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Religious Right Rape Scale

August 21, 2012

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (which is my second broadsheet) has coined a very useful term: Religious Right Rape Scale.

He was talking about Todd Akin’s Gaffe, when he said that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” I’m using the term “gaffe” in its Washington sense here, when a politician accidentally lets a thing they really think tumble past the lips when it’s the sort of thing politicians are supposed to obscure.

There have been so many takedowns of what Akin said that I simply don’t have the time to do a roundup of them and if you read this blog you have likely seen them everywhere. It’s baseless, faith-based, medically inaccurate nonsense concocted by someone trying to justify a policy (no abortions, no exceptions) that most of the populace regards as a cruel.

But what he said is, sadly, not uncommon bullshit in the feverswamp of antiabortion activists and the politicians sprung from that well. I could say more about this: the “just world” thinking, the need to concoct some theory why the transparently awful is fair in order to do nothing to change it. This stuff is to rape and forced pregnancy as Social Darwinism is to poverty and the prison-industrial complex. That’s what I have time to write now, and probably others thinking along those lines have or will articulate it better.

But back to Josh Marshall’s term. Of the many, many offensive things about what Todd Akin said, just one is that he postulates a categorization of rape where some are legitimate and some are not. Marshall writes:

Religious Right Rape Scale (i.e., judging all rapes on a scale of 1 to 10, with slut rape being a 1 and ‘legitimate rape’ being a 10).

It is important to have a name for this, it is a thing. The quote from Akin immediately reminded many people of the quote that made South Dakota small-time politico William Napoli a household name for a while.  The problem is that it is not a thing that happens only among religious conservatives. It is a thing that Whoopi Goldberg partakes in when she says that what Roman Polanski didn’t wasn’t “rape rape.” It is a thing that judges and juries partake in when they decide that it doesn’t count when it happens to a sex worker.  It is a thing that people participate in an inquiry into the moral standing of the victim to complain; examples are too numerous to list. 

It doesn’t just happen among religious conservatives; it happens in rape culture.  Rape culture is one where the legitimacy of a person’s bodily integrity is up for debate, when people can and will sit around after someone is raped and debate how bad it is and whether we should care, that dismisses rape in lots of situations because it’s not the kind that the culture is really against.   

It doesn’t just happen in the religious right, but I think the term is useful nonetheless because, in US political discourse, calling it that sends a message.  I am going to use it.  I am going to tell people when they’re placing rapes on the religious Right Rape Scale, and I hope that they hear it and realize who they’re helping.  Because all victim-blaming and worthiness-weighing helps maintain the world the way guys like Akin and Napoli want it.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2012 2:07 pm

    This is a really helpful term. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I think a big part of the judgement behind this “rape scale” is about a narrative of self-protection. Finding ways to dismiss cases of rape make it less real. And finding ways to judge the victim suggest that it can be avoided, and that it is not, in fact, totally arbitrary. “Oh, that rape happened because she is slutty. If I/ my daughters/my sister/etc. are not slutty, rape will not happen.” Of course, in order to maintain this, all rape always has to be dismissed in one way or another (which explains the insanity of the NYT after the 13 year old girl was gang raped, for example.)

  2. September 14, 2012 4:27 am

    I just remembered a really weird discussion I had back when I was twenty with some female friends.
    We were discussing rape and sexual violence, and somebody said that if the woman said no and the man fucked her anyway, that’s always rape. Another woman said she doubted this, because of personal experience:
    She had gone home with this guy. They made out a bit, but she was super drunk and passed out in his bed. Eventually she woke up again by him being all over her. She tried to push him away and went “no”, but he just went ahead anyway.
    However, the next day she was feeling pretty alright. She wasn’t “feeling raped” (i e traumatized). So, she thought that it probably wasn’t rape after all, since she didn’t “feel raped”.
    And the, in hindsight, crazy thing is that the rest of us agreed with her. No, if she wasn’t traumatized it probably wasn’t rape.
    I just want to go back in time and scream WTF!? at my twenty-year-old self. Like, seriously?

    Many people feel traumatized after thieves have broken into their house. They feel like it isn’t really their home anymore, that they can’t be safe or protected anywhere, that it’s a real violation of privacy when some stranger go through their stuff. However, NOBODY would think that if this happened to you and you WEREN’T traumatized after the event, this somehow makes it not quite burglary but rather some kind of gray area between burglary and voluntarily giving away your stuff…

    But when it comes to rape, I don’t think it’s that uncommon to think that a “proper victim” must be completely traumatized, or else it can’t have been real rape.

    • Alexa permalink
      October 1, 2012 5:51 am

      Hmmm… you known, what you are doing here, is usually called devalidating (or even invalidating) the perspective of the survivor (“victim”).
      Not accepting it because it does not rhyme with your perspective how things ought to be and ought to feel. Usually, and in many contexts, that’s a no-no. 😉

      • November 9, 2012 1:03 pm

        Well… I don’t really think I’m guilty here. I would be if I’d said “obviously she must have been traumatized, but didn’t realise she was”. Whether someone is traumatized or not is surely not something outsiders get to decide. But whether someone has been raped or not, that depends on what actually happened, right? Not on how the people involved feel about the incident the day after. According to her own story, what happened qualifies as rape. Then we all made the mistake of assuming that whether someone has been raped or not depends on the feelings of the people involved, rather than on what actually took place.

  3. 72ccorphenptora1982 permalink
    September 17, 2012 6:28 am

    Reblogged this on Dana Margiljic Pad.

  4. November 30, 2012 12:04 am

    To be honest, I really do want to get some of the people who are wanting to minimise rape to sit down and actually define what they’d consider to be “genuine” or “legitimate” rape.

    I have my suspicions:

    * The victim would be a delicate blond, blue-eyed white virgin honour student on her way home from church, accompanied by her parents.
    * The rapist would be a complete stranger to the victim who had just escaped from the secure ward at the local insane asylum (for extra points, still clad in the strait-jacket he’s managed to escape from, and with broken manacles around his ankles).
    * The rapist would snatch his victim from the bosom of her family and hold her at knife- or gun-point. He would be a very large, very burly man at least one foot taller than the victim.
    * The rape itself would occur in broad daylight, in the middle of the street, in front of multiple witnesses. Her shrieks of terror would be heard for multiple blocks, and draw the attention of a beat cop who would arrive in time to arrest the rapist before he ran off.

    What I’m not so certain of is whether a single reported rape which complies to all those conditions has ever been found anywhere in the US criminal law corpus.

  5. December 11, 2012 11:50 am

    What a chilling term. I am still dumbfounded by those who seek to sanitize and sanctify rape because all it does is force victims further into hiding. You would think we’d have evolved far from this type of thinking, but sadly we haven’t. I recently read a heartbreaking post about writer Sandra Harmon who was raped in 1959. I wonder where she would fit on this scale.


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