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Birth Rape: Violence Against Women is Addressed in Venezuela and Not America

November 11, 2010

I have covered instances of sexual assault upon women by medical personnel, seeing friends and family fall victim to men who were purported to have taken the Hippocratic Oath and used that power to rape women.  And yes, I will use the term rape, even though people prefer the term “sexual assualt,” as though there is a connotation of sexuality in an assault against women’s genitalia, simply using geographical terms to move away from the repugnance many people feel, an rightly so to the term rape.

What kind of people would we be if the term rape felt comfortable?

Salon writer Tracy Clark-Flory falls victim to this concept that rape should somehow be avoided because: “… doctors can hardly be expected to get verbal permission before each and every action they take” which sounds suspiciously like the concept that men, being the sexual animals they are, shouldn’t be expected to get verbal permission before each and every action they take, right, arguing that because it’s common, it’s therefore, in her mind, acceptable.  Tracy Clark-Flory goes on to argue that its commonality is therefore its defense:

Certainly, I would say in most cases that it is a violation for a doctor to act against a patient’s explicit wishes or to continue doing something once a patient has explicitly asked them to stop (unfortunately, it’s also extremely common). Even in such scenarios, though, I just don’t see the argument for using the word “rape.”

Reed sees herself as battling those who argue against “‘allowing’ women to use this term,” but I hardly see it as an issue of allowing women to use the term “birth rape.” This is a debate about appropriate word choice, not about actual censorship — and, again, what is gained from employing such a fraught term?

Rape should be a “fraught term” in our society, one that shouldn’t be avoided simply because it’s “fraught” or defined as something in which Tracy Clark-Flory writes off as something common (and therefore by her extension acceptable) or asking permission before an act with a woman’s genitals as “hardly expected,” as though sheer speed or the doctor’s will/knowledge/authority should somehow supersede a woman’s.  Tracy Clark-Flory has this concept fundamentally wrong, and writer  Amity Reed parses Clark-Flory’s typical response very clearly:

The crux of the argument against ‘allowing’ women to use this term is that while, of course, instances where mothers are abused or assaulted during birth are horrible and unacceptable, it was not ‘RAPE rape’ (thanks Whoopi!) and needs to have a less provocative name. Common suggestions for more suitable, society-approved names include ‘medical assault’, ‘medical battery’ and ‘maternal abuse’. The message here seems to be: ‘Call it anything you want, just don’t call it rape, okay? Because it’s not, even if it fits the definition and you, as the victim, have chosen to express what happened to you in these terms. WE will decide what is rape and what isn’t.’ (You can read in Clark-Flory’s response that she has her own definition of rape that she believes should only be given out on her own terms: ” Ihardly see it as an issue of allowing women to use the term “birth rape.” This is a debate about appropriate word choice, not about actual censorship — and, again, what is gained from employing such a fraught term?)

Perhaps this attitude is prevalent because there seems to be some confusion about what constitutes birth rape and what is just an unpleasant or uncomfortable birth. To reiterate a point made in myoriginal article for The F-Word, birth rape is when an instrument or hand is inserted into a woman’s vagina without permission, after which the woman feels violated. Discounting birth rape is discounting the possibility of being raped with an object or non-genital body part and in a context that is not sexual. As we all know, non-consensual penetration is most often not a quest for sexual pleasure but actually an effort to control, terrorise, humiliate, punish or oppress the victim(s).

What gives Tracy Clark-Flory the right to rather abstractedly determine whether or not a woman was raped by playing a game of semantics on par with “he didn’t have time to ask” or “he didn’t mean to,” and why not add in the good ole “it happens all the time bit.”  Amity Reed has this concept right, and so does the country of Venezuala, who has given more rights to women’s sexuality by defining birth violence than American women receive.

Yes, you heard the correctly, Venezuala gives women more rights to birth as they choose, seeing birth rightly as an extension of women’s sexuality, than American women have.  And while Tracy Clark-Flory uses this measure to defend her own argument that she should determine how a woman defines rape, birth or otherwise, the law is still a step in the right direction, a step that American women still don’t have:

An article in the December issue of the International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics reports that the country has introduced the new legal term, which carries with it a fine and the potential for professional disciplinary actions. It is explained like so:

[T]he appropriation of the body and reproductive processes of women by health personnel, which is expressed as dehumanized treatment, an abuse of medication, and to convert the natural processes into pathological ones, bringing with it loss of autonomy and the ability to decide freely about their bodies and sexuality, negatively impacting the quality of life of women.

If we’re being honest, my first response to that is to laugh. Why? Because “dehumanized treatment, “abuse of medication” and pathologizing “the natural processes” sounds so much like par for the course, as far as hospitals generally go. Not that it should be that way, but it so often is. But the rule, which is part of the Organic Law on the Right of Women to Be Free from Violence, further details specific violations:

(1) Untimely and ineffective attention of obstetric emergencies; (2) Forcing the woman to give birth in a supine position, with legs raised, when the necessary means to perform a vertical delivery are available; (3) Impeding the early attachment of the child with his/her mother without a medical cause thus preventing the early attachment and blocking the possibility of holding, nursing or breast-feeding immediately after birth; (4) Altering the natural process of low-risk delivery by using acceleration techniques, without obtaining voluntary, expressed and informed consent of the woman; (5) Performing delivery via cesarean section, when natural childbirth is possible, without obtaining voluntary, expressed, and informed consent from the woman.

I find it troubling that Tracy Clark-Flory’s first response to this definition is to laugh, “Because “dehumanized treatment, “abuse of medication” and pathologizing “the natural processes” sounds so much like par for the course, as far as hospitals generally go. Not that it should be that way, but it so often is…” which brings us back to her argument that “since it happens as the norm, it should be accepted.”  Might I remind Clark-Flory that white men raping black women was “the norm” and so was allowed for years too,  as a “dehumanized treatment, abuse, and pathologizing the natural male process of male sexuality”? It was an acceptable treatment of women based on the concept that another person, in this case a white man, had a societal pass to perform acts of violence against a woman’s person because he didn’t “need” to ask, it was another situation of deserving to have access through whatever right granted by society at large, and it was defined as rape to anyone but the victim and her supporters.  So what is so different about Clark-Flory’s granting physicians the right to proceed without asking?

There isn’t any difference except in the semantics game Clark-Flory plays to make herself feel better, because rape is an uncomfortable term, and rape by those who should be able to be trusted makes people uncomfortable.  Perhaps to Clark-Flory it’s also not rape if a priest acts as the rapist, or if a police officer rapes a person, or perhaps it’s simply not rape based on the situation, with a doctor, or in childbirth, when it should be “allowed” because it happens all the time?  Is it because the woman is already undressed and her genitalia are visible, because that sounds suspiciously like the short skirt argument to allow rape.  Perhaps it’s because of the location, in which case Clark-Flory’s argument would liken hospitals, where it’s the norm, to a bar, where some predators feel (and past courts agreed) that simply the woman’s location or entry into an establishment gives permission for the rape.   Realistically, let’s just call birth rape what it is, not violence caused by giving birth, but violence against women because society allows doctors to violate women giving birth.  Violation, is still violation, is still “no” is still rape, even in most courts of law, unless maybe you are Tracy Clark-Flory, and it’s okay if a doctor does it?

Perhaps Tracy Clark-Flory has yet to acknowledge that doctors do rape patients, in many ways.  She should talk to my readers…

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