There has been tremendous tension in the United States Senate this week [25 June], including civilians protests and a filibuster led by Rep. Wendy Davis (D). “The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature pushed Monday to enact wide-ranging restrictions that would effectively shut down abortion clinics across the nation’s second most-populous state…after the House easily approved it Monday morning, the wide-ranging package of anti-abortion measures was headed to the Senate. But with the special session scheduled to end at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday [25 June], the clock presented a far bigger obstacle than the votes to win approval there…The proposal would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, require doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, limit abortions to surgical centers and stipulate doctors must monitor even non-surgical abortions” (Chris Tomlinson).
Unfortunately for pro-life supporters, many government officials in America have lately demonstrated a lack of knowledge (and often tact) in dealing with rape. For example, Rep. Akin made headlines last summer when he commented: “If it’s a legitimate rape…the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down“. The world was left to ponder where he got that grossly inaccurate information. Rep. Salazar is another example: during a discussion about concealed weapons on Colorado college campuses (for the purpose of self-defense and safety), Salazar used rape victims as a sort of crutch to defend his reasons for the disarmament of college students. Many men and women in government fail to understand the reality and repercussions of rape. Rapists ruin lives, with or without political sensibilities intact. The United States, and people around the world, need an increased education in sexual assault.
One representative supporting this particular bill is Republican Jodie Laubenberg. In what was at best a moment of failed communication skills due to ignorance and at worst a tremendously terrible and offensive representation of the subject at hand, Laubenberg made the statement: “In the emergency room they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out.” In other words, rape need not become part of the abortion discussion because all rape victims have access to early term abortion through rape kits.
The use of rape myths in a government or court setting immediately removes any and all validity and credibility from the argument. The use of rape myths in a government or court setting is also a serious attack on survivors of rape. Rape myths have no place in rhetoric. To say that rape kits are used to perform abortions is a dangerous rape myth.
Rape kits are known by different names: rape kit, PERK kit, sexual assault evidence kit, etc. Never has a rape kit been known as an abortion procedure because it has nothing to do with abortion. A rape kit is not meant to prevent or terminate pregnancy. Its purpose is the collection and preservation of important DNA evidence which can then be used – ideally – as evidence in a court case. Juliet, a rape survivor from Manchester, shares her story, including the process of evidence collection. The DNA evidence from her rape kit played a huge part in the conviction of her attacker.
The sexual assault forensic exam kit (commonly referred to as a “rape kit”) is the collection of DNA and other forensic evidence, which is then kept by the SANE or medical provider until picked up by law enforcement or the crime lab. It is then stored until the victim determines whether or not to pursue a case. The kit itself is generally a large envelope or cardboard box, which can safely store evidence collected from your body or clothing. While the contents of a sexual assault forensic exam may vary by state and jurisdiction, it may include items, such as:
Bags and sheets for evidence collection
Envelopes for hair and fibers
Blood collection devices
Processing the evidence takes time and countless kits have been backlogged. An alarming amount of rape kits have never even been tested. Laubenberg, perhaps unknowingly, has created yet another obstacle for survivors of rape to receive judicial justice by calling a rape kit something that it is not.
Yesterday [24 June], Soraya Chemaly published an article entitled “10 Crucial Facts About Rape Kits – True Even in Texas“, which provides excellent, candid clarification for why Laubenberg was wrong. While our views on abortion stand in extreme opposition to one another, I have a deep respect and admiration for Soraya Chemaly and the work she does to defend the rights of women. The world needs more advocates like her. The following list is her work:
1. A rape kit is a forensic tool used to collect evidence of sexual assault.
2. A rape kit is not an abortion.
3. A rape kit does not “clean out” a woman [Laubenberg]. Machines get cleaned out. Human beings don’t.
4. A rape kit is used during a hospital examination, hopefully conducted by a trained member of a sexual assault response team (SART). The process includes the collection of DNA evidence like hair, semen, saliva taken from the victim’s skin, nails, clothing, and genitals. This exam includes oral and rectal exams.
5. As part of the collection of evidence, and the medical exam — not performed by untrained legislators — a doctor will also order STD testing and provide a morning after pill to prevent pregnancy. It always bears repeating that the morning after pill is not an abortion in a pill.
6. While difficult, frightening and re-traumatizing for most people who have just experienced rape and assault, collection of rape kit evidence is crucially important to the successful prosecution of rapists.
7. Rape kit evidence collection is important, but useless unless the kits are tested. Testing rape kits stops predatory rapists from raping again.
8. We don’t take rape seriously. There are 400,000 untested rape kits languishing in evidence rooms around the United States. There are 20,000 UNTESTED rape kits in Texas alone. Does this mean that 20,000 women’s abortions are waiting to happen in sealed boxes across the state? No.
9. A rape kit is not a D and C, which is short for dilation and curettage, a medical procedure conducted by trained medical professionals on behalf of patients, all women, who need to end pregnancies. I know, a French word. It’s ok. D and Cs are, however, performed in Texas, too, usually when a woman is facing a nonviable pregnancy.
10. A rape kit does not cause, prevent or end a pregnancy. Doctors, those are people who go to school to study medicine and biology, can back me up on this.