It's been over a week since your debate comments. The content of the news cycle has quickly moved onto other subject matters. Your statement will be forgotten until the next round of commentary surfaces on what the laws should be like for rape survivors. But for me and other survivors like myself, your words are like salt in an open wound.
I'm unable to fully breathe a sigh of relief that your comments aren't dominating the headlines today. I am on guard against the next ignorant statement or proposed legislation that will likely surface to make life harder for rape survivors. I am still picking up the pieces from the nightmare that your comments have triggered. Collectively, we survivors, hope to keep those fragile pieces together as long as possible. At any moment, a lawmaker may say something cruel about rape victims, rape pregnancies, and rape survivor's decisions. It is unlikely we will find a long term peace.
Survivors deal with these "triggers" every day. Those triggers could be a smell, a street corner, a phrase, the tone of someone's voice, a person who resembles our assailant, or a television show that brings horrific memories flooding back to us. Once we are raped and are lucky enough to survive and continue our lives, we are still haunted. Triggers never stop. We just learn to cope with them and try to live life in spite of them. While television shows and street corners can be avoided, this election cycle has been hard for us to shut out. The recent political conversation on rape has been endless, callous, misogynistic, and loud.
Moreover, it has illuminated the prospect of very frightening legislation. Those of us who have tried to report our rapes we know the power of bad or inadequate legislation. The law has often been on our assailant's side instead of on ours. We have to pay attention to the details and loopholes in laws. For they have ruled our lives in the minutes, hours, and even years following the rape.
Many of our rapists have walked free due to the nature of our legal system. We know the flaws, we know the holes, and we know how bad things can get. We don't ask how unjust things can happen any more; we know that they do. We have supersonic hearing when it comes to this sort of thing. A sinister example of this is that the Violence Against Women Act has yet to be re-authorized by Congress. The GOP vice presidential nominee voted against it. So, we really have the potential for very few federal legal protections in a short while.
Recently, Rick Berg from North Dakota said he supports life sentences in jail for rape survivors seeking abortion. If that were to become law, it is possible that rapists could walk free (less than 2 percent of rapes lead to convictions) and the rape survivor who sought abortion could end up in jail for life. That is the potential reality that we are looking at as survivors. That is immoral. That is not fair. That is not just.
As we try to recover in a world and a country that is very hostile to rape survivors, words like yours make healing much harder. To help you understand the gravity of a few short phrases, it may help to think of it another way. Imagine how a war veteran feels when they come home and they hear a loud noise. Their PTSD may trigger bad memories and their nervous systems will react strongly. It might feel to them like they are thrust back in the war zone even though they are safely home on their couch.
That was what your comment was to any rape survivor who heard it. It was another loud and terrifying noise that brings rape survivors like me back into the war zone. That would be the war zone of being raped, seeking justice, or finding ourselves pregnant from someone who tried to kill us. It has made our nervous systems relive the attack, relive the denials of justice, relive the trauma, relive the pregnancy scares, the actual pregnancies, the rapists exercising their fatherhood rights (as rapists have custody rights in 31 states). It has reminded us of rapists making our lives an ongoing, never-ending hell.
However, your comment was more than that. It was a symptom of a growing epidemic of blaming the victim for rape. The barrage of disrespectful attention that rape survivors have painfully endured has not let up. This onslaught started in early 2011 when Paul Ryan used the phrase "forcible rape" as opposed to not forcible. Had this badly worded phrasing been kept in the bill it was in, the definition of rape could have changed at the federal level. Rapes like mine and many others (including minor children who are raped) may not have legally been considered rape survivors anymore. For the record, victims tend to cooperate with assailants when they are frightened, force is not always visible. Just a few poor words by careless and ideological members of Congress may have had dire consequences for my life and many other women and children around the country.
I'm recapping this to give you sense of context for your comments. I am asking you to understand the weight behind a few words. Consider what the predecessors in your party have been publicly saying for nearly two years. Consider the current climate for rape survivors. Consider how we might be feeling after comments from politicians ignorant of the realities of rape. These comments come from Joe Walsh, Todd Akin, Steve King, Pete DeGraaf, Roger Rivard, Paul Ryan, Rick Scott, Nikki Haley, Rick Berg and more. Instead of those politicians working to stop heinous crimes, they have parsed, disrespected, bullied, cut support, and humiliated survivors at a state and national level.
With the disproportionate amount of negative attention that we have received, one would think that some members of your party blame rape survivors for the recession. Let me also share that rapes have increased during the recession while funding to rape crisis centers has decreased. Police departments have been too financially strapped to fully deal with cases, rape kits are backlogged, girls are not being taken to crisis centers because cops can't work overtime, rape crisis centers have been unable to meet the demand for help, and more.
The list is alarming and endless.
We are falling through the cracks, we are suffering, we are hurting, and we are scared. We deserve better from our legislators and those running for public office.
I hope this is the last gasp of insensitive comments regarding the legitimacy of our rapes, the quantification of our rapes, and dictations of how to handle a pregnancy from our rapist.
This is the clear and present fear that survivors are acutely aware of when this sort of dialogue occurs. The unthinkable has already happened to us. Many of us were treated like criminals by the justice system, perhaps shamed by friends, family, or loved ones, or society at large. We know the darkness that is possible. So we don't take comments like yours lightly because we know what is like to be treated as the criminal for a crime that happened to us. We know that it is next to impossible to prove in the court of law, that the public has a narrow scope of what they think rape is, and we have seen our assailants acquitted. Politicians who are supposed to have the interest of protecting us would rather have a theological argument over the pregnancy resulting in rape instead of how to stop that very pregnancy and rape from occurring.
I'm asking you to save your beliefs for church and forums where rape survivors can't be traumatized and humiliated by your comments. Don't put your beliefs on the women who have endured things you could not possibly fathom. If you really understood, you would not have said what you did. However, I'd like to believe you have the capacity to empathize because you said that you grappled with your decision. I appreciate you having the respect to at least label your opinion as a struggle which leads me to the hopeful conclusion that you gave it some real thought. I appreciated you acknowledging rape as a barbaric act as opposed to, Paul Ryan, (the running mate of one of your most prominent supporters) who referred to rape as a "method of conception."
I'm asking you to revisit this grappling and to revisit your manner of speech. I'm pleading with you to spend the middle of the night volunteering at a rape crisis center. I'm asking you to see the eyes of a terrified girl who is in shock. I'm asking you to give a blanket and a teddy bear to a young woman who can't bring her clothes home with her because they now have to go to a forensic lab. I'm asking you to help give her the medicine she may have to take because she may have a disease now. I'm asking you to comfort a woman who may have been drugged, who may have been held at gunpoint, at knifepoint, or who may have been tricked into violation. I'm asking you to see the woman's face frightened with tears as she takes a pregnancy test at a hospital waiting to see if she is pregnant from a person who tried to murder her. I'm asking you to talk to a woman who may desperately want a baby from her husband but is terrified she is pregnant from her would-be killer instead. I'm asking you to sit down with sex crimes detectives and witness how overloaded with cases they are. I'm asking you to talk with District Attorneys that won't file charges against the assailant because of fears of losing a case. I'm asking you to talk to women who have had abortions from rape and why they had to do that so they could recover. Or maybe you should talk to women who chose to keep the pregnancy, understand why they needed to do that, and understand why they would never judge someone who couldn't.
I'm asking you to walk a mile in our shoes instead of dictate how we walk in them. I'm asking you to stop imposing your view of God's will on women like myself. Leave that to us, our relationship with God, and to our conscience. Discuss this at your church but in a public forum understand the trauma that language like yours ignites. After doing that, maybe you will see how this sort of thing is not kind to discuss in the manner you did.
I doubt there is a way to change your mind or vice versa. That is not the nature of this letter. Rather, it is to bring you to a sober understanding of the power behind a few simple words. It is to inform you of the frightening lens that those words hold up to traumatized rape survivors every time that language is used.
If you really are pro-life, spend your time, energy, and speech stopping rape and protecting the women and girls who are already on this earth. Then there will be no pregnancies from rape to argue about. And then this subject will not have to brutalize the women of this country any more.
I appreciate you recognizing rape as an act of brutality. But, you must understand that reliving rape is also brutal. Your comments on God's will were brutal because they made us relive our rapes. Those comments replayed those horrific few days when I thought my first chance to have a baby with someone I love had been stolen from me by my rapist. Your desire to score theological points was misguided because it was on the emotional backs of victims.
On behalf of myself and countless women who were unfortunate enough to hear your interpretation of God's will last week, I ask you to inform yourself better before you speak.