August 21, 2012
Dear Congressman Akin,
I’d like to tell you a story. I realize you’re probably not interested in hearing from another crazy, liberal, pro-choice woman. But I’d like you to play pretend with me for a moment. Pretend one of your cherished, beloved daughters came to you, at the age of 15, with this story. Just close your eyes and picture them at that age, still sweet and naïve; then read this story. You owe it to all of us. You owe it to them. You owe it to your grandchildren.
Once upon a time, in rural East Tennessee, there lived a fourteen-year old girl. She was smart and pretty, sweet and naïve. She looked a few years older than fourteen, so she often got a lot of looks from the older boys at school. She also had a brother who was three years older than she was, so his friends often paid her a lot of attention. She was flattered. She was too young to know any better. She was too young to be afraid. It was rural East Tennessee, the Bible Belt, after all. Bad things didn’t happen there. It was “safe”, so they said.
She entered her Freshman year of high school, a bright, motivated, straight-A student. And then it happened. A friend of her brother’s, who had graduated the year before and joined the Navy, came to visit his alma mater in his dress whites. They saw each other in the hallway between classes. He was Gene Kelly in “Anchors Away”. She was much more grown up than the last time he had seen her. There was chemistry (“Yeah. Chemistry.”). She, clearly an old movie buff, was smitten.
During his leave, he came to visit her several times. She, at fourteen years old, was (of course) not allowed to date. He was respectful and understanding. He was kind and considerate. He called several times a day. He always came to visit. He watched old movies with her. He chatted with her Mom. She baked him cookies. It was the 1950’s all over.
When his leave ended, he wrote letters almost every day, and he sent presents. He called every time he was allowed to do so. She wore his class ring every day, wrote letter after letter, and experienced her very first love.
Soon came his next leave. He spent even more time with her, earning her trust and even that of her skeptical parents. Her fifteenth birthday was fast approaching, and he would be home for it. Her parents, unprompted, made an announcement. They could go out together for dinner, just for dinner, for her birthday. Alone. Now, this was rural East Tennessee. Dinner meant a burger at Hardee’s; an hour out together at most. She was ecstatic. Elated. Her very first date! In a car! With a boy! A boy she loved! What could be better? What could possibly go wrong?
She spent hours getting ready. Her brother helped her decide what to wear. It was December, so chilly, but not too cold. She wore jeans with a white turtleneck and a Cincinnati Reds t-shirt over that. No cleavage. No legs. Nothing sexy or revealing.
He picked her up right on time. Her heart was racing. She felt so grown-up. They went to dinner. It was wonderful. Then it was time to head home. She didn’t want to be late. She wanted her parents to know they could trust her. She wanted to be allowed to do this more often.
They started home. It was a small town, so it wasn’t far. He turned down a dark road, in a direction she didn’t recognize. She asked where they were going. He told her it was a surprise. She was thrilled!
Then he pulled off the road, into a secluded, tree-covered area. He parked the car and reached for her. She thought they were going to kiss, all alone, for a few minutes, before going home. He reached down to unbutton her jeans. She said, “No”. He didn’t stop. He pulled up her shirt. She said, “No”. He didn’t stop. She began to cry. He didn’t stop. He raped her, and he didn’t stop. Then he took her home.
Yes. That was me. I’m outing a painful, shameful piece of my past that I usually keep quiet. I’m doing it because I don’t believe you can possibly understand the impact of your words or your proposed legislation. Was that “legitimate rape” by your estimation, Congressman Akin? Probably not. But here’s the thing. I think it would have been less offensive, less damaging, less crippling had it come from a stranger. I was raped by someone I trusted. Someone I loved. Was I tied up? No. Was I left bloody and bludgeoned? No. Was I incapacitated for years to come? Yes. I wasn’t attacked by a stranger. I was attacked by someone who I believed didn’t have it in himself to do such a thing. I was betrayed at a level that I can’t even express in words. And it was years before I could so much as hold hands with someone without trembling inside.
Now, I was one of the lucky ones. I didn’t get pregnant; he came well prepared (no pun intended). As it turns out, however, I’ve had massive issues with fertility. So I spent several years TRYING to get pregnant WITHOUT being raped unsuccessfully. I’m now a Mom. I have a daughter. If anyone ever does anything even close to what was done to me, I’ll probably have to kill him.
I know women who have similar stories. I know one, in particular, very well. She was also a virgin when she experienced a date rape. She DID get pregnant. And she chose to carry that child to term and give it up for adoption rather than have an abortion. She has never truly recovered.
We know our bodies better than you do, Congressman Akin. We deserve to make the choices about what happens to them. We will, almost always, make the best decision. What if I had gotten pregnant at the age of fifteen? What kind of mother would I have made? What kind of life could I have given that child? And who are you to tell me how the rest of my life should be lived?
Let’s go back to our game of make-believe. What if this had happened to one of your daughters? What if this happens to one of your granddaughters? How would you feel then? Would you blame them? Would you trust their word? Would you support their decision? Or would you tell them it was all their fault? Would you tell them their rape was “illegitimate”?
Emily K. Chelimsky