By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager
When I’m not doing my day job of advocating for voluntary family planning programs with Population Connection, you might find me curled up on the couch at home, offering support to survivors of sexual violence. I’ve been an Online Hotline volunteer with RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network – for the past year. It’s not easy work – some of the stories I hear are absolutely heartbreaking. But I get more from it than I ever give. Just knowing that you’ve made the difference for someone who truly needs it is extraordinarily satisfying.
That’s partly why I’ve been livid the past few days.
A lawmaker – it hardly matters which one anymore – had the gall to say that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rapes.”
The women I speak with on the Hotline who find themselves pregnant after their assaults would beg to differ.
I don’t claim to be an expert on rape and sexual assault. But one thing has stuck in my mind over the course of more than 100 hours of listening to survivors. Most of the time, the rape itself isn’t the worst part of their experience. The worst part seems to the feeling of powerlessness survivors feel. Something crucial was taken from them – choice. They had no control. What they wanted simply didn’t matter to their assailant.
|A sign being held at a pro-choice rally. (SMN / Flickr)|
That’s what makes me so angry about the current drive to take away women’s reproductive rights.
When a woman’s choice over what happens to her own body is removed, it’s dehumanizing. For survivors, it could feel like a second assault. First, their attacker gave them no choice in what happened to their bodies. Next, their state or nation might do the same by forcing them into an unwanted pregnancy.
One of the most important things we do at RAINN is to try to help survivors reclaim their power. We don’t tell visitors what to do – we ask them what they want to do. We listen. We try to understand where they’re coming from. We offer resources to help them make the best decision for themselves.
Not the best decision for their parents. Not the best decision for their husband, wife or significant other. Not the best decision for their state or nation. Not the best decision for their attacker. The best decision for themselves. Period.
Rape is excruciatingly commonplace around the world. It’s a weapon of war. It’s a way to keep women “in their place.” It’s used as punishment. It’s a tool of control. Whatever the situation, it strips survivors of their power, and leaves them to pick up the pieces.
Women deserve to choose what happens in their lives. Everyone does.
That’s why I’m so pleased to work for a pro-choice organization like Population Connection. We believe that unless women can choose if and when to have children, no other choice matters all that much. We understand that there are many circumstances in which abortion is the best choice for women, their families and their futures. We fight to give women the family planning tools they need to become pregnant when the time is right for them and they feel they can give their child the best opportunities. We know that when women have power over their own lives, there’s nothing they can’t accomplish.
Choice matters. Choice is what makes us human. Choice gives us power over our own lives. The loss of choice is the loss of power. Let’s not allow that to happen.