In a recent interview between CNN’s Piers Morgan and Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, the following exchange took place:
MORGAN: You have two daughters. You have many granddaughters. If one of them was raped -- and I accept it's a very unlikely thing to happen -- but if they were, would you honestly look at them in the eye and say they had to have that child if they were impregnated?
PAUL: No. If it's an honest rape, that individual should go immediately to the emergency room. I would give them a shot of estrogen...
While the interview questions were focusing on the issue of abortion rather than rape specifically, the belief of such a think as an ‘honest rape’ is extremely problematic. What differences exist for Paul between an ‘honest rape’ and a dishonest rape’? It creates the perception that there are some rapes that are more real than others. This belief pops up frequently within the media as victims are blamed or sexually violent acts are minimized.
There is a common misperception that rape is only legitimate if it is committed by a stranger or if it involved a weapon or excessive force. This is repeatedly shown in SVU and other similar crime shows. News sources will focus on the more sensational stories in order to hook viewers. It’s important to keep in mind that the goals of these shows (both news and fiction) is to attract viewers which increases profit. Therefore, they are not motivated to accurately represent how sexual violence is perpetrated and the trials and barriers that survivors face.
These egregious misrepresentations can be observed outside of the media as well. The FBI, until recently, only recognized rape when it was forcibly committed by a man against a woman. While many states have adopted a broader definition and recognize rape occurs in many forms, these are not represented in the annual UCR report. This definition recognized 84,000 survivors of rape in 2010. This discounted thousands of rapes that were reported which did not fit under the narrow definition and heavily contrasted with the results of the National Crime Victimization Study which stated that there are almost 208,000 survivors each year!
According to multiple studies over the past few decades, including the most recent by the CDC, the overwhelming majority (70-80%) of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone who is known to the victim. This number increases when you look at specific vulnerable populations such as children, colleges, people with disabilities, or the elderly. These perpetrators can be intimate partners, friends, family members, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, teachers, or a whole variety of other people that we interact with on each and every day.
People believe that they can trust people in positions of power, authority, and knowledge to give accurate information. Fact-checking can be long and tedious and why shouldn't we be able to trust an expert? In the latter part of Paul’s sentence, he advises that a woman can get a shot of estrogen to prevent pregnancy. Paul is an OB/GYN so why should people question the information that he gives about reproductive health? In fact, there is NO estrogen shot that is given to women to prevent pregnancy. There are two forms of emergency contraceptive used in the US - Ella and Plan B - both of which are pills that are taken orally. However, if you browse the comments section many people reference the ‘shot of estrogen’ that Paul mentions. Additionally, very few news sources point out the fallacy of this sentence. Inaccuracies in our media impacts our knowledge and what we believe.
The belief and constant portrayal that there is an ‘honest rape’ has real repercussions on survivors and society. First, many survivors may believe that since they were raped or assaulted by someone they know that it doesn’t count. They may blame themselves for not yelling loud enough or fighting hard enough. They could compare their rape to those that they see on the TV and downplay what happened by thinking that at least there was no weapon or at least there wasn’t any serious injuries. They could be reluctant to get medical care or make a report because of the lack of physical injuries. Even those who do reach out, are likely to doubt the validity of their case because of how it doesn’t match what they’ve seen on TV, learned about how rape should look, or the belief that their own actions may have brought on the assault. This leaves many survivors without the resources and support we need.
Written by: Stacey