This weekend, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry read a profound open letter to Indiana Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock, who recently made headlines for describing pregnancy from rape as an act of God. Mourdock also has the distinction of being the only Senate candidate endorsed by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. A survivor herself, Harris Perry took great offense to the politician’s words.
Read her powerful letter below and watch the clip here.
Dear Mr. Mourdock,
Sometimes I still flinch when I’m touched a certain way, even if it’s the loving embrace of my husband. I can’t stand to watch TV shows where rape is the central plot line. Even some seasons of the year are harder for me. Those of us who are sexual assault survivors call these triggers. We spend our lives — the lives we lead after the attack — avoiding and managing these triggers.
A congressional debate shouldn’t have to come with a trigger warning. But apparently, Richard, yours should. Because in Tuesday’s debate for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat, you said this Tuesday night during a debate in New Albany, Indiana:
“I believe that life begins at conception…The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother. I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Rape and sexual assault are complicated experiences for survivors. Some of us fight, kick, scream, and resist at every moment. Some of us eventually give in to save our own lives or to manage the horror. Some of us know that what is happening is rape, others of us just know it is wrong, but don’t have the words to describe why. Some of us push the memories down and try to forget, others of us battle openly with the nightmares and scars every day. There is no one right way to survive. There is no one right way to feel.
As we heal, we learn not to judge ourselves or to judge our fellow survivors, because we learn that judgment can wound as deeply as assault. If a woman finds herself pregnant after a rape, we do not judge the choices she makes.
I am descended from American slaves. I have foremothers who found themselves pregnant with children whose birth increased the wealth of the very man who enslaved and raped them. Somehow, through the angst and misery of that experience some of those women found a way to love and embrace the children they bore from rape. So I do not doubt the compassion or judge the choice of a survivor who carries a rape pregnancy to term.
But the whole point is choice. Consent. You see, Mr. Mourdock, the violation of rape is more than physical. Rapists strip women of our right to choose, of our right to say no, of our right to control what is happening to our bodies. Most assailants tell us it is our fault. They tell us to be silent. Sometimes they even tell us it’s God’s will. That is the core violation of rape– it takes away choice.
Richard, you believe it is fine to ignore a women’s right to choose because of your interpretation of divinity. Sound familiar?
Let me explain something to you. When we survive sexual assault, we are the gift. When we survive, when we go on to love, to work, to speak out, to have fun, to laugh, to dance, to cry, to live, when we do that, we defeat our attackers. For a moment, they strip us of our choices. As we heal, we take our choices back. We are the gift to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation when we survive.
Now let me say this very clearly to you Mr. Mourdock, and to all of your shameless endorsers: we did not survive an attack on our consent just to turn around and give up our right to choose to you. Not without a fight.
Are you sure you want to have that fight?
“Melissa Harris-Perry” airs weekends at 10a ET on MSNBC. You can follow Melissa and the show on Twitter, @mharrisperry and @mhpshow