In a “surprise” press conference today, President Obama stated:

“Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we are talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women.”

While I appreciate President Obama’s comments, I couldn’t help but wonder why the President of the United States of America needed, in 2012, to clear up any misunderstandings about what constitutes rape. I know that rape myths permeate many facets of our culture, but was the debate so hotly contested that we needed the President to step in and clear things up? Apparently.
On Sunday, Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri, said he is pro-life in all circumstances because rape rarely leads to pregnancy. Akin stated:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare…If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

This statement horrifies me for two reasons. First, legitimate rape? What does Akin define as “legitimate”? I have never heard someone define the legitimacy of another form of violence (for example, legitimate stabbing or legitimate homicide). Why do we, as a nation and as a culture insist on questioning whether or not a “real” rape occurred? What do we stand to lose by admitting that  rape has been perpetrated against a victim?
Second, “that whole thing”? “That whole thing” Akin is referring to is the female reproductive system. If he feels comfortable dictating my rights to control my reproductive system, he should at least know the anatomical terms and refer to them as such.
I have been getting increasingly frustrated as I read about legislators and influential decision makers in our country who try to minimize the experience of victims, and reframe rape as some mishap that should be downplayed. But as frustrated as I am, I also see this as a tremendous opportunity to provide education to elected officials and serve as a resource to them as they work to generate policies that influence rape crisis center and sexual assault survivors. This is the time to contact your elected official and let your voice be heard. You can provide fact sheets, statistics from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, or about the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization.
What steps will you take to raise awareness, support survivors, and educate legislators?