Trigger Warning: This post contains mentions of sexual assault, rape, and incest.
Can you imagine living in a country where rapists are free to walk the streets? But the women they violate rot in our overcrowded prisons — or worse, face the death penalty — for refusing to bear their assailant’s children?
Well, men like Scott Herndon, prospective Senator from Idaho, and state Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Louisiana, are working to make this a reality for millions of women in the United States. They believe there is never a “good reason” for a woman to have an abortion. Even in cases of rape or incest, they think a woman should carry the resulting baby to term or face extreme judicial punishment¹.
But these men are not alone in their dangerous ideology.
Just last year, five male lawmakers in Texas proposed a bill that would make abortion punishable by the death penalty¹. And state Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Arizona, introduced separate legislation that, if passed, would’ve charged the women who get abortions, and their doctors, with homicide. He even stated during a Facebook Livestream that all abortion advocates should “spend some time in our Arizona penal system.”
These so-called anti-abortion “abolitionists” are calling to punish women for seeking out abortion services at a time when sexual assaults have reached record levels across the United States.
Sexual assault decriminalized
According to recent statistics from RAINN, someone is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds in the United States. That means that over 1,200 Americans, including children, will have their bodies violated every day.
The vast majority of these assaults are against women. The U.S. Dept. of Justice reports that over 9 out of 10 rape or sexual assault survivors are female.
Sexual violence has become so prevalent in our country that today 1 in 6 American women will be victims of an attempted or completed rape during their lifetime. Based on current estimates, more than 17.7 million American women have experienced this type of assault since 1998.
The unimaginable trauma from sexual assault or rape follows a woman for the rest of her life. Researchers Rebecca Campbell, Emily Dworkin, and Giannina Cabral found that “rape is one of the most severe of all traumas, causing multiple, long-term negative outcomes.” As many as 65% of victims will develop PTSD, and up to 40% will be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Others suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, dissociation, sleep disturbances, and substance abuse disorders².
Yet, despite the lifelong effects that sexual assault has on its victims, many rapists are never brought to justice.
Of every 1000 sexual assaults in the U.S., 975 perpetrators still walk free. Only 31% of these crimes ever get reported to law enforcement. And a mere 2.8% of criminal investigations into rape and sexual assault end in incarceration .
For the 1 out of 3 women that choose to report their assault to police, very few will ever see their assailant put behind bars for their crime.
And like in the case of 12-year-old Rebecca Kiessling, a victim’s trauma does not end when the violence has stopped. In a handful of states, rapists can continue to torture their victims by suing for and being granted partial parental custody. These laws ultimately reward perpetrators while simultaneously punishing victims. The assailant gets the chance to raise a child they created only by violating a woman against her will. In contrast, the mother is condemned to constantly face her perpetrator, ask for his input on significant parenting decisions, and entrust him to care for and protect her most precious asset — her child.
Only 32 states allow for a perpetrator’s termination of parental rights only if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that a sexual assault occurred, like medical records, witness testimony, or therapist records. With so many victims afraid to come forward and an abysmal 2.8% of reported sexual assaults ending in conviction, victims have no way to protect themselves legally.
So why is it that GOP lawmakers around the country are introducing legislation to charge the women who receive abortions, even in these cases of rape, with murder when the rapists themselves never see a day in court?
No Protection for Rape Victims
Since SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade in June, abortion protections have quickly eroded nationwide. Within a mere 4 months, nearly half of U.S. states have passed bans outlawing the procedure altogether or only allowing it under strict circumstances.
In an inconceivable 15 states — including Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin — lawmakers took outlawing abortion one step further and have passed anti-abortion laws with no exceptions. Women who become pregnant due to rape or incest are expected to carry their assailant’s child to term or face criminal prosecution.
Some GOP lawmakers claim that these new anti-abortion laws are not meant to prosecute the women who receive the procedure but rather only the doctors who perform them. However, bills introduced by their colleagues Danny McCormick and Scott Herndon paint a different picture. These male legislators want to actively incarcerate women who seek out abortion care under any circumstance.
We can not stand idly by and continue to allow our country to reward rapists for their despicable behavior at the expense of their victims. No rapist should ever be able to pick the mother of their child and know that if their victim falls pregnant, they will be forced to carry the child to term under overzealous state laws.
We need to advocate for sexual assault to be prosecuted under the full extent of the law every time it occurs. And we must codify Roe so no woman will ever be forced to carry her rapist’s baby again while he is free to walk the streets with no consequence.