GOP: Team Rape!

I recently received an e-mail from a reader. The author didn’t specify whether or not they wished their identity to be known, so I have not included it here. If the author wishes, that person may choose to identify themselves in the comments. Here is the question:

I know you are outside the US, but one of the subjects that has been glossed over in the Presidential race is Romney’s view on rape. He states that he allows for abortion in the case of rape or incest, but has refused to illuminate the particulars, especially after Todd Aiken’s outrageous comments re:”legitimate rape”.

From my own experience in the mormondum, the church has very strict guidelines given to the bishopric and stake presidents as to what constitutes legitimate rape. The victim has to fight and has to scream loud enough to be heard. In my case, I asked (during my church court “hearing”) what if you are tied up? gagged? what if they threaten your toddler daughter sleeping in the next room?

None of that applied. And it was noted by the bishops first counselor that had I been righteous, the Lord would have taken me (I would have died) before the assault. Also, in the State of Utah, even if convicted, in the case of incest the judge has the right to waive jail time for the convicted rapist.

I believe this is a legitimate line of inquiry to ascertain Romney’s views on the subject. But I can’t get anyone to be more pointed in asking this question. Any thoughts on a post on this?

Establishing a legitimate line of inquiry on any issue related to Governor Flip-Flop is difficult due to general lack of consistency, but let’s do our best to establish the larger context here. A quick search on YouTube yielded this hall of shame of rape quotes:

These comments are so horrible that only comedy can make sense of them:

A full timeline of Republican RapeGate 2012 would fill five blog posts, so I’ve tried to pick out the most prominent events from the War on Women that have to do with rape. I hope that I can use these events to string together a narrative on why Republicans have stepped in it over and over again when it comes to rape.

January 28 – Redefining Rape

Mother Jones reports on the Republican plan to decriminalise non-forcible rape. Under proposed legislation, rape would only be really rape in cases where women struggled, screamed, or attempted to fight off their attacker. Pregnancies resulting from assaults where a woman was unable to put up a fight due to being frightened, coerced, too young, incapacitated, or disabled would no longer be considered “rape” and would not be eligible for most forms of financial assistance for an abortion.

Why would Republicans take this position?

It’s in the Bible. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 makes it clear that if a woman has sex with a man in a location where others might be able to hear her cries for help, she wasn’t raped and should be stoned to death as an adulterer. Verses 25 and 26 make it clear that if a woman is raped in a location where nobody could have heard her scream out, then only the rapist should be killed and the woman should be spared.

This is where the concept of “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape” come from. Jews and Christians who actually read the Old Testament and understand it will naturally arrive at this conclusion. Let’s repeat that: The Bible specifies that rape isn’t rape unless a woman cries out for help. Staying silent for any reason — roofies, a gun to the head, or the threat of violence to people in the next room — means it isn’t really rape.

February 16 – State Sponsored Penetration

Slate reports on a proposed Virginia law that would require women seeking abortions to receive a medically unnecessary vaginal probe whether they wanted it or not, leaving them with the choice of being sexually assaulted by their doctor or carrying an unwanted fetus to term.

Why would Virginia Republicans do this?

The Bible can shed some light once again. Women are described quite clearly as property to be managed by men. They are listed behind cattle in many cases describing property distribution, and abduction and rape was considered a legitimate means of securing a wife. Exodus 21, Numbers 31, Deuteronomy 20, Deuteronomy 21, Deuteronomy 22, 2 Samuel 12, Judges 5, and Judges 21 are just a few very clear examples of the status of women in the sight of Yahweh. Opposition to abortion is almost exclusively based on biblical-based belief. Is it surprising that people who utilise this book for their moral compass would merely reflect the callous misogyny found in its pages? These men don’t hate women. They just don’t know how to love them as full human beings.

March 6 – Women are Livestock

Georgia State Representative Terry England compares women to chickens, cows, and pigs giving birth while arguing against an exception to Georgia’s strict abortion laws that would allow women with non-viable fetuses to obtain abortions rather than carry them to term, only to result in stillbirth or instant death of the baby. The bill later passes.

Why would Republicans in Georgia do this?

Women having the status of livestock is in the Bible. Noticing a trend yet, anyone? The Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17) treats a woman as exactly the same as a man’s other pieces of property: his house, his servants, his ox, his donkey, or any other personal effects. Including his wife.

April 5 – Women are Caterpillars

GOP Chairman Reince Priebus dismisses the idea of a Republican War on Women as fictional as a “war on caterpillars.”

Why would the leader of the Republican Party say this?

We may live in a modern world where Christians heavily cherry-pick from their scripture, but there are still consequences to reading a sloppy text written by nomadic warlords and strung together by politicians thousands of years later. In the Bible, men are the prophets, lawmakers, priests, and kings. God is male and so is his son. Women are auxiliary substances to maleness. They are on the same level as real estate, livestock, and household goods. Is it really that surprising that someone who chooses the Bible as his ultimate moral guide would be influenced by its lack of serious treatment of women as full human beings?

August 19 – Legitimate Rape Can’t Cause Pregnancy

Senate candidate Todd Akin insists that “legitimate rape” cannot result in pregnancy. This implies that the 30,000+ women every year who conceive after rape must have enjoyed the attack and therefore can’t complain about the government forcing them to bear their attacker’s child.

Why would a Republican Senate Candidate say this?

This goes right back to Deuteronomy 22, where rape isn’t rape unless it’s physically forcible and the woman screams for help. Anything else, according to the Bible, isn’t really rape.

August 20 – Romney Condemns Akin

Mitt Romney calls Akin’s words “insulting, inexcusable, and, frankly, wrong.” Romney, Ryan, and other GOP higher-ups call for Akin to resign from the race, which he refuses to do.

Why would the Republican Presidential Candidate say this?

At the time I hoped it was because Romney, a former pro-choice candidate, was at least reasonable enough to see that comments like this are horribly offensive and political cyanide. Also, being Mormon rather than Catholic or mainstream Christian, he’s able to adhere to official LDS policy of allowing abortion in cases of rape. The fact that this reaction may have been part of an effort to get a more palatable Republican candidate in the Missouri senate race did come to my mind but I could not be sure.

Until . . .

October 23 – Rape Pregnancy is a gift from God

On October 23, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana expressed his belief that even when conception occurs as the result of rape, it is a “Gift from God” and no abortion should be permitted. Romney, who the previous day had endorsed Mourdock with the only television commercial he has ever recorded for a fellow candidate for office, sends an aide to release a mild statement saying that he does not share Mourdock’s position, but continues to support him for office.

Why would Romney do this?

I don’t think Mitt Romney cares much about the issue of rape at all. When it was politically convenient, he spoke out against Akin. This allowed him to appear chivalrous and to help his party by trying to get rid of a toxic candidate and find a replacement before the ballot deadline. In Mourdock’s case it’s too late. Pulling support for Mourdock this late in the season would mean automatic victory for the Democrats. As usual for the wannabe CEO-in-Chief, politics take precedent over principle. Achieving the goal of the White House and Republican control of the Senate as well as the House is far more important than defending the rights of women to the GOP. That’s the business they are in. Their goal is power, not compassion. Let’s not be sentimental or hand-wringing about that reality.

So What Now?

Perhaps the GOP will continue to add to RapeGate, but hopefully they’ll adhere to the wisdom of Steven Colbert in this case.

As far as Romney goes, I believe that if elected he would continue along the Republican Party’s path of strict Biblical literalism when it comes to legislating the status of women. Romney isn’t quite the same as a Christian for the purposes of this discussion, as he adheres to additional authorities like the Book of Mormon and the President of LDS, inc. Mormonism lacks the clear-cut Canon Law that Paul Ryan can adhere to, making it harder to know exactly what he would believe. The closest thing that the organisation has is the Church Handbook of Instructions. The boring half has been made public on LDS.org, but the really good secret stuff is periodically leaked online. The most recent edition of CHI Book One contains some pretty revealing information.

Nowhere in the Church Handbook of Instructions are Priesthood authorities told that they should immediately inform civil authorities when they learn of a crime. The book simply tells them when formal versus informal religious discipline should be imposed.

In section 6.7.3 of CHI Volume one, murder and incest are mentioned. Bishops and Stake Presidents are told how to contact internal LDS Authorities regarding spiritual discipline. Nothing is mentioned about contacting police. Later on the same page, Priesthood leaders are informed that people identified as predators must have a disciplinary hearing. Once again, there is no mention of alerting proper authorities.

Section 6.10.3 informs Mormon leaders that “aggrieved victims” should be counseled internally by the Church’s own helpline. “Great care must be taken,” the passage reads, “to avoid causing further trauma, especially to a victim of physical or sexual abuse.” Ironically, the Church’s prime policy document says nothing about reporting abuse to doctors, law enforcement, or professional services for abuse victims — which greatly increases the chances of creating further trauma.

The Church Handbook of Instructions is a treasure trove of bizarre and shocking policies, but what I’ve listed here should present a broad enough picture of what the problem is when it comes to Alpha Mormon Males like Mitt Romney and the issue of sexual violence against women: there is nothing in their training or culture that would lead them to treat sexual violence as seriously as the integrity and reputation of the church. Without explicitly stating that crimes like murder, rape, and incest should be immediately reported to police, the CHI creates a web of policies that will encourage Mormon leaders to keep these issues as internal matters. This leaves children and women who have been victimized at the mercy of male lay ministers who have no professional qualifications when it comes to dealing with criminals or assisting victims.

This is why, unlike so many Republican goose-steppers, I find the story about Mitt Romney’s efforts to stop a life-saving abortion to be entirely plausible. It’s also why I find the prospect of a Romney-Ryan presidency and the possible impact on the U.S. Supreme Court’s makeup to be horrifying.

Rape is rape is rape. And rape is evil. And no woman should be forced by the government to bear the child of her attacker. And no legislator should presume to meddle in this area. How many times have we got to say it? Perhaps I’m not articulate enough on the subject. Perhaps this gentleman can help me say it more clearly:

Rapist? Yes. Paedophile? No.

My post on Rape Apology and Joseph Smith keeps generating really interesting discussion. It’s nice to see so many people using their brains on this subject, because it’s incredibly tricky and will require investigation for some time.

I received a comment from Jack Steele that asked for a response too lengthy for comments, so here we are once again. You can read the whole thing in its original context if you like, but the summary is: “Many of Joseph Smith’s wives were young — probably young enough that they had not reached menarche. Does this make him a paedophile?” Jack’s sources for data regarding average age of marriage (20-24), eligibility (19) and onset of menses (16.5) for Joseph Smith’s time are reliable. Age of menarche is tied to nutrition. Modern girls have been experiencing earlier ages of menarche over time, topping out at around 12-14 years of age, because their bodies aren’t stressed and nutrient-deprived the way they were in preindustrial societies. Women didn’t marry young, because a man looking for a good, fecund wife would have been crazy to take a woman who hadn’t proved that she could bear a child. However, Joseph Smith not only “married” girls too young for marriage, but there is strong evidence that he had sex with them as well.

The very, very short answer to “was he a paedophile?” is no, at least not in the way we think of paedophilia in the modern day. Keep in mind that this is before child psychology, child development, and the study of the mind. The earliest beginnings of the study of mental illness would not come for at least fifty years. We take the risk of being merely sensationalistic if we just slap that label on him with no caveats. If that’s all you were looking for, stop here. For more details, read on.

We’re safe calling Joseph Smith a rapist, because both in the present day and in Joseph Smith’s time coercive sex is considered to be rape. Refusing sex, these girls were told, meant damnation for the girl and her family, or the responsibility for The Prophet’s death when an angel murdered him for not shagging comely coed parishioners. That’s rape, deflowerment, or whatever Victorian euphemism you would like to use. Sex with a young unmarried woman rendered her damaged goods and almost unmarriageable. Non-virgins had a poor to zero chance of finding a good husband. Even if the sex were the result of seduction and not coercion, Smith would have known all too well how irresponsible his behaviour was.

It’s impossible to know for sure exactly why Smith chose prepubescent girls to “marry” and have sex with. It’s possible that it was a strategic decision, made to avoid getting caught. The overwhelming majority of his first dozen or so wives were married to and living with other men. Any pregnancy resulting from his action could have been easily disguised. (Incidentally, kings generally favoured married mistresses for exactly this reason if their situation did not accommodate a maîtresse en titre.) Smith then moved into a stretch of women who were both too old and too young to give birth. Elizabeth Davis Durfee was 50; Sarah Kingsley Cleveland was 53; Delcena Johnson was 37; Eliza R. Snow was 38. In 1840 it was very possible that women of nearly 40 were no longer menstruating, and this was definitely the case with those over 50.

It wasn’t until he’d gotten away with two dozen or so serial marriages that Smith began his wedding bonanza of 1843, grabbing any woman he could get his hands on and bedding her after a proper courtship of threats of hell and bloodshed. He even nabbed two pairs of sisters, which makes sense as he’d already collected a mother and a daughter. Lots of his wives were young and most likely virgins. Many of them were too young for sex from medical and social viewpoints. But I still have to hold off on calling him a paedophile.

The term paedophilia didn’t exist until 1886. Does that mean Smith wasn’t a paedophile? Not necessarily, but we can’t apply a modern term willy-nilly to a person from a far-off land in the ancient days before psychoanalysis. We also need to add to this that a person is not considered to be a paedophile unless they are attracted to a person with the body of a child and not an adult.

It’s extremely likely that the two fourteen-year-old girls Smith bedded were not fully developed. But it’s also pretty likely that they were somewhat developed, meaning growth of breasts and hips. Although neither would expect the onset of menses for at least two more years, they probably would have begun the process of looking like an adult woman. It’s a gray area, but I must consider that he was generally regarded as being good with children and there is not one allegation of child rape in any document I’ve heard of, not even in the hysterical exposés written by the most ardent enemies of Mormonism. I believe his attraction to the girls was that of a raging narcissist, who seized any impressionable vagina that walked by, whether society would have deemed that woman inappropriately young or inappropriately old for his interest. My gut instinct is that he really just wanted to get laid, and that bedding dozens of women bolstered his need to feel powerful and godlike, with total control over his followers.

My conclusion on Joseph Smith: Rapist? Definitely. Raging megalomaniac? Absolutely. Schizotypal, antisocial, narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders? Yes. Paedophile? Possibly. But in the absence of a sexual relationship with a girl of unquestionably child-like form, I’ll have to lean toward no.

Rape Apology and Joseph Smith

What would you say if I told you the story of a man who declared himself to be God’s messenger, published and circulated a document threatening his legal wife with death if she did not allow him to have sex with other women, told his male followers that their teenage daughters or legal wives needed to become his sexual partners or they would all be shut out of heaven, had sex with teenage girls living in his home as wards, and allowed his best friends to unwittingly defend him against all of this in a public setting? Chances are, if you are a practising member of the LDS Church, you would angrily tell me not to talk about your prophet that way.

While we’re on the subject of polygamy, I want to touch on the other big reason the LDS Church tries to avoid the subject: the entire approach of the LDS Church with regards to Joseph Smith’s behaviour has involved nothing but rape apology for 150 years. Polygamy practised in Utah was downright puritanical, with husbands and wives demonstrating the sort of Victorian prudery that you’d expect in a Brontë novel. Polygamy from 1852 to 1904 generally involved clearly defined relationships of choice. Threats of damnation to convince a prospective bride were unheard of, and unhappy plural wives were generally granted divorces when they asked for them. Joseph Smith’s activities, however, are difficult to describe without using the word rape. The rest of his relationships range from consensual to coerced to rape.

Rape! Well, then that’s a serious word. Is it really fair to call Joseph Smith a rapist?

Is there any evidence that Joseph Smith skulked down an alley and pounced on a girl in the darkness? Absolutely not. But rape includes coercing someone into sex through threats of violence. In Smith’s case, he abused the trust of his followers by threatening them with spiritual death if they did not provide him with sexual favours. A true believer in Mormonism would fear being shut out of heaven far more than mortal death. In the case of his wife, Emma, Smith was so serious about his threats of spiritual destruction that he had them canonised as scripture, adding spousal abuse to the mix. There’s no debate in my mind as to whether or not his sexual relationships with teenage girls taken into his home constitutes rape.

Women in Joseph Smith’s day were at greater disadvantage than they are now. They could not vote and had no legal existence apart from their fathers or husbands. They could own property in only limited circumstances, and could be socially and economically ruined by an extramarital affair. Divorce was difficult, sometimes illegal, and left a woman without financial resources. On top of all this, abuse of spiritual power is a horrific crime that does lasting damage to individuals and religious institutions. You would think this would bother the average LDS person, and that they would be in favour of getting the information out there and setting the record straight. I firmly stated my belief that Joseph Smith’s crimes need to be acknowledged as such, but I was told that they just don’t really matter:

Well, again… would anything I say here change your mind? I’m not really interested in having this out today if it’s not going to make any difference.

Like I said below, I’m more interested in the theological implications than whether Joseph Smith was nice to kittens or not.

Well done, SethR. You have compared women to animals and rape to failing to be pleasant. You also aren’t interested in having the discussion unless I change my mind to agree with you. If only we all had your sense of humanity. At first I thought you seem a bit too intelligent to make such a callous, misogynistic statement. But then you went on to say it’s okay for a spiritual leader to have sex with only two fourteen-year-olds. How many fourteen-year-olds would it take for you to be shocked? Let’s take a look at how Joseph Smith treated his “kittens,” if that’s how you want to speak of the women he sexually abused.

The LDS owned and operated FamilySearch lists twenty-four women as being married to Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of Mormonism, which would evolve into the LDS Church and other denominations. This number is on the low side of the thirty-odd women commonly accepted by Mormon historians. But even if you take twenty-four as a low number that is two dozen women that he bagged and shagged in the course of a decade and a half. Hugh Hefner never had it so good.

In a long, agonising, involuntary, nearly all-night conversation I once had with my Dad in which he did his very best to convince me that I needed to just forget everything that troubled me about Mormonism, he confided that he believed Joseph Smith’s death was not actually a martyrdom as the Church tries to make us believe. In a telling statement about the level of honesty tolerated in LDS meetings, he also asked me never to tell anybody he believed that. He said that while he believed that the scripture and temple rituals established in Mormonism were the key to God’s plan, he also believed that Joseph Smith had abused his privilege. He believed that polygamy was invented because Smith had a raging ego with a libido to match, and that because of his sexual transgressions, God had allowed him to be removed from his office. Damage had been done to the Church as an organisation, but the essential things were the Book of Mormon and the Temple, and although the Church would continue to suffer for Joseph Smith’s sexual crimes, as long as we had the Book of Mormon and the Temple things would work out over time.

This is a pretty reasonable way to resolve the conflict between Smith’s allegedly divine mission and his definitely unorthodox sex life. But my dad’s position didn’t resolve any questions for me; it only created more:

  • If he could lie about all of that, how can I believe anything he said about the Book of Mormon or the Temple?
  • If it was okay for Joseph Smith to lie, cheat and manipulate his way into the beds of dozens of women who had everything to lose from these sorts of relationships, then what does that mean when he is called a role model for all Mormons, or Jesus Christ’s right hand man in the plan of Salvation?
  • If polygamy was never supposed to be part of the Mormon faith system, why hasn’t the LDS Church ever just come out and said that?
  • Why do Mormons defend Joseph Smith so furiously against what can only be called rape?
  • Why do Mormons perpetuate made-up or skewed stories about people such as Oliver Cowdery and William Law, whom Joseph Smith sold out to protect himself?

Rape apology is a very serious problem, and victim-blaming is still common. “She was dressed like a tart; what did she expect?” “She walked out to her car alone; what did she expect?” “She was a prostitute; she deserved it.” In the case of Mormons who defend Joseph Smith’s behaviour, they say it’s okay to overlook it because, as SethR put it, “Joseph Smith’s efforts, attempts, and failures don’t interest me much anymore.” It’s easy for someone like SethR because his comments sprinkled over the firmament of Outer Blogness reveal him to enjoy the privilege of being a white, middle-class male. He doesn’t have to concern himself with silly things like women who are sexually exploited, as “the ability to opt-out is indicative of privilege”. Considering that the LDS Church is owned, operated, and run by white middle-class cisgender men, is it any surprise that they choose to opt out of discussion of abused women? Or opt out of discussion about women being treated as equals?

If you say that it doesn’t matter that Joseph Smith did these things, you are a rape apologist. If you have trouble swallowing that bitter pill, imagine what your reaction would be if today we found out that the current LDS prophet had been bedding married women and teenage girls after telling each woman God would kill him or that refusing sex would mean going to Hell. Would you feel it was “persecution” when he went to prison? Would you think for a moment that he deserved continued veneration?

Teaching children that Joseph Smith is an example of choosing the right and neglecting to mention that he shagged married women and Mia Maids is not going to help staunch the flow of young adults away from the LDS Church. It would be painful and difficult, but publicly acknowledging that Joseph Smith engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour would go a long way in alleviating the confusion and anger many Mormons feel over this issue. Hero-worship and misrepresentations of “persecution” that was triggered by his own actions will not.

When a religious leader fails to handle sexual abuse properly, the public demands that the person is removed from office and criminally charged when possible. A sexual abuser or rape apologist cannot be regarded any longer as a spiritual guide, even if the perpetrator is a woman. When US President Bill Clinton engaged in an unethical sexual relationship and lied about it, he was impeached. When Tiger Woods’ squeaky clean image turned out to be a deception, his sponsors dropped him and the public stopped buying his merchandise. It was not the business of the United States government that Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs are considered to be prophets by their followers. It was the business of the US government that they had broken laws, and society punished them both for being rapists. In this day and age, Joseph Smith would have wound up in prison. In his day and age, vigilantes got to him first because he’d managed to piss off every bloke in the state of Illinois.

Sexually unethical behaviour is has never been acceptable in human society. Rape creates physical and mental scars, children that dwell in social limbo, and social trauma. For Mormons, Joseph Smith’s transgressions caused lingering trauma, and apologising for those actions makes it worse. Joseph Smith may not have been as bad as a priest who abused 200 deaf boys, but he’s worse than plenty of others who endured the consequences of their bad behaviour.

You are a rape apologist if you think that Joseph Smith’s sexual transgressions have no impact on his credibility as the founder of Mormonism. It is hypocritical to think that abusive Catholic priests get what they deserve when they are publicly shamed, but that since Joseph Smith was founding The True ChurchTM his crimes can be overlooked. Even in our post-modern culture where consensual relationships between adults take many forms, everyone agrees that those relationships must be ethical. A religious leader leveraging his divine calling to get laid is not ethical. Defending that behaviour is just as bad.