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Rape is a Reproductive Justice Issue

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February 1, 2013

Rape is a reproductive justice issue.

Choice USA is committed to a world where all people have agency over their bodies and relationships and the power, knowledge and tools to exercise that agency. Sexual and reproductive agency begins with the right to decide where, when, how and with whom we should have sex.  Nothing takes away this agency more violently than rape.

Whether you have been sexually assaulted, witnessed sexual assault, cared for or listened to someone who has been assaulted or are among the millions who hear the rising number of reports of survivors of assault, rape has become a part of our everyday culture. The threat of sexual violence affects the way we experience sex, relationships and even our own bodies.

As a survivor of rape, your feelings about sex change, your ability to trust people is compromised and your faith in your support network may or may not survive..

Our idea of “legitimate” or “forcible” or “real” rape requires a perfect victim: a white, thin, cis-gendered, economically privileged, sexually pure woman who doesn’t drink, use drugs, walk alone at night, go to parties or wear high heels, short skirts, or make up. Since the perfect victim rarely (if ever) exists, bodies are unequally protected and defended and perpetrators are unequally criminalized. Rape is a reproductive justice issue because people in the sex trade are considered “un-rapeable.” The sexuality of women of color is inherently criminalized. Young people who drink or use drugs are somehow responsible for their own rapes and transwomen who are raped were “asking for it” just by existing.

This is absolutely connected to the national (and state and local) narrative around abortion, birth control, and comprehensive sex education – if we don’t have the most basic right to make decisions about sex, how dare we expect the right to knowledge about our bodies or sexuality, or the right to determine where, when, how and whether we will become pregnant or create families?

Despite overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of rapists know their victims, the myth persists that “nice guys” – your friends, your boyfriend, your local football hero – don’t rape and real rapists are hiding in bushes or parking lots waiting to jump out at us.

Earlier this month, Washington, DC Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier reported that sexual assaults had increased over 2011, and two-thirds of reported assaults were perpetrated by rapists who knew their victims. In spite of reality, Lanier explained that “police are expanding prevention efforts by educating bar owners to be aware of the possibility of sexual assaults and by encouraging these owners to install better cameras and lighting.” Unless all of these sexual assaults were committed by bar owners, there is no evidence that lighting and cameras will do anything to prevent sexual assault.

Nowhere in the Washington Post’s article did Chief Lanier indicate that police will be educating potential rapists on asking for and receiving consent.

How is it possible that everyone in our community is responsible for “preventing” rape except the people who are actually doing the raping – and that our “prevention” efforts are still focused on trying to catch a rapist after assault has been committed?

Rape is a reproductive justice issue, because as long as we consider the sexual violation of bodies to be an unfortunate but acceptable fact of life, we will never truly achieve justice. We’ve seen this play out in horrific detail in Steubenville, OH, where a community – parents, teachers, coaches, friends and law enforcement – collectively decided that a high school football team is more important than justice for a young woman whose life and family will be forever changed by a rape perpetrated by the “good boys” on the football team. As long as we place money or entertainment or loyalty to rapists above the basic fact that we have the right to control our own bodies all the time – even if the reality of our bodies and behavior doesn’t fit the image of a “perfect victim” of rape – we will never achieve justice.

That’s why Choice USA student leaders in Ohio are demanding justice for the young woman in the Steubenville case. Last week, students from Ohio State University delivered 70,000 petitions signatures collected by Ultraviolet to the Ohio Attorney General, Mike DeWine asking for the continued investigation of the case. It’s also why students all over Ohio put pressure on the Ohio Attorney General using social media. We must continue to demand better for rape victims and demand better for us all.

Mari Schimmer

Choice USA Field Director

Rape Survivor

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