Comments from Representative Todd Akin about “legitimate rape,” and the inability to conceive after rape, might seem absurd and upsetting to the general public, but for rape victims it can even be potentially harmful to their mental health.
To read my article about specific rape myths, click here.
“These types of statements are victim blaming and re-traumatizing,” said Sheela Raja, an author, assistant professor and clinical psychologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Many people hold false beliefs about rape, including the belief that if there was no weapon present or the victim was not injured physically, that she was not raped.”
For rape victims who become pregnant, the recent statements about the inability to conceive from “legitimate rape” can cause conflicting emotions at the very least.
“The statement that if a woman conceives she has not really been raped is painful, re-traumatizing, not to mention medically inaccurate,” Raja said.
“If a woman did conceive as a result of being raped, statements like this will only make her feel more blamed and stigmatized. These types of statements make it more likely that survivors will not come forward and seek help.”
She added that statements which include rape myths and attempt to shame rape victims can in fact cause serious consequences to the mental health of survivors.
“We actually have evidence that these types of statements are not just upsetting to rape survivors, they actually have an effect on survivors' mental health,” Raja said. “People who report feeling blamed and stigmatized after rape have higher levels of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Of course, these mental health symptoms are also related to poorer physical health symptoms. So what we say really does matter.”
“Basically, from a mental health standpoint, it is very important to believe survivors,” Raja added.
“It takes a great deal of courage to come forward and report sexual crimes.