Every election cycle, and a few debates in between, American politicians play political hot potato with the abortion issue and use victims of sexual assault and rape as their scapegoats. They are so disconnected with the reality of what these victims go through that they have no problem throwing them under the bus in order to avoid the real discussion of the violence of abortion.
The latest spectacle was led by leaders in DC this week—many of them women—who claimed that taking out the reporting requirement for victims of rape seeking an abortion from five months up until the day of birth was, to quote Rep. Renee Ellmers, “standing up for what is right” and so they stood back from protecting women and children because of it.
As a woman and as a victim of sexual assault, the debate, especially this past week, has been painful and repulsive. I am a victim of sexual assault precisely because the victims before me remained silent. In effect, what certain leaders in Washington have told me this week is, “It’s ok that you were assaulted, the other victims didn’t have to report it.”
I cannot remain silent and accept that as an answer.
I was sexually assaulted at Church when I was nine years old by a man who was attending a service that day. By the grace of God I was able to get away, though I was followed. Out of fear, I told my Dad what had happened and, consequently, my Dad found the man, detained him, and he was arrested. I spent time after that, with the help and support of my parents, telling my story to the police, pressing charges, and testifying in court. As a nine year old I put the abuser behind bars. He is out now, but remains in a database of registered sex offenders. I was able to stop that cycle of violence and abuse.
What I didn’t know at the time, but know now is:
1. This man had attacked at least 4 other young women in my parish community, but none of them had reported it;
2. There were adults in the parish who knew about this man’s past, but did nothing to protect the women in the community; and
3. If someone had reported the abuse in the community, I would not have been a victim.
Because of this I believe the reporting requirement was one of the most important parts of the Pain Capable legislation. I lived for 17 years of my life thinking it was my fault this had happened, when actually the responsibility rested on those in authority and previous, silent victims. Only recently have I started a path to healing by going back through the details of the incident and finding the truth.
I know that many do not report the violence done to them because their abuser is part of their family or their life, but without reporting it they cannot stop the violence of the abuse and the addition of more victims.
I know how hard it is—especially for minors—to walk through their experience again and again with police, to watch their attacker be arrested, to face a judge, jury, the abuser and a room full of people to tell them their story and answer questions in court. It is hard. It’s probably one of the hardest things anyone will have to go through—but it is absolutely necessary to stop the violence.
We need to protect victims by empowering them to end their abuse. We need to empower women to stand up and seek the justice they so rightly deserve. Women can stand up to their abusers. We are strong. To do anything less places more innocent people at risk and lays an unnecessary, added burden on those already suffering. Only they have the power to stop future attacks from happening.
This is the message that leaders in Washington need to be telling women, not the opposite.
Victims of rape and sexual assault deserve so much more from their leaders and the media. Sensationalizing and disconnecting the painful trauma that women go through is heartbreaking—for them, for their families, their children, and all those close to them. Turning on the TV, the radio, reading blogs online and articles in the newspaper, all using the disconnected jargon of “reporting requirement,” “rape,” “sexual assault,” bring to mind the actual events and the feelings associated with that trauma. Don’t use us as political pawns so you can avoid discussing the reality of abortion.
Of course, the Pain Capable bill is not perfect. The pro-life movement will not stop fighting until all life is protected under law – even life conceived through rape. This post in no way endorses the thought that some children should live, and others should not. But if women who have been raped will be allowed to abort their child, then we are forced to choose between whether the law mandates that they report that rape or not. Protecting and empowering the woman to report her attacker is least we can do in these terrible situations.
I hope and pray that the unborn children and women whose lives will so benefit from this legislation will not be cut short because there is a fear that women cannot stand up for justice against their abusers.
Mary Powers is a young professional living and working in Washington, DC.