Most of us know the body does not have a 'way of shutting down' to prevent rape, but we have to change the thinking of those who don't

“Although she wasn't necessarily willing, she didn't put up a fight”

Share
Related Topics

A few months ago, we looked on in horror as Republican Representative Todd Akin made a bizarre comment about pregnancies from rape, and that were it a “legitimate rape” the body has “a way of shutting it down”.

Akin was not a lone man with a quirky grasp of biology and what rape is: his thinking is reflective of a broader problem with society’s thinking about sexual violence.

Last week, a US judge faced a public admonishment from the Commission for Judicial Performance for comments he made in sentencing a rape case where a man had threatened to mutilate his ex-girlfriend, beaten her with a metal baton and then raped her and forced oral sex on her.

Judge Derek Johnson sentenced the man to six years in prison
(rather than the recommended sixteen years), and, in his summing up, explained why:

"I'm not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something: If someone doesn't want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn't necessarily willing, she didn't put up a fight.”

His views, are, of course, patently nonsense. There is no biological mechanism for shutting the body down during rape. However, we cannot merely shake our heads at the state of biology teaching across the Atlantic and move on with our lives. His thinking, while an extreme instance of excusing rape, is rooted in pervasive attitudes towards rape.

Society has a certain map for what rape looks like: it typically involves a stranger leaping out of a bush and beating a woman (who lives like a saint) into submission before raping her. The victim is expected to put up a fight throughout. Some rapes happen like this, but many do not, and there are many reasons someone may not fight back: fear, having been entirely overpowered, the cultural belief that we should just grit our teeth and get on with sex we do not want and that it isn’t rape because it doesn’t involve that stranger leaping out of the bush.

Judge Johnson said that the case he was in his courtroom was “an insult” that “trivialises rape” which shows the power of this belief in what a rape looks like.

Does the Commission’s decision to publicly admonish the judge show some kind of sea-change, an indication that the tides are finally turning against these old rape myths? Unfortunately, not really. The case happened in 2008, and it is only now that ten judges have voted to condemn these remarks. There has been no mention in the news as to whether the sentence he handed down based on his beliefs will be revised, merely that other judges noticed it four years later and want to give this judge the legal equivalent of a stern glare.

We need to get better in our thinking about rape. Judge Johnson’s concerning comments only came to light because of their demonstrable absurdity, while these attitudes live on in the hearts and minds of many to some extent or another. Calling out only the most extreme occurrences is ultimately unhelpful, as it fails to attack the real issue - that there are a lot of people who believe ludicrous and dangerous things about rape, and this needs to change.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living