Published on 23 Aug 2012 Sections ,

Akin row prompts heartfelt response from rape survivor


Shauna Prewitt was raped aged 21 and fell pregnant. She tells Channel 4 News why Todd Akin’s comments left her “spiralling back down” despite her love for the child she chose to keep.

Ms Prewitt was in her final year of college when she was raped. In the aftermath of the attack she convinced herself it was a “fictitious nightmare”, yet later discovered she was pregnant – a revelation which she said “legitimised my rape”.

Ms Prewitt said Mr Akin’s “horrifying comments” moved her to write an open letter addressed to the republican candidate in order to “help you better ’empathise’ with my story”.

Her letter came in spite of Mr Akin’s televised apology begging for forgiveness in which he said he had “used the wrong words in the wrong way” when he told a television interviewer that women could not get pregnant if they had been the victims of “legitimate rape”.

Ms Prewitt told Channel 4 News: “I think the apology to me was more hurtful than it was helpful. His initial apology was that he just misspoke. And my thought is that he’s a legislator and he has…a very powerful platform – and so he of all people needs to be very careful about what he says.

“And I don’t believe that he could have just misspoke in that situation. First because the comments were ignorant, but also second this idea of legitimate rape or illegitimate rape. You know we’ve worked so many years in this country to try and get rid of that kind of discussion and in a single instance he reinvigorated it.”

Rape is a very real crime, said Ms Prewitt: “I just feel like people aren’t getting the issue … we need to get rid of this notion that it’s the woman on trial and not the man.”

I felt like a bad rape victim. I felt I was doing a really bad job of being a rape victim. Shauna Prewitt

Ms Prewitt criticised Mr Akin for his “underestimation of the powers of the human body”. She told Channel 4 News that when she fell pregnant she felt a multitude of emotions. “I was shocked, I was absoultely scared, terrified really – but then I also felt a lot of shame because, not immediately, but in the days and weeks after my rape I was kind of starting to feel that there was this bond, this kinship between me and this life growing inside me. I didn’t understand how I could feel positively towards (the baby)…I felt like a bad rape victim. I felt I was doing a really bad job of being a rape victim”.

After her attack, and having given birth to a daughter who is now seven years old, Ms Prewitt enrolled at Georgetown Law School to tackle the obstacles for women who decide to raise the children they conceive through rape.

“In the vast majority of states, a rapist has the same custody and visitation rights to a child born through his crime as other fathers enjoy,” she wrote to Mr Akin. In 2010, Ms Prewitt wrote a paper on the topic and continues to travel the US speaking on the issue.

She told Channel 4 News: “It’s strange how a comment from Akin can leave me spiralling back down into the feelings of shame and judgement against myself wondering if there was anything I could have done.”

In her letter, Ms Prewitt told the Republican Representative: “Your statement has not landed on deaf ears or weak legs. My rape did not end my life and, in a profound way, I have become a stronger person after my rape. I will fight to extinguish your inflammatory statements just as ardently as I fought to reclaim a vibrant life”.

Read Matt Frei's blog on the political consequences of the Akin rape row

While Ms Prewitt praised Mitt Romney for immediately disagreeing with Mr Akin, she told us he could have done more to reach out to rape victims.

“I think what Romney missed out on was a really important opportunity to talk about raped women…I think he had a really key moment there to touch on that and give a lot of hope to women who are feeling constant shame because of the judgements of society.”

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