An Open Letter to Rep. Todd Akin From Women of Color Activists

Rep. Akin, I and a few women of color activists have some information for you about the nature of rape and legitimacy. Since you draft laws that affect our bodies, we ask that you read every word.

By Akiba Solomon Aug 24, 2012

Dear Representative Akin:

If I had your home address, I would mail you this thank you note. I’m not sending it to your St. Louis senatorial campaign because I don’t consider this letter a political act, but an expression of personal gratitude.

Frankly, I’m relieved that you’ve revealed what you truly believe about how women’s bodies perform when they are being sexually violated. Thank you for admitting that you–a member of the House Science and Technology committee, an outspoken critic of Obamacare and a radical anti-choice lawmaker who has co-sponsored legislation that would redefine rape–have been relying on misogynist junk science. It’s good to know that you, a former board member of Missouri Right to Life and an elected official who speaks on the intricacies of conception, have been operating under the illusion that only "legitimate" rape leads to pregnancy.*

In case you don’t know by heart what you said on Sunday about outlawing abortion by any means necessary, let me remind you:

"It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, [rape resulting in pregnancy is] really rare," Akin said in an interview with KTVI-TV. "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

You’ve since apologized for "misspeaking," invoking your two daughters as evidence that you didn’t mean to call the 36,000 rape victims who become pregnant each year liars. But, like a jumbo flying roach running in circles after a blast of Raid, your belief in the preeminence of "forcible" rape just won’t go away. Not since Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut, has a self-described conservative really connected the dots between ignorance of women’s reproductive health and the fetal rights movement. So thanks for that.

Now, part of my job is to explain how race matters in a situation like this one. I’m going to start by sharing what Charon Asetoyer, director of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center told me about you:

Talk about re-victimizing the victim! Rep. Todd Akin wrote the book. Somehow in his little conservative mind he must think that some rapes are ‘legitimate’ and some are not legitimate. I’ve got news for him: Rape is rape. It is people like him that think of reasons to justify rape, of reasons why they do not have to be held accountable for their actions–like on [some] Indian reservations, where non-Indians cannot be held accountable for rape by the tribal court systems.

To Bianca Campbell, a SPARK Reproductive Justice organizer who has campaigned against shackling women prisoners during delivery, racism further complicates your concept of "legitimate rape."

Women of color are criminalized at a higher rate. So it’s likely that a woman of color will have a harder time proving to the cops that she’s actually been raped.

Speaking of criminalization, I’d like to add that 50 percent of women in U.S. prisons say they were sexually abused before their incarceration. So, Rep. Akin, as you rethink your stance on what kinds of rape are ‘legitimate,’ toss out any ‘innocent victim’ mythology you may be harboring as well.

You’ll certainly need to do that as you absorb the story of Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a rape survivor who created NO! The Rape Documentary:

In 1989, during my sophomore year in college, I was raped one night by an acquaintance. In my quest to reclaim my body [after] being sexually violated, I had consensual sex the following night with another man. All of this resulted in my becoming pregnant and completely unsure when conception happened. Was it the night of my rape or the night when I had consensual sex? I was very fortunate to have a safe and legal abortion without having to endure a mandatory fetal ultrasound like those now required in several states.

… Terms like "legitimate" rape and "forcible" rape are very dangerous for all survivors of rape. It reinforces this paradigm that they are "real" rape survivors, which are usually those who are raped by complete strangers, and "fake" rape survivors, which are usually those who are raped by acquaintances, friends, lovers or spouses.

Because Simmons is generous, she also offered a brief history lesson. I’ll just throw that into this letter so you have what you need in one place:

Beginning with J. Marion Sims, M.D. the "father" of modern-day gynecology who in the 19th century, conducted unspeakable surgical experimentation without anethesia on the bodies of countless enslaved Black women for the benefit of science, to Rosie Jimenez who became the first woman to die of an illegal abortion because she could not afford a legal one after the 1977 passage of the Hyde Amendment, [history] shows that it is the most marginalized women who will continue to be severely impacted by these inhumane, virulent [attacks] on women’s reproductive freedom and justice made by predominantly wealthy White men.

Rep. Akin, I know that your concern about rape is limited to how things work out for the fetus. But I also need to point out the fact that men–yes men like you–can also be raped. Although they can’t become pregnant, and misogyny often keeps them silent, they are also legitimate victims. Even the FBI has revised its definition of forcible rape to include them!

This letter in no way covers all of the race or gender dimensions; that’s a book. But I do hope that it helps you broaden your understanding of rape, and inspires you to do some research outside of your anti-choice bubble. No one enjoys the prospect of abortion. It’s not a trivial matter. Rape isn’t trivial, either. It’s not a mere complication or obstacle to outlawing abortion. All of its victims are legitimate. What isn’t legitimate is your concern for anything but the meeting of sperm and eggs.


Akiba Solomon

*Post has been updated since publication.