to justify extreme anti-abortion rhetoric, this happened: Conservative Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg explained that, "In the emergency room they have what's called rape kits where a woman can get cleaned out." She said this while participating in an anti-abortion debate in the Texas legislature this weekend. This was how she objected to proposed rape and incest exemptions to one of the most restrictive anti-abortion positions in the nation. 

In a laudably restrained understatement, Think Progress' Annie-Rose Strasser explained earlier today that Laubenberg "betrayed a woeful lack of information."

My instinct when I first thought about what Laubenberg's statement meant was, "How is it possible for a person to so willfully ignore reality?" Then, I was tempted to assume that the shallow end of this particular Texas pool was so densely populated as to make swimming impossible. However, I am afraid, actually, that many people don't know what a rape kit is.

No one wants to think about rape kits. What they are. Why we need so many of them. How they work. What to expect. Why having your body tested for evidence of a crime feels like another violation. In the U.S., 1 in 5 girls and women in this country are raped and 1 in 77 boys and men. Every minute 24 people are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in this country.

I don't want to think about rape kits, but, rape kits are important and people making laws that affect our bodies and lives should be required to get their facts straight... like these:

  • A rape kit is a forensic tool used to collect evidence of sexual assault.
  • A rape kit is not an abortion.
  • A rape kit does not "clean out" a woman. Machines get cleaned out. Human beings don't.
  • A rape kit is used during a hospital examination, hopefully conducted by a trained member of a sexual assault response team (SART). The process includes the collection of DNA evidence like hair, semen, saliva taken from the victim's skin, nails, clothing, and genitals. This exam includes oral and rectal exams.
  • As part of the collection of evidence, and the medical exam -- not performed by untrained legislators -- a doctor will also order STD testing and provide a morning after pill to prevent pregnancy. It always bears repeating that the morning after pill is not an abortion in a pill.
  • While difficult, frightening and re-traumatizing for most people who have just experienced rape and assault, collection of rape kit evidence is crucially important to the successful prosecution of rapists.
  • Rape kit evidence collection is important, but useless unless the kits are tested. Testing rape kits stops predatory rapists from raping again.
  • We don't take rape seriously.  There are 400,000 untested rape kits languishing in evidence rooms around the United States. There are 20,000 UNTESTED rape kits in Texas alone. Does this mean that 20,000 women's abortions are waiting to happen in sealed boxes across the state? No.
  • A rape kit is not a D and C, which is short for dilation and curettage, a medical procedure conducted by trained medical professionals on behalf of patients, all women, who need to end pregnancies. I know, a French, word. It's ok. D and Cs are, however, performed in Texas, too, usually when a woman is facing a nonviable pregnancy.
  • A rape kit does not cause, prevent or end a pregnancy. Doctors, those are people who go to school to study medicine and biology, can back me up on this.
  • BONUS FACT:  We live in what is called a "rape-prone" society. Not all humans do.

    As long as people like Laubenberg, Michael Burgess of masturbating male fetus fame, and Rick Perry, continue to get voted into power we have to think about rape kits.  Does that sound like I'm blaming them for rape? I'm not. I am, however, blaming them and people like them for predatory rapists attacking people with impunity when we can stop them, and for the fact that women will have even less control to do something about it when they are raped.

    Earlier this year, a New York Times article about the rape kit backlog, concluded that one of the reasons this was the case was because, among other things, of "a common law enforcement philosophy that testing rape kits was useful only if a stranger had committed the assault." This would be a RAPE MYTH, like the one repeated by Laubenberg and so many others in power, regarding women and their bodies. These myths dominate conservative legislative agendas regarding women's rights.

    Rights activists in Texas, more than 800 of whom lined the halls of the Texas Capitol this weekend, fight a continuous battle for their basic human rights.  This weekend, they were joined by people from around the country, who traveled to Texas and supported them in other ways.  I realize that saying American women experience human rights violations isn't popular because of the Misogynists' Theory of Women's Rights Relativity: women "here" shouldn't complain, because they aren't as badly off as "those women" "over there."  Tell that to women like those in Texas, and more than 20 other states and the District of Columbia in the next few months, or maybe the 32,000 American girls and women, impregnated annually against their wills, whose rapists have the right to sue for visitation and custody rights.  I will keep writing that sentence until it is no longer true. Like in the fact-based sense of "true."

    The law in Texas, if passed, will ban abortion after 20 weeks and will probably result in the shutting down of 37 out of 42 women's health care clinics in Texas. Many women and families will suffer as a result of grossly uninformed, pro-natalist and patriarchal ideas. This hard-fought majority Republican vote wasn't surprising, just sad and depressing. Can't we could just pass laws that mandate that anyone voted into a legislature has to pass a fifth grade biology test before taking office?   Of course, in Texas, that might be even worse since last year the GOP platform banned teaching children "critical thinking."

    If you are concerned that your representatives are unclear about what rape kits are and how they work, send them to the National Sexual Assault Resource Center's information site. Another important resource is End The Backlog. But really, please stop electing these people.  There is no other excuse for this willful and ignorant abuse of power.