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Dear Rep. Akin,
My name is Shauna Prewitt. You do not know me, but you should. I am one of the approximately 25,000 women who every year become pregnant as a result of rape, and I would like to help you better “empathize” with my story.
During my final year of college, I experienced an event that was so absolute in its effects that, since it occurred, it has figured as the point of reference from which all understandings and meanings of my life now stem: I was raped.
I do not know if, in your terms, it was “legitimate rape.” Yes, I cried hysterically. Yes, I fought until my body ached. And, yes, I changed afterward in ways I could not ever imagine.
Before my rape, I lived normally. A variation of a story you might hear about any other 21-year-old college student. I was young, vibrant, confident and excited about a future that had never felt more within my grasp. In a single, life-altering moment, all of that was stripped away. Physically (and I would say tauntingly), I looked the same after my rape, but inside I felt trapped and incapable of attaining or doing anything because I now was degraded, fearful, weak and powerless. Every moment during and after my rape was an agony. Not even 22 years old and my life, as it seemed, was over. Did I respond legitimately enough for you?
In the aftermath of my rape, my method of coping -- no, my method of surviving -- was to resolutely pretend that my rape had never occurred. I treated it as a fictitious nightmare. I convinced myself that if I just lived as I had “before,” I would be as I had “before.” Different plans were in store for me. A month after my rape, I learned I was pregnant from my attack. From this realization, I felt many things. Scared, shocked, even betrayed by my body.
But, most poignantly given your recent horrifying comments, I felt raped. My pregnancy legitimatized my rape. It had happened; this was real.
Given your underestimation of the powers of the human body, I suspect you abruptly have concluded that you know how my story ends. But never underestimate the intricacies of human feeling and experience. Although I would not be able to articulate it for months, I was experiencing a most curious emotion toward the life growing inside of me, an emotion that both enlivened me and caused me to experience an intolerable shame. You see, to my surprise, I did not altogether hate the life growing inside of me. Instead, I felt a sort of kinship, a partnership -- perhaps the kind that only develops between those who have suffered together -- but, nevertheless, I felt a bond.
I admit that these feelings made me feel, for a long time, like a “bad” rape victim. Why did I not feel hatred? Why, instead of being a source of further darkness, did this pregnancy feel, at times, like a small source of light? Perhaps the answer is as simple as this: Just as being raped did not override my body’s natural ability to get pregnant, rape did not altogether override my body’s natural response to being pregnant. It was not an overnight decision, nor was it an easy decision, but I ultimately decided to give birth to, and then to raise, the child I conceived through my rape. Neither getting pregnant from my rape nor finding unimaginable joy from raising my daughter during the past 7 years makes me an “illegitimate” rape victim.
Though I felt dead after my rape, my body was acutely alive. How could the very essence of being a living human being -- that is, creating life -- ever diminish that I had been a victim?
Today, I am an attorney and the busy single mother of an amazing second grader. My rape is responsible for both of these roles. You see, I enrolled at Georgetown Law School after learning, firsthand, that pregnancy from rape creates unimaginable obstacles for women who decide to raise the children they conceive through rape. In the vast majority of states, a rapist has the same custody and visitation rights to a child born through his crime as other fathers enjoy. In 2010, a paper I wrote on this topic was published by the Georgetown Law Journal, and I continue to travel throughout the country speaking on this issue.
I believe that the way we as a society, and especially legislators, speak about rape -- often wrongly and without a sound, reasoned basis -- restricts our ability to pass laws offering meaningful protections. After all, why pass a law restricting the parental rights of men who father through rape when too many legislators argue (without any reliance on science, fact, or experience) that “legitimately raped” woman never would decide to raise a child from that crime? Why pass a law when raped women cannot get pregnant from their rapes?
Rep. Akin, your statement poses another setback to the cause that I have fought passionately for since my life changed forever when I was raped and became pregnant from that rape at 21. But your statement has not landed on deaf ears or weak legs. My rape did not end my life and, in a profound way, I have become a stronger person after my rape. I will fight to extinguish your inflammatory statements just as ardently as I fought to reclaim a vibrant life. I hope you will find my concerns “legitimate.”