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Friday, 24 August 2012

Todd Akin, 'Legitimate Rape,' and Gospel Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

Todd Akin, 'Legitimate Rape,' and Gospel Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

The controversy over the Missouri congressman's comments gives Christians a chance to understand sexual assault with wisdom and theological depth.

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb
[ posted 8/23/2012 9:16AM ]

United States Representative Todd Akin and U.S Senate candidates started a national discussion about sexual assault this week after Akin's unwise choice of words in an interview Sunday night.

The Missouri Congressman who attends a PCA church said to a St. Louis TV anchor that a woman's body is capable of preventing pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape." He claimed a woman's body can typically fend off pregnancy during such rape, as he argued against allowing abortions in cases of rape, claiming such pregnancies are uncommon in the first place.

Rep. Akin's statement is as follows:

It seems to me first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

Akin later apologized, saying he was referring to "forcible rape." He acknowledging that women "do become pregnant" after rape. Regardless of what one thinks about Akin's comments, the ongoing controversy provides an opportunity for us as Christians to better understand what rape and sexual assault really are, and to know how to respond with the gospel when someone we know becomes a victim.

Based on statistics, you know a victim of sexual assault: At least one in four women and one in six men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. According to most recent statistics, every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted, and there are nearly 250,000 victims (age 12 or older) of sexual assault every year. Moreover, every year in the United States, more than 30,000 women become pregnant as a result of rape. Not only can rape result in pregnancy, some studies show that it also may lead to higher rates of pregnancy than consensual sex. (In an article in the journal Human Nature, the per-incident rape-pregnancy rate was 6.42 percent, and as high as 7.98 percent with statistical correction.Of women having consensual sex, the per-incident pregnancy rate was 3.1 percent.)

Defining the Terms

I (Justin) have taught graduate courses on sexual violence as well as counseled numerous victims of sexual assault as a pastor. I (Lindsey) have counseled victims of sexual assault while working at a crisis center as well as a domestic violence shelter. My graduate research was on sexual violence and public health responses to it. Together last year, we wrote Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway).

Our definition of sexual assault is any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority (Rid of My Disgrace, 28).

Sexual assault is not just rape by a stranger with a weapon. Approximately 80 percent of victims are assaulted by an acquaintance: a relative, spouse, dating partner, friend, pastor, teacher, boss, coach, therapist, or doctor. And sexual assault is not just rape itself; it is any form of nonconsensual sexual contact.

When defining sexual assault as any sexual act that is nonconsensual—forced against someone's will—it is important to understand that such "acts" can be physical, verbal, or psychological.