The abortion debate, which the Republicans have turned into a hot issue in the US presidential election campaign, was given a new twist -- or perhaps an ancient one -- when Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, a vocal opponent of abortion rights, explained why, in his view, there should be no exception to a ban even in case of rape. Pregnancy resulting from sexual assault was very rare, he explained during a live television interview. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” he added.
The notion that rape can ever be “legitimate” is of course anathema to any human rights defenders, and Akin’s views triggered an international outcry and calls for him to withdraw his candidacy, which he has resisted.
In centuries past, it was a widely held opinion that a woman had to be a willing participant in sexual intercourse in order to conceive. Since then, thankfully, knowledge of the female body has improved and the idea that women can shut down their reproductive system at will has been shot down. Or at least we thought it had, until Akin resurrected it.
That he, and others who reject abortion in all circumstances, can hold on to such anachronistic and erroneous facts is particularly offensive given that in recent decades rape has become an increasingly common weapon in conflicts around the world and thousands of war babies born to victims of sexual assault have provided ample, and tragic, evidence to disprove such notions. During the Bosnia War, some 20,000-50,000 women were raped; in Rwanda, they numbered somewhere between 250,000-500,000. The stigma attached to giving birth in such circumstances is such that the number of Bosnian war babies has never been established: Some babies were abandoned and adopted abroad, others were killed at birth or aborted, while in some cases, women found a way to bring them up without revealing the circumstances of their conception.
In the UK, maverick politician George Galloway also ran into hot water in recent days when he declared that the charges WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange faces in Sweden merely amounted to “bad sexual etiquette.” Assange may well have legitimate concerns about a possible extradition to the US, where he could face a fate similar to the alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning, who has been largely incommunicado for the past two years. But even if Assange is hailed as a hero by many around the world for his WikiLeaks work, the rights of his alleged rape victims in Sweden cannot be so easily dismissed until all the facts are known.
Here in Turkey, dubious medical facts were called to support Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s opposition to cesarean section. When it comes to rape, traditional perceptions of “honor” still undermine the credibility of rape victims and shift the blame onto them, as many people still believe that women invite assault through their behavior.
In the famous N.Ç. case in Mardin, 26 men who raped a 13 year old were given lenient sentences because the victim had allegedly consented. The judgment did not just violate domestic law, which protects underage victims of sexual abuse, but also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Turkey’s justice system will be tested again in the coming days with similar cases. In Şırnak, two of five men accused of raping a woman they had kidnapped at a bus stop last April will appear in court. The authorities had initially released the two defendants, but the prosecutor objected and they were held in pre-trial detention. Three other suspects are still at large.
In Sakarya, 34 men, aged from 14 to 19, will also face judges, accused of sexually assaulting and raping a 14-year-old girl, who was taken into care three months ago. Two police officers were among the alleged suspects: Both were released pending trial and one of them is said to have fled the country.
Women’s rights groups will be following these trials closely, hoping that growing sensitivity to gender-based violence has reached these courts and the perpetrators will face severe punishment. As the recent controversies in the US and the UK have shown, when it comes to rape and abortion, women still face an uphill battle in most countries.