Thursday, September 25, 2008

the south dakota post.

edited to add, 9/27/08:
Below is the post I wrote before I headed out here, in which I question CHF's strategies in not focusing or really talking about (from what I could tell) the so-called rape/incest "exception."
Now that I've spent a day and a half with the campaign (more about that soon), I want to add this: I get now why the campaign's not focusing on the bureaucratic b.s. of the rape/incest "exception." I should've known they had good reason, and they do. I've never really been great at "strategy," because I'm not really stoked about using messages that I see as missing anything. I understand why they're used, and I'll use them without complaint, but in my ideal world (which is, clearly, not reality), I'd be able to use the "abortion as basic repro health care as a human right" message. but i can't use that here, and I get that.
That said, this is the campaign's actual stance on the rape/incest so-called "exception," which I didn't understand when i first wrote this post:
The way the measure is worded creates an awful lot of bureaucratic red tape. Red tape that victims shouldn't be forced to find their way through. Reporting rape is not always in the best interests of the victim. It also, as with most rape laws, is really restrictive, and it'd require victims to fit a very specific set of circumstances to really "count" as victims. which is, obvi, bullshit.

The reason it's not the main message is this: SD voters are more compassionate to women with certain health problems not covered by these so-called "exceptions" than they are to rape victims, mostly because they believe that required reporting of rape will automatically mean more rapists in jail. It's an understandable belief, and one that a whole lot of americans share. It'd be great if it were true, and it'd be great if prison was really the best deterrent for sexual violence. But it's not. However, this isn't really the fight that the campaign is fighting right now, so it makes sense that combating that faulty view of rape law and the state's role in rape prosecution isn't a focus of the campaign.

That said, on to the original post.....

i leave for south dakota very shortly. my flight leaves bradley airport at 8:52am on Friday and arrives in Sioux Falls at 2:15pm. i'll be there through sunday, october 5th, when i return to bradley airport at 12:15am. (when someone more interested in me than their sleep will pick me up. i have yet to find that willing someone.)
i'll be with the Campaign for Healthy Families throughout. the first weekend is a live action camp sponsored by planned parenthood. the second weekend's live action camp is sponsored by the aclu. in between, i'll be doing whatever the campaign wants me to do.
i'm not gonna lie - i'm nervous about going, and about leaving my little baby cafe for over a week, and about what'll happen if our campaign loses....but i'm still looking forward to it. it was an incredible experience last time (made all the more incredible by our victory), and i'm sure it'll be just as incredible this time.

i've talked about the concerns i had last time around. the strategy we used was successful...but it kinda set us up for this year's ban. of course the Vote Yes For Life folks were going to take our campaign strategy and incorporate it into a revamped version of what was then Referred Law 6, what is now Initiated Measure 11.

and so now, their abortion ban includes so-called "exceptions" for the things we attacked their last ban for excluding - rape and incest or the health of the woman. except...not really.
the health "exception" is vague, and, given that violation of IM11 means a Class 4 Felony, doctors are not likely to be solely concerned with what's best for the woman's health, as they should be. this isn't exactly the most cut and dry exception: "serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily organ or system". what does that mean, really? does anyone know? are doctors going to be able to figure out whether their patient's best option is going to mean they've committed a felony? and as for the fetuses that won't be able to survive outside of the womb? too bad, you have to carry it to term anyway. there's no provision for fetal fatal anomalies in this law either.
the Healthy Families folks have this argument down pat. their materials focus in on the health exception. they have people on the campaign willing to tell their stories about why their decisions were so important...but wouldn't be allowed under IM11.

but what i can't figure out is why the Healthy Families folks aren't really talking about (and what the VYFL folks are) : the rape and incest "exception."
these are the guidelines for this exception (as explained by the attorney general's explanation(pdf):
-you, as the victim, and/or your doctor must report the rape or incest to the authorities.
-you must consent (is a requirement really considered "consent"?) to a DNA sample of the fetus' tissue. to be used, with or without your consent, by the state attorney's office in the prosecution of the crime perpetrated against you.
let me repeat that.
with or without your consent.
but hey! don't worry, abused girls. this oh so gracious law includes a protection for you - you can't be charged for the incestuous sexual conduct that led to your pregnancy. whew. there's a relief. and here i thought this law was heartless.
oh, still is.

now, of course i think that an ideal outcome would be a report of the rape. i'm not advocating for letting rapists and abusers off the hook.
hi, my name is jen, i'm a survivor of rape and sexual abuse. i'm all for holding rapists and abusers accountable for their actions. i shouldn't have to say that, but i do, because that's how VYFL is painting our side. they're painting us as people who don't care if rapists and abusers are put away. which is, of course, bullshit.

what i'd like to advocate for, though, is victims' rights.
the best way to disempower a woman who's just been disempowered in an extremely intimate way is to force her to re-live her experience, take away her right to tell or not tell her story of violation, and her decision to immerse herself in the fucked up 'justice' system. take all of that away from her. tell her that she must give all of the details she knows, that her story will be reported, that DNA evidence will be taken, and that the state attorney will make the decision as to whether or not to follow through with prosecution.
tell her all of this, and when she makes the very reasonable and understandable decision not to report her attack, tell her that she's going to have to keep this child, whether she wants it or not. after all, she's probably used to people making her do things with her body that she does not want. she's a woman, so she's probably used to people coercing her into "consenting" to x, y, and z.

this is not compassion.
this is not what caring about rape and incest victims looks like.
this is not empowering.

this is degrading.
and disgusting.
and ultimately disempowering.

i was lucky in that my brother's sexual abuse never resulted in pregnancy. i got my first period in the same month that the abuse ended. i didn't understand how pregnancy worked as fully as i should've (thanks, inaccurate abstinence-only education!), and i was terrified until i got my period again...two full months later, because regularity doesn't accompany menarche. but imagine (as i often have) that i wasn't a late bloomer and had gotten my period a year or two earlier. imagine that he forced intercourse on me more than once in that time. and imagine that, at 13, i'd gotten pregnant and needed an abortion. i know exactly what it would have looked like if i lived in a state where this law was in effect:

maybe i would have gone to a gynecologist, for the first time. i would have been terrified to go, but i would have told her that i was afraid i was pregnant. she would have asked me if i'd been sexually active. my shame would have given me away, i'm sure, and she would have asked if it was consensual. at 13, i would have given a very confused answer, one that admitted that i knew it was gross but still thought there was some element of consent, because at 13, i didn't understand coercion, and i didn't connect "abuse" with my experience.
if she found that i was pregnant, i would have tried to get an abortion. how i would pay for it or obtain transportation to and from the procedure, i have no idea, but the last thing that i would have been prepared for would be to tell my (abusive) parents. if i had to tell my parents AND the police? if that was my only option? well…i would have recanted. i would have made up some story about some boyfriend my age, about making bad decisions. because that would have been preferable to being forced to tell my story to my parents, to countless state officials, and having the story of my brother’s abuse whispered in the halls of my high school. and i wouldn’t have gotten the abortion, so i would’ve had to find a way to travel out of state. or i would have looked up some dangerous d.i.y. form of abortion, and done it myself. i was no stranger to self-abuse, so inducing a miscarriage could’ve been an easy option.
these options – traveling far away by myself, literally beating myself up, taking some kind of dangerous mix of chemicals – all would have been higher on my list than telling my parents. and far, far higher than telling any authority figures.

and maybe that’s not all that compelling as a reason to be against the so-called “incest exception” in this abortion ban. certainly, there should have been some state intervention in my family. (and there would have been, if the doctors and nurses in the psych ward at ECMC had followed mandated reporting laws – which they did, for every other sexually abused girl in my ward who was darker than me or poorer than me. purely coincidence, though, i’m sure. *coughcough*)

but hold on. i was sexually abused, and like a lot of other abuse survivors, that’s not the only violation in my history. so here’s another scenario:

when i was 20, i was raped at a New Year’s party by a guy i’d been friends with since preschool. he and his girlfriend took me upstairs on the pretense that the only sex i’d be having would be with the girl (who i was legitimately into), and they coerced and coaxed me into consenting to sex with him. i withdrew my consent two seconds later and told him to stop, but he didn’t care, and kept going.
i don’t think he finished in me, but i was still pretty terrified until i got my period, on schedule, three very long weeks later. (emergency contraception was around at that time, but i somehow didn't know anything about it.)
that fear was well-founded – i could very well have been pregnant. if i was, and if i lived in a South Dakota with this ban in place, i would not be able to get an abortion. even if i’d called the unwanted sex “rape” from the get go (which i didn’t), what happened is not a crime that would ever be prosecuted. i’m smart enough to know that. what happened would absolutely count as rape to any person with a conscience, but as we know, the state is not a body that “conscience” usually applies to. i would have to carry this rapist’s baby because the idea of having my sex life illuminated before judgmental police officers and my shame magnified and multiplied by court officials is fucking terrifying. the idea of carrying my rapist's baby to term is terrifying and awful, as well, of course.
but not terrifying enough to be willing to subject myself to the trauma of a state investigation.

you can’t scare rape victims into reporting their rapes. you can’t frighten abuse victims into doing what they’ll see as “betraying” their families’ secrets.
that’s not how it works.
that’s not compassion.
that’s cruelty.

and maybe the Healthy Families folks aren’t using this angle because it’s controversial. maybe it’s too inflammatory, too emotional. maybe it’s because it doesn’t boil down to a nice sound byte. there are lots of nuances, there is a lot of emotion, and there’s a lot of complication.
but that’s how it’s supposed to be. that’s what reality is.

i know that simplified issues have become what electoral politics are all about. i would love for this to be a simple issue, for it to be black and white and easy to grasp for every South Dakota voter.
but it’s not.
and i’d like to give more credit to the voters than a lot of campaigns ever give them. there are nuances. there is a lot of messiness. we all, i hope, get that. these aren’t easy issues, and they’re not supposed to be.

when i’m out in South Dakota tomorrow and through the next week, i will of course stay on message. i’ll use the message they want to use, the message they’ve decided is their strategy this year, and i’ll hope that it doesn’t backfire or come back to kick their ass. and this all will be in my mind. this is what i’ll be thinking, even if it's not the main message we'll be using.

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