by Jonathan Rothwell

The time I mis-spoke

Being a human, a creature of fragile flesh controlled by a fallible, neurotic juice-computer behind my eyes, I’ve often “mis-spoken.”

The most recent “major” time I mis-spoke was around four years ago, when I was travelling to Guildford by train on a child fare (I was fifteen at the time.) The guard came around and, on checking my ticket, asked me how old I was: in a simple slip of the tongue, I said ‘sixteen.’

If the train guard hadn’t cleared off to the mess room at Guildford, that mistake may have cost me a £20 penalty fare.1 We all have similar experiences: faux pas, foot-in-mouth situations where we mis-speak and embarrass ourselves, or others.

I doubt the same could be said for US Senate nominee Todd Akin, who, when interviewed by a St. Louis television station, said that:

It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancies resulting from rape are] 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: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.

Todd Akin

Let’s get this clear: Mr Akin’s ideas about rape are completely unfounded. Firstly, trying to divide rape into ‘categories’, as Ken Clarke did last year in trying to define ‘proper rape’ as opposed to ‘date rape’, is counter-productive and only serves to muddy the justice system, biasing it in favour of the accused.

The crime of rape is extremely simple to define. If person A inserts his penis2 into person B without person B’s consent, then person A is guilty of rape. It’s that simple. The law states that sex should only take place between two people who have both given their informed consent.

Presumably, Mr Akin was trying to distinguish between a stranger raping a woman under violent conditions and cases where the victim was raped by someone previously known to her, such as a boyfriend or husband. Quite how he believes the human body is magically capable of de-fertilising an ovum in the event that it was fertilised by a non-consensual sperm, it is difficult to say.

It is also, as I said, unhelpful to try to categorise rape. MP, former Big Brother housemate and famed cat impersonator George Galloway recently said, of the case of Julian Assange™, that “if you are already in the sex game,” then having sex with someone without their consent “really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape…”

Whilst it is illuminating to learn that Mr Galloway thinks that having intercourse with someone automatically grants you a season pass to their genitals, it does not change the fact that Mr Assange is accused of having sex with someone without their consent. It is rape under the laws of England and Wales, it is rape under the laws of Sweden—and it is made even worse by the fact that, in one case, Mr Assange is alleged to have had unprotected sex with one of the victims, putting her personal health at serious risk.

While Mr Assange is still dodging extradition by spreading lies about an ultimately potential extradition to the US to face espionage charges, and while Mr Galloway has presumably returned to his scratching post in the House of Commons, Mr Akin has, understandably, back-pedalled on his comments.

However, in an astonishing display of sorrow and scrabbling to protect his place on the ballot paper, Mr Akin has now released an ad, entitled Forgiveness, in which he states that he prays for rape victims and disowns his previous comments.

It will be depressing of Mr Akin is allowed to continue in his position as nominee for the Senate, and even more depressing if he is elected. It is depressing for the same reason that it enrages me that George Galloway was elected in Bradford earlier this year.

Someone who holds such antiquated views on rape and victim’s rights does not deserve to hold public office in 2012. The fact that someone who does, has, in the case of Galloway, is a depressing facet on the state of education and women’s rights in modern Britain—and, I fear, the case is even worse in the US.

Hiding behind the guise of “mis-speaking” is an appalling way of explaining why you hold a view that is socially and morally unacceptable in 2012. It’s not mis-speaking: it’s accidentally demonstrating that you’re a bigot. Simple.

  1. Albeit a penalty fare that would easily have been challenged.

  2. CORRECTION: As clarified by Simon Howard (@sjhoward) under UK law, only penetration with the penis (hence by a man) qualifies as rape. All other penetration qualifies as the no-more-excusable offence of sexual assault.