Why Yet Another Lawmaker Just Used The Term ‘Legitimate Rape’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Former U.S. Senate candidate, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO)

More than two years after former Senate candidate Todd Akin (R-MO) infamously claimed that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t often get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” at least one of his GOP colleagues is still finding opportunities to work in the controversial phrase.

In an interview with Mother Jones to explain his justification for introducing a bill that requires women seeking an abortion to obtain notarized consent from the man who impregnated them, Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin (R) said that his legislation includes an exception for victims of “legitimate rape.”

“Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it,” Brattin told Mother Jones, which published his comments on Wednesday. “So you couldn’t just go and say, ‘Oh yeah, I was raped,’ and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape… I’m just saying if there was a legitimate rape, you’re going to make a police report, just as if you were robbed.”

Brattin made an effort to distinguish his comments from Akin’s, saying he was just referring to the “common sense” idea that victims of sexual assault need to “take steps to show that you were raped.”

Mainstream conservative politicians — including Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign — also attempted to distance themselves from Akin after his “legitimate rape” comments sparked national backlash, saying that his views were “not reflective of the Republican Party.” GOP strategists even held training sessions to teach candidates to stop making controversial comments about sexual assault.

Nonetheless, the idea that some rapes are more “legitimate” than others, and particularly the underlying assumption that sexual assaults are only valid crimes if they’ve been reported to the police, is widespread. Policymakers have been writing it into our laws for years. Brattin is just the latest public official to explicitly articulate it.

Particularly when abortion restrictions include rape exceptions, they’re often written in a way that forces women to prove that they were “legitimately” sexually assaulted. This is a standard requirement for state-level bans on Medicaid funding for abortion; many states force rape victims to produce a police report in order to get their abortion covered under that particular exemption. And in 2013, when House Republicans passed a national 20-week abortion ban, it included a provision that exempted rape victims as long as they can prove they filed a report with authorities.

This pops up in legislation outside of abortion rights, too. New Mexico recently floated a bill that would have required women to prove they were “forcibly raped” in order to receive childcare assistance for a child resulting from sexual assault. Pennsylvania considered a similar requirement for rape victims seeking an exception to the state’s cap on welfare benefits, requiring them to prove they reported the assault to the cops in order to bypass the state’s benefits reduction for additional kids.

Sexual assault prevention experts point out that, since rape is a vastly underreported crime — the majority of them are never reported to authorities, according to RAINN — these type of policies don’t work in practice. According to one study, for instance, just 37 percent of the women who qualify for eligible abortions under Medicaid’s exceptions actually end up getting their procedures funded by the program.

Even outside of the policy realm, there’s plenty of evidence that Americans view sexual assault on somewhat of a spectrum of legitimacy. For years, activists have been trying to make the point that acquaintance rapes or date rapes are just as serious as sexual assaults perpetrated by a stranger who uses a weapon like a knife or a gun. But according to recent surveys, it’s not uncommon for people to assume that date rape isn’t as heinous of a crime and is actually simply the victim’s fault.