Ill-informed male politicians should really know better than to make outrageous claims about rape. And attempting to redefine it is just asking for trouble.

Last week a US politician was misguided enough to refer to "legitimate rape" as he simultaneously made a hash of understanding simple human biology. His wild claim that women couldn't become pregnant via "legitimate rape" is at odds with a 1996 study estimating that around 30,000 US women annually became pregnant as a result of rape.

The satirical The Onion published Pregnant Woman Relieved to Learn Her Rape was Illegitimate which began: "Though she was initially upset following the brutal sexual assault last month that left her pregnant, victim Martha Byars told reporters she was relieved Sunday to learn from Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) that her ability to conceive her unwanted child proves she was not, in fact, legitimately raped."

A catchy song by Taylor Ferrara entitled Legitimate Rape catalogues scenarios that would probably constitute so-called "illegitimate rape" as defined by people like Akin: "I was a little drunk," "I knew the rapist well", "My skirt was kind of short" - and "I'm married to the man." Urban Dictionary defines "legitimate rape" and uses it in a sentence: "Was it legitimate rape, or was it just like, hilarious prison rape or acceptable acquaintance rape?"


A rape survivor's open letter to Akin explored the myth that "legitimate rape is the kind that happens in a back alley, late at night". In fact, according to the Report of the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence: "Sexual violence is more likely to be committed by a person known to the victim, with over one-third of sexual offences committed by current partners, a quarter a friend, one in 10 by a boyfriend or girlfriend and one in 20 incidents a work colleague."

Yet it's likely that these situations would not be deemed "legitimate" according to the warped world view presented by Akin. For the record: rape cannot be classified as either legitimate or illegitimate. Rape is rape regardless of whether you know the perpetrator, have dated the perpetrator or have had sex with the perpetrator before. Sex without consent is rape. End of story.

Meanwhile, proving that redefining and diminishing rape is not the sole domain of Americans, on the other side of the Atlantic British MP George Galloway created a furore when he claimed that the allegations against WikiLeaks' Julian Assange represent just "really bad manners" and "bad sexual etiquette" rather than rape. Yet people who are asleep are unable to give consent therefore sex with a woman in this state must, by definition, be rape.

Akin and Galloway have justifiably been slated by opinion writers and mercilessly mocked in social media. Yet, in a strange way, they've done us all a favour. By highlighting the topic and inadvertently providing rich fodder for satirists the world over, they've brought the conversation about rape into the mainstream. They've elevated its profile way more than dozens of well-meaning street marches and earnest blogs in feminist forums ever could - proving that, weirdly enough, even the outdated views of misogynistic politicians can have their uses.

Check out the clip for the song Legitimate Rape:

What do you think is behind the penchant for male politicians to try to minimise rape? And how can we still be having discussions of this nature in 2012?
Debate on this article is now closed.