Foot In Mouth Disease

I have a pretty thick political hide after many years as a campaign volunteer and eventually as a political candidate and then as an elected offi cial. Mine was a deeply rewarding political career that culminated in being portrayed by a political opponent as a prostitute on national television, an ad which CNN’s Anderson Cooper featured among the worst political ads in the nation that campaign season.

In other words, I often view comments made by politicians as distorted, self-serving, stupid or all of the above. Rarely do I get excited by politicians’ words and particularly not during an election year that almost always results in style over substance.

That being said, Todd Akin of “legitimate rape” infamy really got under my skin.

The notion that a woman’s body somehow shuts down when a rape is “legitimate” is not only insulting but reveals astounding scientifi c ignorance, not to mention an odd attitude toward women. What on earth would be “illegitimate” rape, and who on earth would make that call? Todd Aiken, who — if you can believe this! — is a member of the House Science Committee?

We in North Carolina cannot be too smug about this dimwit, however. 09-12-12-margaret.gif

We had our own version of Congressman-would-be-Senator Aiken almost 20 years ago in the form of a General Assembly member named Henry Aldridge, a highly trained Pitt County dentist by profession. Representative Aldridge, like his soulmate Aiken, caused quite a stir with this unbelievable remark, which he never quite disavowed, made in public to the House Appropriations Committee.

“The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree that this is a rarity, if ever.” “Truly” must mean the same thing as “legitimate …”

Well, Mr. Aiken and Dr. Aldridge, medical authorities do not agree with that at all.

According to 1996 study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology women get pregnant about 5 to 6 percent of the time, and it makes no difference whether conception occurs snuggled under the covers of the marital bed or during an unwanted, abhorrent act of violence. Another large-scale study found that rape victims actually have a slightly higher conception rate than women consenting to sex, but the reason for that is not known. It is known, however, that a woman involved in a relationship can consent or not, while a rape victim does not have that option.

Biology is biology is biology.

Aiken and Aldridge zoomed to national ridicule for their absurd remarks because they held elected offi ce, and they were justifi ably skewered for them.

My disgust with both of them, though, is not political. Aldridge is long gone from the public scene and Aiken will have a long road ahead to get past this politically.

My disgust with them is far more personal.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was part of the group which founded the organization that is now the Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County. In those early days, there was no money and no offi ce. Records were kept secure in car trunks and under beds. What there was, were dedicated volunteers with the support of local law enforcement and the district attorney’s offi ce. We took calls every day of the year, which usually meant long hours at either Cape Fear Valley or Womack as rape victims, usually, but not always women, submitted to physical examinations and underwent law enforcement questioning.

I have held hands with women as they endured the “rape-kit” exam, a necessary procedure but one which often feels like a further violation. I have scrounged around to fi nd clothing for a woman to wear home from the hospital as her own clothes had become evidence in a criminal investigation. I have cried with women who are devastated and terrifi ed by what has occurred to them. I have raged with women who are angry beyond measure. I have watched, bewildered, as a 15-year-old, who was raped outside of a skating rink, chalked it up to “the way things are.” I have sat beside a woman who was charged with manslaughter because she shot her rapist. I have been to court with women who need moral support as they testify against the rapist who is in the courtroom with them.

So, yes, the remarks of Mr. Aiken and Dr. Aldridge before him, did and do get under my skin.

Rape is not an issue to be tossed around as a partisan political football. It is a profoundly personal attack from which some women never recover and all never forget.

Shame on all who try to use it for partisan political advantage.

Photo: Representative Todd Aiken recently came under fire for remarks he made about rape.He was not the first politician to make inaccurate comments about the subject. 

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