"the World Health Organization defined it (rape) in 2002 as "physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object"."
When a woman’s bodily autonomy is disrespected and harmed, regardless of the setting or whom it may be caused by, it is rape.
I have seen discussions floating around where some women who have been sexually assaulted expressed distaste for other women’s use of the word ‘rape’ to describe their experiences, especially in regards to a birth setting and that raises my ire. To discount the very raw experience of birth trauma because HOW a woman’s body is violated does not conform to what some may consider rape (and the definition of rape has changed over time if you consult history btw) is a direct insult to thousands of women’s experiences.
There is a reason why women who have experienced sexual rape have issues coping emotionally with birth and breastfeeding. Rape does not just cause physical trauma which will heal over time, it more strongly causes psychological trauma which influences every aspect of a woman’s life. How a woman is treated in birth has the same effect as it is a very vulnerable time in her life, one that is directly related to her sexuality, her genitalia, and her sense of self.
When a birthing attendant forcefully inserts herself into a woman to perform cervical checks without consent, disregarding the mother’s pleas to stop (as it has happened to me), that is a violation. When a doctor performs an episiotomy or sweeping of the membranes without consent, causing genital tissue damage and pain, that is also a violation. When hospital staff allow strangers into the birthing room with a woman’s sexual organs exposed against her need for privacy, that is also a violation. There are various situations in typical birth settings that fit the bill.
If any behavior causes pain, humiliation, genital damage, and trauma, that is a violation; that is rape. To say otherwise would be like telling one rape victim that her experience is not valid because another’s experience was far worse in their opinion. The two are equally valid because both women feel that they have been violated. For one woman to turn to another and tell them that they are not allowed to use the word ‘rape’ as if it belongs to them personally is outrageous. It is up to the individual to decide what term they are comfortable with using. I would never dis-value another woman's experience by telling her whether it is 'appropriate' to use a term or not. There are many ways women are physically and emotionality violated and they often occur in scenarios that may be inconceivable to others.
Amity Reed at the f word describes it perfectly:
“A woman who is raped while giving birth does not experience the assault in a way that fits neatly within the typical definitions we hold true in civilised society. A penis is usually nowhere to be found in the story and the perpetrator may not even possess one. But fingers, hands, suction cups, forceps, needles and scissors… these are the tools of birth rape and they are wielded with as much force and as little consent as if a stranger grabbed a passer-by off the street and tied her up before having his way with her. Women are slapped, told to shut up, stop making noise and a nuisance of themselves, that they deserve this, that they shouldn’t have opened their legs nine months ago if they didn’t want to open them now. They are threatened, intimidated and bullied into submitting to procedures they do not need and interventions they do not want. Some are physically restrained from moving, their legs held open or their stomachs pushed on.”
Of course the biggest excuse made is that it was to ensure a safe delivery. A baby is not all that matters, and those that push this harmful ideology (and most are the women themselves) are invalidating the importance of a person’s experiences on their psyche. How a woman becomes a mother influences her parenting, her sense of self strongly. Most would not have the audacity to tell a rape victim that at least they survived the attack and to be grateful, as that would dis-value the very real trauma they have experienced. Why is it socially acceptable for women to tell each other that what happens to their bodies during birth does not matter? It is along the same lines as blaming the victim for wearing certain clothes, or being in a certain area as the cause of their experience. “Well you chose to come to the hospital to have your baby, you should have expected this”. It is actually assumed that women will be treated to these violations ‘for the good of their baby’ and it is accepted gladly. The fact that women do not question their treatment during birth or associate their PPD with it is a good indication that this is a subject that needs more awareness.
How many professionals have used their power over women in birth settings to harm them for their own benefit (avoiding medical liability and having swift births which mean more births and mean more pay)? How is this acceptable? How is this behaviour not labelled as being a violation, as being professional rape?
Why aren’t more women speaking out against it?!!!
Because they are told to be quiet and be grateful for the baby in their arms, to be good patients, and not complain unnecessarily. These are the same sentiments that were/are often told to sexually raped victims and that is why these women also keep these traumas to themselves.
Well ladies, I AM LISTENING and I am outraged for you and for our daughters, sisters, aunts, and mothers. We deserve better. We deserve to be heard and respected, and VALIDATED for our experiences and hurts. We should not refrain from using STRONG LANGUAGE to express our traumas, even if it even makes our own sisters uncomfortable. That is the point isn’t it? It makes people uncomfortable to think about the raw truth about what is occurring in birth settings all over the world. What is being tolerated and dismissed. WHAT WE ARE IGNORING ABOUT OUR OWN EXPERIENCES.
And people wonder why women harbor so much anger, guilt, anxiety and depression. If the root causes of these issues are ignored, naturally women will come to believe that they are unstable and ungrateful, rather than realise that they have been grossly disrespected instead.
Rape in any form in unacceptable. Period. If you don’t like the term, you should be that incensed about the action itself, no matter where it is caused.
Have you or someone you know experienced birth rape? Was it recognized as such? How did you/they cope?