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Raped by My Stepfather: A Survivor of Illegal Abortion On Why Safe, Legal Abortion is Essential

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Rape is RAPE

(Photo: mmtzjr69out/flickr)

 

Written by Dawn Hill for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This is one of a series of powerful stories from survivors of rape, you will find them all here.

This week, Indiana GOP Senate candidate Richard Mourdock argued in a debate that women who have been raped should not have access to abortion services because their pregnancies are a “gift from god.” As a survivor of childhood sexual violence, I disagree with him completely.

My name is Dawn Hill. Though I am old now, there was a time when I was young and carefree as you perhaps are now or can remember being in your childhood. Childhood should be a happy and carefree time for all our children, but my mother found her new husband, my stepfather, much more important. He forever took the joy away from my life when I was just 11 years old: He began molesting me and continued until he began raping me when I was 13.

Mr. Mourdock last night said:  ”I came to realize life is that gift from God, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape. It is something that God intended to happen.”

I became pregnant, contrary to the “scientific theories” of many modern Republicans. Not only was the experience loathsome and painful, it was also impossible for me to deal with or talk about because of the times: in the fifties, abortion was illegal. Illegal in the same way the Republican Party platform states it wants to make abortion now by constitutional amendment and just as Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has suggested casually he would “be delighted” to return to.

Please, take a moment to travel back to the fifties with me.

My mother took me to Mexico, where anyone could get an abortion for a price. I have blocked out many memories associated with this entire experience, but I remember the pain. Illegal abortions are not the simple safe vacuum procedure used today by legal abortion providers. Oh, no: They were a “dilatation and curettage.”

This means that my cervix was mechanically opened by insertion of larger and larger metal “dilators” until it was opened enough to get a sort of sharpened spoon inside my 13-year-old uterus, while strangers looked at my exposed parts that were theretofore called “private.”

It was cold and dirty in the room, and then the true torture started. They shoved this curette into me and scraped away the entire lining of my uterus with the sharp side. I screamed the entire time even though no one had seen so much as a tear out of me before this moment because I had developed a stony stoicism to protect my mind from the molestation.

This pain was, however, like nothing I’ve ever felt before or since. Can you imagine what happened to those women and girls who couldn’t even get this barbaric abortion? They stuck wire hangers into themselves and bled to death or suffered other horrible complications. Then, too, I also got a terrible infection from the filthy conditions.

I can tell you, though, that I would have gotten a hundred illegal abortions before carrying that monster’s offspring and going through labor, even to give the child away. That would have been the unkindest cut of all.

For women and girls, safe legal abortions are essential. While many will choose a different path than I with their pregnancies, having that choice is essential. Any encroachment on that right is an encroachment on the life, liberty, and safety of the women and girls of America.

Street Harassment: A Means of Control That We Need to Get Under Control

11:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

A photo of a woman as she walks away.

Photo: d. FUKA / Flickr

Street harassment—sexual harassment of women in public—has gained notoriety in Western media since the start of the Arab spring. Most recently, a harrowing first-person narrative of a mob sexual assault of a Western woman on Cairo streets had an editor from The Atlantic conclude that he would do anything to stop his daughters from going to Egypt and being exposed to that kind of abuse.

Unfortunately, research suggests that if you want to prevent your daughters from experiencing street harassment, you would need to keep them off the streets pretty much anywhere. The vast majority of women from Indianapolis to Beijing have experienced street harassment at some point, including leering, whistling, and sexual grabbing or touching.

And though most street harassment definitely is less physically aggressive than the story from Egypt, it is anything but benign. Enough scholars have examined the socio-political context and psycho-social consequences of street harassment to conclude that men harassing women in public is a symptom of the sentiment it perpetuates: women as inferior objects of prey.

I know what I am talking about, as does just about every women and post-pubescent girl. The worst case of street harassment I have suffered made me throw up and had me tank a job interview. Even now, 18 years after, I remember the smell of the guy who slid up behind me on a Paris metro escalator to hold me still while he whispered into my ear just what he was planning on doing to me. I froze, somehow unable to move. When the interminable escalator-ride was over, the guy was gone and I was retching. I did keep my interview afterwards, but lost the job.

But even the other, less horrible, cases of harassment took their toll. There was the adolescent boy who purposefully ran into me on a street in downtown Guatemala City some time in early 1997 and grabbed my crotch, hard, for precisely 3 seconds (I counted). Or the grown man who did the same on the F-train in New York City this very year. Both had me shaking and slightly disoriented for hours.

I could go on.

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Rough Summer in the City: Recent Rape Cases and the NYC Rape Shield Law

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sarah Elspeth Patterson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

This week, the public humiliation of Nafissatou Diallo that has been the “DSK Rape Case” has come to a close, as all charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn have been dropped. This motion marks the end to a case that has amounted to little more than a character assassination of a rape complainant who has endured a litany of shame-driven media accusations, including but by no means limited to the Post’s declaration that she “wasn’t just a girl working a hotel – she was a working girl.” This unsubstantiated claim of her sex worker status, in addition to problematic framings of her race, immigrant status and background, has been used in the media to reinforce the idea that she is not a credible witness and therefore unworthy of having her rape charges validated in a court of law.

It’s been a rough summer for rape cases going through the DA’s office in New York City, with no lack of victim-blaming happening all around. It’s been mere months since two NYC police officers were acquitted of raping a women in her East Village apartment after a call for their assistance at the same location. Since the victim was drunk, though, it wasn’t difficult to see how she would become the one on trial. In fact, there was enough victim-blaming to acquit two men who were caught entering the woman’s apartment on outside surveillance tapes not once, not twice, but three times. Enough victim-blaming to acquit a man who admitted to lying in bed with the victim while she was wearing only a bra and passed out drunk. Enough victim-blaming to have one of the officers, Officer Moreno, publicly declare post-acquittal that the results of the case “were a lesson and a win.” A lesson and a win, indeed.

How rape cases can play out in our criminal justice system, as seen this summer in NYC alone, is a lesson to every person that is socially vulnerable to the effects of a rape culture, and that’s a whole lot of people. If you have been raped, it does matter how you got there. It matters what your race is, what your immigration status is and how you’ve made a living. It matters a lot. For some rape victims, just being able to report the crime without shaming scrutiny is not a possibility. In the case of sex workers, for instance, sometimes the mere admission that they are sex workers leads to open refusal to document a rape. As one member of the Sex Workers Outreach Project explained:

I was taken very seriously until it came out that I was involved in sex work, that this man was going to get me work, and that I showed him my body. At that point, the cops started acting as though I had been dishonest for not revealing this sooner and started basically interrogating me. It was incredibly upsetting. One of the police officers actually said to me, “What makes it okay Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, but not Thursday?” I was not arrested, but I feared arrest, having heard of cops doing that. I was relieved just to leave the precinct, and needless to say nothing came of my complaint. And I was reminded of the treatment I had received when I discovered that he was later arrested in California as a sex offender. Presumably he raped someone with a little more social cachet.

Sadly, it is not just the acts of a few that affect how the system treats rape complainants. There are also policies in place that directly affect how a sex worker is treated in the eyes of the court in regard to sexual assault cases. For instance, in the New York City Rape Shield Law, a criminal procedure code that provides that “evidence of a victim’s sexual conduct shall not be admissible” in a rape case, there is a noted exception to the code. New York is one state that permits the victim’s status as a convicted prostitute to be admitted into evidence if the conviction occurred within three years of the sexual offense. In the past, this practice has been defended on the grounds that such information speaks to the credibility of the rape complainant “as a witness” and somehow suggests that the complainant, being a sex worker, may have consented. In many ways, this practice being upheld represents how prostitution (and indeed, sex work in general) is still considered an immoral act and treated in the eyes of the law as representative of a person’s defective character.

In the aftermath of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn dismissal and the recent acquittal of two police officers accused of rape, both cases which had a great deal to do with vilifying the complainant rather than the defendant, we must recognize that the rights of rape victims are tied up directly with how we frame rape victims in general, both in the media and in public policy. We must also be cognizant of the notion that there is a hierarchy of victimhood and that issues of race, class and status go into making up that hierarchy. Laws like NYC’s Rape Shield Law uphold the notion that our courts are the arbiters of sexual morality. Likewise, a court system whose decisions are in any way shaped by a rape victim being a sex worker (whether a valid claim or not) cannot be held to treat any complainant with a reasonable level of dignity. All in all, it’s a real wonder how any of us could withstand the scrutiny of such a system of judgment.