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Preface to Birth Rape Piece (questions)

(Not that I really need to say this, but serious Trigger Warning.)

Okay, so I'm working on a piece that's a (long) comment to Jennifer Zimmerman's wonderful article "What Feminists Should Know About Birth Rape” and I'm toddling along just fine , but now I've butted up against the profile of a medical rapist; there isn't one. Yet.

Profiling, while not an exact science, does help those that look for, arrest and incarcerate perpetrators so they are able to help the rest of us avoid these animals. Profiling also helps therapists and rape counselors so they can help rape victims find their way in the world again.

For me, when I was raped and went to therapy, it was extremely helpful to understand the profile of my rapist. First, for him, it was a crime of opportunity... not (that we could tell) a serial rapist, but one that delighted in a very drunk and very vulnerable teenager. When we move into the categorization, he (and his friends) fell into the Power Assertive type of rapist.

"Power-assertive rapist: Athletic, has a 'macho' image of himself. More often than not, this is the type who commits date rapes. He typically meets his victim in a bar or nightclub. Instead of targeting a specific victim, he looks for an opportunity to get a woman alone with him, perhaps with an offer of a ride home or an invitation back to his place."

And "This offender may have self-esteem problems and rapes the victim in order to prove to himself that he is a man."

In therapy, my therapist described this man (and his friends) as having low self-esteem and they raped in order to (spiritually) grab the strong sense of self the woman had/owned... that he came with shit, deposited the shit into the woman, left with her power and she was left with his shit -literally and figuratively. This helped me so much to find a way to take back my power from these assholes (understatement).

So, while I have the absolute belief in birth rape as an action of violence against women and I will include the legal definitions of rape from different sources that validate medical rape, there are absolute contradictions when trying to put birth rape into the general rape category.

Do we need new words/terms for medical rape (as many have suggested all along)? Perhaps creating a profile of a medical/obstetric rapist would be helpful in creating a universal definition of what birth rape is.

I've defended the use of the term "birth rape" for years, but I hadn't taken a look into the general rapist definitions/profiles in years (for whatever reason). Now I'm not quite sure what to think or do about the comment piece. The first 3/4 of it is defending the term and now, as I delve into the legal definitions and profiling, my piece has taken a decided turn to the opposite viewpoint.

Do I keep going and let the post be ambiguous or, worse, schizophrenic? Or do I stop and re-group, taking time to think about what I really believe about the term? As you can tell, I don't know what I think anymore! Should I just set it aside until I have an answer? Or is the ambiguity okay and be incorporated into the finished product.


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Reader Comments (19)

Hmmmm. What would you call an abuser other than birth rapist? Same thing happens to elderly at times, the orderly or nurse puts the person down...coerces family. Coerces the person.

I think it'd be good to get some sort of profile. I recall my nurse, she abused me by doing 3 ve's an hour...without any covering. She knew I had one decel when flat on my back and she kept putting me flat on my back (and I am a woman who can speak for myself but somehow she had me doing exactly what I didn't want to do...I was screaming in my head but not outloud). She made "I told you so" statements. Power tripper, she even bossed an OB who said I could be out of the bed with monitor on and mask of O2...she told the OB the mask lines were on one side of the bed and monitor leads on the other with the IV to boot, so no way. She contradicted the 2nd OB who said not to break the waters, she called him back in to do it despite that statement not 10 mintues earlier and the nurse in the room argued with her about it. She would get me to comply with a promise and then pulled it. Example, I wanted to shower and she said, "okay, after one internal exam." I never got my shower. She did this sort of thing time and again. Bait and switch. She wanted control.

Also, my reaction says there was something wrong too. I didn't understand why I was so blank, why I held my baby and felt sad. Why was I angry at my husband? Why did I feel frozen inside? Why did I feel hurt? Suddenly it came to me. She had violated me with all the VE's (3 per hour) and the stretching of my vagina toward my rectum (6th baby, why on earth?) and the stretching of my cervix because of a lip (ouch). She never once asked, never once covered me up. I felt so violated. I am a strong willed woman, how did I let this happen? I wanted to hurt her and warned my husband not to let me see her as I was afraid I might actually attack her. This was NOT a normal event for me. I've never felt that way about someone even at my most angry. So, something was clearly wrong with how I was treated.

Fast forward 2 years...preadmission. My one concern was that I please NOT get nurse G. The preadmit nurse reacted when I said that name. "Not to worry, she's not here anymore. No one liked her around here." Good. Hope she was in some area where she had no contact with conscious patients. Lab, maybe that was the best place for her.

So, I think you need to organize for sure. It's worth coming up with a profile and holding onto "birthrape" but admitting it's similar but different in that the violation is from someone in an authority position. Kind of like the situation with a guard and prisoner...you know, the learned helplessness. Seen those experiments in psychology where a group of college kids were placed in a prison like area and they were guards and prisoners? Kind of like that...power hungry stuff with some people.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Ok, so your confusion is apparent in your post & it is possible that I myself am confused as to what you are asking. So if you read my response & think 'what they hell is she talking about?' then just delete it & pretend I said nothing :)

I think all the 'it isn't rape' talk is probably bogging up valuable space in your thinking. I've seen you write on the subject & talk about it many times & I can see where any thought that 'maybe it isn't the same' would have you completely baffled. May I propose a parallel? Stealing somebody's car & robbing a bank are 2 totally different acts. You can't charge a bank robber with grand theft auto or a car thief with robbing a bank... however, they are both THEFT... period. If you take away all the details you are still left with 2 thieves.

I do think that there are many vast differences between a typical rapist & a 'medical' one... and those differences ARE important... however let's replace the word rape with 'theft' (because I think we can all agree that a rapist of any kind STEALS from his/her victim). So, while they steal different things, they both steal none the less. While they have different methods & means they are using to commit these acts (back alley or empty house in the middle of the night vs doctor's office or hospital room), they are still both committing the same essential act... they are both 'stealing' something very valuable from innocent victims. So, while I do agree that on a deeper look they do seem to be 2 different things that perhaps shouldn't share a name, I do think they should still both fall under the catagory of rape, while still defining the two seperate things you are looking for.

So, keep going as you are... few things in life are ever black & white, so it's best to just let it be what it is. YES it is rape... YES it fits the defintion & YES it is something completely different & in & of itself at the same time. And I think it will be good if your post shows all of that.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRacheal

The main perpetrators of the assault that took place at my son's birth were the nurses. Women. The most brutal part was the insertion of the internal monitor, which was done by the male OB, but it happened on request of the nurses, one of whom stood next to me while it was done and told me that "it doesn't hurt that much" while I screamed in horrible, intense pain. I think it was the same woman who tried to say that my son would die unless I accepted the internal monitor, which was clearly a threat, not a reality.

I don't think you can make a profile of a medical rapist. They come in all types, genders, guises. But what happened to me WAS rape. I was coerced and forced to allow people to violently assault my sexual organs against my will. They caused me permanent damage. And afterward I was made to feel as though I should be happy and grateful because I came out on the other end with a healthy child. It was NOT just an emotional trauma- my sexual organs were permanently damaged. How can anyone say that is NOT rape? I was far more harmed by it than I was by the "real" rapes that occurred in years before that, crimes which would have resulted in jail sentences if I had gone to the police.

I am so sad that this is still an issue.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLili

As someone who has been actually raped, I can't stand the term birth rape. I think a whole new term is needed.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy D

So, in anthropology classes some 20 years ago, I still remember and contemplate stories of men who hold the power as elders in cultures in Australia and Papua New Guinea. In these cultures (and I can't remember if it was Margaret Mead I was reading or an anthology "The Curse"), men occasionally imitate menstruation by cutting their penis to regain/regather the power they stole from women (and this is a big secret).

Anyway, it has become clear to me over the years that this has been an important part of history - taking away and keeping away woman's power. The most obvious is critiquing a girl's body, but rape works too. I was talking about this with my mother yesterday in fact, and it has been one of my agendas to wake women up and try to spark awake the realization that they never lost their power (otherwise why would women need so much subjugation over the years?). Motherhood, pregnancy, labor and delivery are perhaps the most insidious times to take her power away, and the most fruitful for the rapist.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEthel

Okay, this is totally triggery for me because I was raped (sexually assaulted) twice and birth raped once....

My OB's profile would be that she was a convenience rapist, as well as God. So...it was more convenient for her that I be induced, therefore I was, on very flimsy reasons. It was more convenient for her to do c sections so I had an ultrasound tech who was willing to lie on the estimated weight of my son because I didn't want a c section. It was inconvenient for her to read my birth plan (which mainly consisted of no episotomy, no epidural being offered and the cord blood to be donated.) I narrowly missed an episotomy because my 10 lb son was out in 3 pushes (bless his heart) - she literally dropped the scissors while my poor husband was trying to think how he was going to get her to not cut me. Epidural was offered and I did say no - even though I was induced. She hadn't read my birth instructions so she didn't know to save the cord blood. It really really sucked and my poor midwife had to schedule me for hour long appointments so I could talk about this while pregnant with my second son.

So my ob - crime of convenience and "knowing best." Turned out she was famous with the nurses for being insensitive like this and being knife happy.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarol the long winded

I really do appreciate your thoughts, all of you. And, believe me, I understand the trigger aspect. If it was 20 years earlier, I would have had to ignore this whole topic, so please know I understand and honor your words and ideas.

Racheal: You made perfect sense. And I'm sure part of my whole issue is my inability to verbalize the confusion adequately. I don't often write about my process of writing here in the blog, but it's a pretty common part of my Facebook world; I thought I'd test a more conversational/interactional post. *laughing* Did it work? That remains to be seen.

Amy D: When I first heard the term birth rape, I was crazy mad that anyone could try to claim that word for something that happens in birth. The more I studied, talked to and even examined my own (past) abusive/power-Full actions, I warmed to the words. Once I read the *legal* definitions, that was when I was really able to agree that birth rape is real. (This is part of what's repeated in the piece I'm working on, but I've written about my process before.) Oh, and I am *not* trying to change your mind; I'm getting to a point... sorry it's long coming.

So, don't feel you need to answer, but it is those who despise the term who I need input from the most when it comes to trying to come up with a better word/words for obstetric assault.

Those words -obstetric assault- keep running through my head as I've thought about this all day. Is this adequate? Does assault describe what non-consensually happens to a woman's genitals in birth? Does obstetric cover the *where* (genitals) the assault occurred? Are those two words strong enough? Do they convey the appropriate amount of terror/pain/victimization?

Still thinking.

January 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I agree with Racheal's general sentiment -- that when viewed as what happens to the victim, "birth rape" is still a valid term even if the perpetrator would not fit the typical "rapist" profile; although I understand why some people would disagree with it or wish the term were not used. Perhaps "obstetric violation" would be a better term in some ways, because then the term "rape" wouldn't be coupled with "birth", which throws many people off; yet it would be in terms that people could understand -- the woman was violated during labor/birth, an obstetric event.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

I personally support the use of the term birth rape. When I was in college and was attacked, I became a sexual safety educator for incoming freshmen, and I volunteered with SARN (Sexual Assault Resource Network) and acted in the Vagina Monologues, etc. I did a lot to reclaim myself. Through it all, I got very comfortable with the technical terms and definitions of rape vs. sexual assault. I was in fact often belittled by other survivors because I was NOT raped, I was "merely" assaulted (by a drunken stranger on the sidewalk in broad daylight, while several strangers in their yards watched and turned away, not wanting to interfere).

The definition of rape that I was always told, and that I taught, was "penetration without consent." In this context, "birth rape" fits perfectly. If a woman does NOT consent to a procedure but is penetrated anyway - by a needle, by a scalpel, by unwanted fingers - wouldn't that count as rape? Some rapists are no doubt well-intentioned, just as the doctors are. My attacker was so drunk that he thought I was being coy. He kept asking, confused, why I was pulling away and struggling. I don't think he was trying to hurt me - he was just drunk out of his mind and had no respect for me, a strange girl he met on the sidewalk.

That's what some doctors are like, too. "What do you mean, don't give you a C-section? Isn't that what you wanted? You came to the hospital, you said yes to the epidural, you said yes to the pitocin, you said yes to having me as your doctor, and now you're saying no to the most medical, doctorly thing I can do for you?" I can imagine that this doesn't make sense to a lot of doctors, just as it didn't make sense to my attacker when I told him that I didn't want to kiss him.

So yes, keep the term "birth rape." Just remember that rape and assault doesn't always occur at night in a blind alley at gunpoint. Sometimes it occurs in a bedroom, in bed, when one person says no and the other person just doesn't take them seriously. The lack of malicious intent doesn't doesn't make it any less horrible or any less of a crime, but those victims are the ones we like to forget, because they are forgotten by the system. I wasn't forgotten - I had witnesses watch as a man put me in a wrestling hold and tried to drag me to his van. The system helped me! But what about my friend who was drinking and realized at the last second that the guy she'd gone home with wasn't going to stop when she asked him to?

Let's remember her, too. Let's remember that women who are pressured into consenting for something they don't want and that will ultimately damage them are being penetrated against their wills. And that is rape.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

There's child abuse, spousal abuse...how about medical maternal assault/abuse? It can happen with a doctor, midwife, nurse, or pediatrician. It can also happen not just in birth but in miscarriage. It has to be more than just a nurse has a bad day. How would something like this be defined? I've been molested, the person was smooth and also ran when I screamed rather than complete the act. I was told either they objectify the person in order to have distance and intend to harm, or they view themselves as really a nice person and don't want to get caught.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Obstetric assault is...I don't know how to explain it.It is resonating.For me,it's almost that.So close.
Maybe obstetric rape?Or birth assault?I think I'm too exausted to find exactly the right word.

You will find it and find a way to do what you need to do.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWoe

This is just such an awkward topic. Most women who experience it are traumatized, and just like any trauma victim, the recounting or discussion of the event is painful. Calling it "rape" can also lead to even more negative connotations of an already negative experience. However, it does seem to be a very valid category, based on all the many things you've already discussed.

Above, Lili stated: "And afterward I was made to feel as though I should be happy and grateful because I came out on the other end with a healthy child. " How is it that women are made to feel this way when doctors violate them, but the same is not said when a man rapes a woman and impregnates her? But it COULD be. Very, very easily. I'm sure the woman whose child is conceived from sexual assault loves him/her just as much as any other woman, but she's not typically made to feel bad for not THANKING HER RAPIST!

That said, I do think having a separate subcategory, such as "obstetric assault" is more clear, and in some ways more versatile. It very clearly marks the fact that the woman was profaned under the guise of medical care, while taking away the additional ramifications of the word "rape." But what I'm saying is, classify "obstetric assault" under the legal heading of "rape." They're both accurate, but in different ways.

As far as a profile of the birth rapist, it seems very clear to me. Every story I've seen has spoken of a need for control. The reasons for the controlling behavior are different, but the control aspect is always there. One doctor/nurse will need to control the timing, another will need to control the pain, another will need to control the whole experience.

Our medical community is full of narcissists and people with God complexes. For many, that God complex is exactly WHY they chose to become medical practitioners. THEY have the power over life and death, and if the nurses/patients/whoever would just comply with their orders, their practice would be flawless! (eye roll)

As my lovely mate has just pointed out to me, the rest of our doctors are put in a position that if they admit to wrongdoing, they are criminals and can be sued for thousands, millions of dollars. If, however, they are ALWAYS RIGHT, they are wealthy purveyors of health and help. The God complex is a natural byproduct, and to act any differently is simply not an option.

As a whole, our society needs to be awakened to the idea that medicine is still evolving. Our doctors are not God, all knowing and all seeing. They can not see the cancer growing inside a brain without knowing to look for it. They can not understand the discomfort of a woman who's having cervical irritation due to NuvaRing. Our doctors can't possibly keep up with every new piece of information discovered or developed. Simply put, our doctors can not know what they do not know.

It is our responsibility to question our doctors, and it is THEIR responsibility to realize that we may have information they don't. To disregard their patients autonomy is a violation of his or her rights, and any kind of unwanted genital penetration is legally rape.

January 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

using the word obstetric (as in obstetric assault/violation/etc) in any phrase lessens the impact of the phrase. in our culture, there is such automatic respect for authority - and doctor, as well as obstetrician, as words themselves immediately make one think of that authority. which then makes us feel like it can't have been *that* bad - after all, authority is there to help us and who are we to question authority, etc.

maybe the problem is profiling here - from what i understand birth rape seems to be an institutional problem more so than an individual problem. of course, there are doctors, nurses and other health care professionals that clearly have power and control problems. no doubt. nonetheless, it seems more like the system as a whole encourages and supports a culture of birth rape. that to me is the bigger issue and where the focus of any fight to stop it should be.

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterandrea

I was just thinking about this topic (see, NgM, you've made me THINK! tragic!) and remembered that there was recently a movement in Latin America to recognize the term "obstetric violence."

Ah, yes, here it is. I read about it on the Unnecesarean.


It strikes me that the most important thing is not to argue about the term birth rape, but to settle on a term that everyone is at least mildly comfortable with and start USING it. Make the world see that this is real, and move it beyond the infighting over our choice of vocabulary. So many women, particularly survivors, have a problem with the phrase birth rape. As women who love women, shouldn't we be jumping all over ourselves to come up with a phrase that won't trigger them?

January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

HAHA, Emily (about thinking).

Yes, the obstetric violence is a great term, but, to me, still doesn't speak of the touching aspect. To me, the word "violent" is almost an uncontrolled anger. The more I discuss it, obstetric assault are the words that resonate with me.

I don't see it *all* being in-fighting, the discussion about an all-encompassing term, but also from without. I believe until we get something the mainstream press can stomach/tolerate, the topic is going to remain outside the attention of those that might be able to *do* something. I also am beginning to believe the term birth rape is *so* intense for new hear-ers, most close their mind to what that could possibly be.

Still thinking.

January 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Maternity oppression? Birth brutality, Obstetric Oppression? Birth oppression? Hostile Birth? Obstetric Hostility? Coersive Obstetrics? Hostile Obstetric Oppression? Maternity Molestation, Obstetric molestation, birth battery, obstetric defilement, Just throwing out some ideas...playing with words a bit....

Some definitions I read...
Battery...unjustified application of force
Assault....attempt or threat to do physical harm
rape...act of plunder or sexual assault by force
defilement....a forced sexual assault

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

I keep thinking though "obstetric" makes me think of the doctors and not the others involved. Many times it's a nurse who does the abusing, and midwives can too. Am I ignorant of the definition of obstetric?

January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Dawn, those are great! I tried playing with the words and couldn't come up with anything like you did. Thanks so much for working on them!

And obstetric isn't just the doctor. It pertains to women's care. But, it's a valid consideration to think about not using the word after all.

January 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Consent is really ambiguous in obstetric contexts--and that's a big problem. It's SO EASY for a care provider with the best intentions to do something that the patient experiences as rape.

My OB wasn't abusive--it was just a miscommunication about what it means to consent to a procedure. There was no ill will, but I still felt absolutely devastated and profoundly violated.

It's important (and sometimes difficult) to distinguish between misunderstandings and abuse, but when it IS abuse, it's the kind of abuse that's called rape.

Women don't stop being sexual just because they're giving birth, or just because their care providers aren't thinking of them that way. Consent is a profoundly big deal.

Mothers need to be aware that the intake paperwork is construed as consent for EVERYTHING (your "hospital ticket" post is spot-on wonderful!) and care-providers need to be aware that mothers don't always see it that way.

It's horrible that there are sickos out there who deliberately hurt birthing women, but it's a double tragedy that the birth setting is so ambiguous that women can end up feeling raped by caring people who only wanted to help them.

January 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElena

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