Belfast Telegraph

The men who add insult to injury to the victims of rape

By Fionola Meredith

Rape. It's a nasty, crude word for a nasty, crude act. The definition is quite simple: forcing a woman to have sex without her consent. There should be no qualifiers, no extenuating circumstances.

That's why it was so profoundly offensive when the Republican US Senate candidate, Todd Akin, recently referred to “legitimate rape”.

What? As opposed to the non-genuine sort? The soft and gentle kind, where the man didn't really mean it, but just wanted a cuddle?

Akin came out with this culpable idiocy when he was asked about his opposition to abortion, even in the case of rape.

He said: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Akin, like many of his fellow militant zealots on the religious Right, is clearly living in la-la land if he believes that women have the miraculous power to close off their bodies in this way. Does he think some sort of gynaecological portcullis comes down?

Perhaps it's not so surprising: if you're convinced that Noah accommodated tens of thousands of animals on board his ark, or that human beings saddled up dinosaurs and rode around on their backs, then your capacity for accepting myth, magic and allegory as scientific fact is prodigious.

It's not that much of a leap to then insist that the female reproductive system comes equipped with its own specialised border patrol force, licensed to kill.

Akin is following in a long, ignoble tradition of ignorant old men dictating what women can and cannot do with their own bodies.

But these remarks are so ludicrous and extreme that even his fellow arch-conservatives are uneasily backing away from him.

This makes him the perfect butt for liberal opprobrium. You could almost write the script: US redneck religious zealot makes shocking anti-abortion rape claim and (almost) the whole world flings its hands up in horror.

Rightly so, of course. Akin's comments are indefensible. But he's a clearly defined and thus very easy target for our justified wrath.

How about someone a little more complex? Take the case of Julian Assange, the Australian activist who is holed up in the Ecuador embassy in London in a desperate attempt to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face accusations of sexual assault.

Assange acts like some kind of persecuted Christ-like figure, the pure, living embodiment of free speech.

He aligns his own noble struggle with that of Russian feminist punks Pussy Riot and speaks heartrendingly about his children “who have been denied their father”. Is that a heavenly smell of roses in the air? A choir of angels hovering nearby?

Sanctimonious rubbish. The unfragrant reality is that Assange is wilfully dodging allegations of rape, not a Stalinesque show-trial.

His fan-girl supporters say that, if he's sent to Sweden, he will be extradited to the US and face prosecution for treason, but there is no sound evidence for this.

What's more, the reputations of the women who have made the allegations against Assange have been absolutely traduced across the internet. Assange's own legal team have described their actions as a “honey-trap”.

George Galloway, the self-regarding Leftist, who also happens to be Respect MP for Bradford West, claimed that the charges against Assange in Sweden amount to little more than “bad sexual etiquette”.

Disgracefully, former UK ambassador and Assange supporter Craig Murray actually named one of the alleged victims live on Newsnight. Murray was challenged by host Gavin Esler, who said: “You should not be naming a potential rape victim. Please do not do that on television.”

If Assange is innocent, as he says he is, he should go to Sweden and plead not guilty.

There is no honour in hiding away, behaving like a petulant martyr.

Unlike Todd Akin, bumbling around back in Missouri, not knowing one end of an ovary from the other, Julian Assange has actually been accused of serious sex-crimes. Akin is not accused of doing anything other than being a deluded mouthpiece for antediluvian medical ethics.

While Akin is universally vilified, Assange is held up as the victim of a worldwide witchhunt. These are dangerous, morally dubious double standards.

Yet the basic reality is simple: rape is rape is rape. There is no room for excuses, or caveats.

We owe it to the innumerable women who have suffered the brutal ignominy of rape to protect and enshrine this one fundamental principle.

Belfast Telegraph

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