The Legitimate Children of Rape by Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon has a piece in The New Yorker entitled The Legitimate Children of Rape. I really, really recommend that you read the entire thing; it isn’t very long. The focus of the piece, children born as a result of a women being raped, is still a highly sensitive topic, both personally and politically, as no one has been able to come out and just say it: some children should have been aborted. I hope that we as a society are able to move past all of the idealistic statements spoken by people when the topic of children of rape comes up:

1. There is no such thing as unwanted children. I think you have to be pretty dense to make this kind of statement.

2. All children are a blessing. Again, a dense position to take.

3. Women always love their children no matter what. Err, no.

Those are the typical sentiments trotted out when children of rape are discussed. Anyway, on to some particularly meaningful parts of this piece.

Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Felicia H. Stewart and Dr. James Trussell have estimated that there are twenty-five thousand rape-related pregnancies each year in the United States. While these numbers make up only a small part of this country’s annual three million unwanted pregnancies, the numbers are still extremely high.

I had no idea until reading this that there are three million unwanted pregnancies annually. And the number is probably higher than that. Wow.

Classical mythology is full of rape, usually seen as a positive event for the rapist, who is often a god; Zeus so took Europa and Leda; Dionysus raped Aura; Poseidon, Aethra; Apollo, Euadne. It is noteworthy that every one of these rapes produces children. The rape of a vestal virgin by Mars produced Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome.

Historical and societal context of rape important in understanding its position in today’s world.

Historically, rape has been seen less as a violation of a woman than as a theft from a man to whom that woman belonged, either her husband or her father, who suffered an economic loss (a woman’s marriageability spoiled) and an insult to his honor.

Probably my favorite sentence of the whole piece. I still see this sentiment expressed today.

In Puritan Massachusetts, any woman pregnant through rape was prosecuted for fornication. In the nineteenth century, the American courts remained biased toward protecting men who might be falsely accused. In order to prove that an encounter was a rape, the woman had to demonstrate that she had resisted and been overcome; she usually had to show bodily harm as evidence of her struggle; and she had somehow to prove that the man had ejaculated inside her.

Notice the woman was prosecuted for fornication … any charges brought upon the man? No? Okay.

In 1971, the psychoanalyst Menachem Amir called rape a “victim-motivated crime.”

And we still see intense victim blaming today.

One rape survivor, in testimony before the Louisiana Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, described her son as “a living, breathing torture mechanism that replayed in my mind over and over the rape.” Another woman described having a rape-conceived son as “entrapment beyond description” and felt “the child was cursed from birth”; the child ultimately had severe psychological challenges and was removed from the family by social services concerned about his mental well-being. One of the women I interviewed said, “While most mothers just go with their natural instincts, my instincts are horrifying. It’s a constant, conscious effort that my instincts not take over.”

As Solomon points out, women who become pregnant after being raped are faced with a double challenge. First, coping with surviving a rape, which can take a life time. Second, discovering she is pregnant and having to make a quick decision regarding the pregnancy. The mental anguish caused by this must be unbearable.

One sees the problem abroad, where the Helms Amendment is taken to mean that no agency receiving U.S. funding can mention abortion even to women who have been systematically raped as part of a genocidal campaign.

What the fuck?

The journalist Helena Smith wrote the story of a woman named Mirveta, who gave birth to a child conceived in rape in Kosovo. Mirveta was twenty years old, and illiterate; her husband had abandoned her because of the pregnancy. “He was a healthy little boy and Mirveta had produced him,” Smith writes. “But birth, the fifth in her short lifetime, had not brought joy, only dread. As he was pulled from her loins, as the nurses at Kosovo’s British-administered university hospital handed her the baby, as the young Albanian mother took the child, she prepared to do the deed. She cradled him to her chest, she looked into her boy’s eyes, she stroked his face, and she snapped his neck. They say it was a fairly clean business. Mirveta had used her bare hands. It is said that, in tears, she handed her baby back to the nurses, holding his snapped, limp neck. In Pristina, in her psychiatric detention cell, she has been weeping ever since.” The aid worker taking care of Mirveta said, “Who knows? She may have looked into the baby’s face and seen the eyes of the Serb who raped her. She is a victim, too. Psychologically raped a second time.”

My god. Would anti-choicers preferred to let this rape survivor have an abortion, or force her to have her rapist’s baby as happened?

In working on my book, I went to Rwanda in 2004 to interview women who had borne children of rape conceived during the genocide. At the end of my interviews, I asked interviewees whether they had any questions for me, in hopes that the reversal would help them to feel less disenfranchised in the microcosmic world of our interview. A woman paused shyly for a moment. “Well,” she said, a little hesitantly. “You work in this field of psychology.” I nodded. She took a deep breath. “Can you tell me how to love my daughter more?” she asked. “I want to love her so much, and I try my best, but when I look at her I see what happened to me and it interferes.”

Utterly heartbreaking.

I also recommend reading the Helena Smith piece that Solomon links to. It’s from 2000 and recounts the experiences of children borne of rape in Kosovo. Now I’m going to go research The Helms Amendment and see if it’s as fucked up as it sounds.

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