The Pseudoscience of Victim Blaming 3: Legitimate Rape

It’s hard to talk about victim blaming without talking about women’s rights, and if there’s something republicans have been very good at in the last few years it’s pointing out how anti-scientific this victim blaming of women is. This goes beyond the already appalling ‘she probably deserved it’ and ‘she shouldn’t have dressed like that if she didn’t want it’, and combines blaming sexual abuse on the (usually female) victims, and using hand-waving methods to justify that blaming. Sound familiar?

It’s a hard truth of the world that many rape claims are not taken seriously. There is a pervasive attitude that seems to see reporters of these claims as ‘sluts’ before they can even begin to see them as victims, and with this attitude comes assumptions that the victim must have been the instigator, must have dressed provocatively (as if that makes a difference), or must have hinted heavily that the crime was what they wanted all along. This arrogance of ignorance, someone filling a gap in their knowledge of events with a stubborn certainty that they’ve figured it all out, combines with an unfortunate naivety that we see across many pseudosciences. Asking why someone would do something like that, or why people would lie about it, is something that drives some to believe in the many reported UFO and ghost sightings, or to believe widely believed conspiracy theories, except this is far more malevolent, and it pays to think about that question critically. Instead, the naive response is to assume the least faith-in-humanity-shattering possibility, which, unfortunately, is both wrong and damaging to victims.

Now, I’m sure you all remember the infamous Todd ‘legitimate rape’ Akin, who amazed millions last year when he spouted the utterly non-scientific idea that women’s bodies have a biological mechanism for aborting fetuses conceived by rape. Following this line of reasoning (if you want to call it that), if a woman gets pregnant from an act that she claims was rape it is not a legitimate rape.



I’m not sure where he got this from, probably some sort of handbook for justifying taking away women’s rights for reasons poorly supported by scientific evidence (read: for religious reasons). This idea actively dismisses victims completely. It follows that in any cases of children-conceived by rape the mothers were either lying or in denial of their at-the-time consent. As well as this, it dismisses them as victims and even sort-of criminalizes those who want to abort fetuses conceived by rape (in the sense that Todd Akin and his fellows have been known to talk about abortion as if it were a crime).

This kind of rhetoric encourages victims to stay silent, fearing that they won’t be taken seriously, which further supports this victim-blaming culture in a ‘see how few reported cases there are’ dismissal. To think about the well-being of the victim last in this scenario, whether by dismissing them as a slut, prioritizing a bundle of undifferentiated cells over her, or trying to dismiss rape as a concern in these scenarios, we create a culture of victim blaming from which speaking up and embracing feminism could be the only way to move forward.

[image credits: Surly Amy at Skepchick,]

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Cat Strickson

Cat Strickson

Cat, or Elly, or Eddy, or whatever name they're going by these days, is a British palaeontologist and fantasy author. It's a pretty awesome skill set, but it doesn't pay much right now. They enjoy science, history, vidyagames and all things SFF.

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