TRIGGER WARNING – CONTAINS DISCUSSION OF RAPE
The following are three fictional descriptions of events that could happen to women. Although they are not an actual account of women’s testimonials, they are closely based on the myriad of stories women tell about the violent acts they experience. Your job is to pick the odd one out, so pay close attention.
A woman goes on a date with a man she’s known for a few months. They enjoy dinner and a movie and then go to a bar to enjoy a glass of wine. During the drink the woman starts to feel strange. She wakes up in the morning, naked in his bed and can’t remember anything that happened but she is bruised and in pain and she knows she has had intercourse.
A woman is asleep on her couch when a masked man breaks into her house and assaults her. During the assault he rapes her using selected objects from around her house. Before leaving he forces her to shower and clean her house to remove any biological forensic evidence that he may have left behind.
A woman goes to hospital to give birth. As the baby is crowning the doctor grabs some scissors and cuts her perineum. The woman screams and pleads with the doctor to stop but the doctor simply orders her husband and the nurses to hold her still and continues cutting. She sustains a severe tear where the episiotomy continued to tear as the baby’s head emerged, and she requires reconstructive surgery to repair the damage.
Did you pick the odd one out? If you guessed scenario three as the odd one out, you guessed correctly, and here’s why. In all three scenarios a woman is raped. She did not give consent to the things that were done to her body. What makes scenario three stand out is that people routinely deny the existence of birth rape.
When people hear the term Birth Rape they say things like:
- That’s an insult to real rape victims, it diminishes their stories
- A doctor / midwife / nurse would never do something that wasn’t necessary
- There was no sex involved so it’s not rape
What we know about birth rape though, is that the victims are frequently victims of other types of rape as well – with such high numbers of rape victims it’s hardly surprising – and each of those women claims that rape is rape, no matter who does it, or where they are. Many claim to have been MORE TRAUMATISED by their birth rape than by their other assault. The dictionary defines rape as
unlawful sexual intercourse or any other sexual penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person, with or without force, by a sex organ, other body part, or foreign object, without the consent of the victim.”
*emphasis added by author
So within this context, whether there was in fact a sexual motive or not is irrelevant. Furthermore we know from many years of research on the psychology of rape, that the rapist rarely rapes for sexual enjoyment, instead they do it out of anger, retaliation, and to gain or maintain control. Our social understanding of rape needs to broaden, and we need to allow victims to define their experiences for themselves. Some women may prefer NOT to use the term birth rape, but others should not be silenced if it is the terminology that best fits their experience.
For a long time now we have clung to the belief that no doctor or maternity care provider would ever do anything to harm a pregnant woman and her baby however this is at odds with so many of the violent acts women report, and acts that have seen doctors banned from practice and sued. Doctors are no less likely to be dangerous, violent criminals, than any other person you encounter. In fact, one particular study of medical misconduct found that “Obstetrics and gynaecology and psychiatry were the specialties with the highest rates” of misconduct.
The term Birth Rape is a controversial one, it makes many people uncomfortable, but what should make them more uncomfortable is the large number of women who would accuse their previous care providers of it. Whilst people are so determined to define the experiences of traumatised women in terms that aren’t challenging to them, they simply perpetuate rape culture. Rape is rape, no matter where it happens, who the victim is, or who the perpetrator is. The only difference between when a doctor forces their hand into a woman’s vagina, and a stranger in a dark alley does it, is that the women in the latter scenario is more likely to be believed, offered some kind of validation and legal recourse.