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Rape and guns

Women can, should speak for themselves, and politicians should keep quiet about rape

What about rape makes politicians so inclined to open their mouths and make offensive comments?

This time the speaker was a Colorado Democrat, state Rep. Joe Salazar, who, in a debate about concealed carry on college campuses, was making a point about safety.

“It’s why we have call boxes, it’s why we have safe zones, it’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like your gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around, or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you ... pop a round at somebody.” Salazar’s basic point is a legitimate one. Anyone who carries a gun for defense must be able to identify accurately the line between feeling threatened and actually being in danger.

It may be logical to speculate that people who know they cannot overpower an assailant by other means or reach safety quickly would be more inclined to see shooting as the best or only option.

And it is fair to assume that Salazar did not mean to imply that women’s concern for their personal safety renders them more likely than men to “pop a round at somebody” who just happens to be walking past.

But rape is a subject that deserves to be treated with more understanding than male politicians have displayed lately.

Women fear rape because it happens. It happens despite call boxes, safe zones and whistles. It happens despite keys protruding from fists, self-defense classes and pepper spray. Nearly every woman has been a victim of sexual violence or knows someone who has.

That reality causes fear, not because women are paranoid, but because they are realistic, not because rape is a fate worse than death, but because it is a terrible crime.

Salazar did not say, “You can’t have a gun, honey, because you might pop somebody.” He probably did not mean to sound as flippant as he did.

Former Missouri congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin probably did not mean to sound as offensive and ignorant as he did when he opined that women who are victims of “legitimate rape” rarely conceive because their bodies somehow repel rapists’ sperm. Former Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock probably did not intend to imply that God chose some women to be impregnated by rapists. Who knows what former Wisconsin state Rep. Roger Rivard meant to accomplish by suggesting that “some girls rape easy”? Salazar should note the word “former” before each of those names.

Condescension toward rape victims is a lousy political strategy.

The long list of ill-considered comments about rape victims demonstrates, first of all, a lack of understanding of the crime and its aftermath, as well as an endemic lack of consideration for women in general.

To hint that women who feel unsafe on campus are paranoid, because after all, they have those call boxes, is to hint that they are not capable of understanding what is going on around them.

Rape should never, never be invoked as a political strategy, especially a partisan one. Patronizing rhetoric about imagined risks is no better than the suggestion that unarmed women have not taken responsibility for their own safety.

Politicians who cannot accurately portray the reality of rape should find another crime to highlight in their speechifying.