The Reality of Rape and A Woman's Right to Choose

 Paul Ryan once called rape a “method of conception.” Mr. Ryan’s comment can talk all he wants to about how any pregnancy coming from a rape should be carried to term but he’ll never know the horror of having that happen to him. By saying that an embryo has more rights than the traumatized woman in whose womb it was implanted speaks volumes about his severely skewed view of women and equality.

My aunt was raped when she was only 23 and I never knew anything about it until I was a grown woman. No one ever talked about it. People didn’t talk about “these things” back in my aunt’s day. It was considered something for which she should be ashamed, as if what was done to her was somehow her fault. Her own mother, with the best of intentions, told her not to tell anyone for fear it would render my aunt “un-marriageable.” I can’t even comprehend that request to her daughter; un-marriageable for something over which she had no control!

My aunt told me the story of what happened to her because of what she is seeing and hearing on the news concerning the real possibility, and subsequent horror, of a woman’s right to choose being taken away. Fifty years after the horrible incident happened to her she can still remember the terror and the man. She wanted her niece to write about what happened because, “No man can ever truly know what happens to a woman when she is raped. I need you to tell my story.”

She was raped by a man who occasionally worked in her school, a day laborer she barely saw until the night she was working later than usual and he attacked her in the faculty room where she was making copies for her students. He raped her brutally and with a vicious intent. When she tried to fight back he punched her in the face and broke her nose. She thought he was going to kill her and so she stopped fighting. He raped her repeatedly over an hour’s time.

When he was done raping her he warned her not to tell anyone, that if she did he would kill her and throw her body onto the railroad tracks. My aunt waited for over two hours before she dared to call her brother to pick her up at work. When he came into the office he found her hysterical and bleeding. He took her to the hospital where they cleaned her up, set her nose, and sent her home. She had severe vaginal tears. The nurses averted their eyes from her as if they were embarrassed to look at her, as if she were somehow soiled.

When she got home her father cried to see what had been done to his daughter and went to the closet where he kept his hunting rifle. His wife and son had to use all of their reasoning to stop him from going to find and kill her rapist. Later his son hid the rifle so his father couldn’t do what he wanted to do.

The police were not called. Rape was a dirty business and the woman who accused a man of this horrendous act usually was considered to “have asked for it”. This was a time when women had no equal pay and not a hell of a lot of rights.

My aunt could not go back to the school and she took time off without pay. She was afraid to go out, afraid to answer the door, and cried constantly. She had thoughts of suicide and would wake up screaming. Her brother cried and went looking for the man who had done this to his sister but the man was never found. There were no support groups and no one to whom she could talk about what happened. She felt alone. She had, what her mother delicately referred to as, a nervous collapse.

When she skipped two months of her period, the family doctor who examined her told her she was pregnant. He talked to her gently and she told him about the rape. He was a kind man and he asked her if she wanted to continue the pregnancy or end it. My aunt chose to end it. Her doctor performed the abortion with the aid of his wife, who was a nurse, at a hospital in another town where the official hospital records showed that an appendectomy was performed. Abortion of course was illegal.

After a year she asked to be transferred to another school and she went back to teaching. She received her doctorate when she was thirty-six years old and met and married my father’s brother. When she told him about the rape and the abortion he held her and cried for her pain.

My aunt is a sensible, calm woman but she told me this.

“When I hear a man such as Paul Ryan calling rape a method of conception I want to slap his face and say, how dare you? This is something you will never know.”

For 50 years my aunt never told anyone except her husband about her horrible ordeal. It wasn’t until this year, when danger political discussion concerning a woman’s rights and choices for her own body have come to center stage that she felt that she had to speak out.

“Rape,” said my aunt, “is a wound that never heals and a memory that never fades. Tell Mr. Ryan, that is the reality of rape and that is why a woman’s right to choose must be protected.”