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“Legitimate Rape” is an oxymoron

The term “legitimate rape” was advanced by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s assertion that there is such a thing. His quote: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

It is impossible to reconcile those two contradictory words, legitimate rape, appearing in conjunction.

The definition of legitimate is: Conforming to the law or to rules.

If rape is against the law, how can it be legitimate under any guise?

Now this term is being used again by Missouri Republican lawmaker Rick Brattin, who is pushing a bill that would allow a man who gets a woman pregnant to stop her from having an abortion. The measure would force a woman who wants an abortion to obtain written permission from the father first—unless she was the victim of “legitimate rape.” 

Perhaps part of the problem in the escalating use of this ill-conceived terminology lies in how the legal system can’t seem to agree on what constitutes rape, and who is responsible for it.

Legal definitions have been confusing. It took until 2013 for the FBI to change its 1929 definition of rape from “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will” to the new version: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Blame the Victim: She made me do it.

“Rape is the only crime in which we turn the lens onto the survivor, the victim, and not onto the perpetrator,” said Bobbie Villareal, executive director of the Dallas Rape Crisis Center. “When someone gets shot, we don’t ever ask them, why didn’t you get away from that bullet?”

A perfect example of this was carried out in a Montana rape case. Ignoring the revised FBI definition of rape, Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh proclaimed a 14-year-old victim, a girl who had not given consent, “older than her chronological age” and “probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant.” Judge Baugh gave her rapist, Stacey Rambold–who admitted raping the girl–just 30 days in prison after suggesting the victim also shared responsibility for her rape. Rambold was a 47-year-old business teacher. The victim was one of his students. The girl committed suicide before the case went to trial.

Then there is the very recent case of  the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office blaming a former state prison clerk for her own rape, in response to a federal lawsuit the woman filed. Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane argues that there could have been “contributory negligence” at play, a legal term for cases when both the plaintiff and the defendant share some blame in what happened.

The AG’s office asserted that the victim “acted in a manner which in whole or in part contributed” to the assault. This is because she did not lock the doors separating her office from the cell block. But the clerk’s offices were actually moved from part of the prison that was off limits to inmates to a less secure location before the rape and there were no locked doors between the offices and the cell blocks. And this is her fault?

Additionally, the victim allegedly complained twice to her boss, about a week before the attack, that she felt uncomfortable and unsafe with inmate Omar Best coming into her office. Though told by her boss that Best would no longer be allowed to enter her office, Best did enter her office on the pretense of emptying the trash, then choked her unconscious and raped her for 27 minutes. Best had been convicted three times previously of sex-related crimes, and then been transferred from a different state prison for assaulting a female assistant there.

And knowing all of this, the AG’s office in Pennsylvania is saying that the victim shares equal blame with her rapist.

We might expect this in a country like India, where rapists are rarely punished and women have long been held responsible for inviting rape. Mullah and police officers often express the opinion that girls are mainly responsible for getting raped, as they provoke men by wearing revealing outfits and roaming outside at night.

But in America? Hard to believe, but yes, this mentality is disturbingly prevalent. A 14-year-old girl looks older than her chronological age, and therefore invites rape. A typist in a prison didn’t lock a door that had no lock on it, and she is as responsible for her rape as her rapist.

America actually seems almost reluctant to call someone a rapist, perhaps because of the perception that women often accuse men unfairly. Actually, research has shown that only 4.9% of rape accusations are false. False accusations are wrong and damaging, but that doesn’t mean the 95.1% of rape accusations that are not false should be viewed as “iffy.”

When evidence is overwhelming, as in the prison case, and when a rapist admits to the rape, as in the Montana case, then there should be no aversion from any quarter in calling a rapist a rapist. And there should be no hesitancy in administering fitting punishment under the law.

I read something years ago that left a strong impression . Someone said (and I’m paraphrasing) If a person holds up a $100 bill in Central Park, and someone takes it from him, it’s still robbery, it’s still a crime. By the same token, if a woman wears a provocative short skirt and gets raped, it is still rape, it is still a crime.

Perhaps better judgment could be used in both of these cases, but bad judgment is not against the law. Rape is, and blame should be laser-directed at the perpetrator, and never at the victim.


Rebecca Warner’s educational and professional background was in finance and banking in Miami, Florida. After she and her husband moved to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, Rebecca began writing articles for several local periodicals. Drawing upon her many years of advising the lovelorn and successful matchmaking, she also wrote a romance-and-relationship advice column. In 2014, she published her first book, Moral Infidelity, which won the Bronze Medal in the Readers’ Favorite 2015 International Book Awards’ thriller category, and Top 10 Honorable Mention in the 2015 Great Southeast Book Festival. Her second novel, Doubling Back To Love, was solicited for inclusion in a ten-novel romantic anthology, and her third book, He’s Just A Man, is a non-fiction self-help book for women seeking a mate. Rebecca is a convivial feminist who blogs on her own sites and for The Huffington Post about topics of interest to women. She enjoys participating in podcasts and forums about women’s social, economic and political issues. Please visit her website at www.rebeccajwarner.com to learn more about her books, catch up on her blogs--including those published on Huff Post--and to hear her podcasts.