Tonight, I was wandering around Twitter, ignoring the growing pile of laundry, when I happened upon a link that Ann Douglas tweeted on the growth of the movement against ‘birth rape.’ Later, I read a rebuttal, explaining why a sexual assault survivor never wants to hear the phrase ‘birth rape’ again: “My problem is that by conflating a bad birth with sexual violence, we do a disservice to survivors of both experiences.”
Having experienced both what I have called a birth rape and an acquaintance sexual assault (‘date rape’), I can tell you that they really didn’t feel all that different. In both situations, I was in a position of unequal power:
In one, I was so drunk I could barely move. In the other, I had been hooked up to an epidural after days of sleeplessness, and could barely move.
In one, I was with a friend I and others trusted to have my best interests at heart. In the other, I was with health care professionals with whom I and family members trusted to care well for my baby and for me.
In one, I was clear with my limits and those limits weren’t respected once I was no longer able to be clear. In the other, I was far less clear with my limits, not realizing that some things needed to be stated in order to not happen.
In both situations, I was left feeling like the outcome was entirely my fault.
Here’s the thing: if I wake up with someone’s hand inside my vagina, it doesn’t matter to my psyche whether that person intends me harm. It should be a GIVEN that I be asked for my consent before a vaginal exam, just as it should be a given that I be asked for my consent before a date/friend/partner/stranger touch my body. Regardless of motivation, my lived experience of violation is equivalent in both situations. To not recognize and acknowledge that violating women when they are at their most vulnerable – be they in labour or under general anaesthetic for a completely unrelated procedure is experienced as a sexual assault by many women is dismissive at best.
Not every woman who has a traumatic birth experience will frame it as a violation. Nor does she have to. But for those of us who have felt that level of invasion, that trauma, that inability to protect ourselves from what we experience as assault, birth rape is just the right term to describe it.