After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which allows a person to choose to have an abortion, rape survivor advocates spoke out in opposition to the ruling.
The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC) believes rape and sexual assault survivors alone are in the best position to decide what’s best for them — including terminating a rape-related pregnancy.
Washington state is already receiving calls from individuals seeking abortions from out of state, according to Kate Cole, a hotline volunteer at the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. At the same time, several states across the nation, including South Dakota, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri, prohibit abortions during all stages of pregnancy, except to save the life of the pregnant person.
The abortion bans in these states have no exemptions for rape-related pregnancy.
“Victims of sexual assault experience the loss of bodily autonomy,” stated a KCSARC blog post. “When the U.S. Supreme Court decided last week to reverse five decades of precedent protecting the constitutional right to abortion care, it told survivors of rape or incest once again their bodies didn’t belong to them, that someone else would make the decision for them.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2016-2017) shows that 15% of rape assaults across the nation result in pregnancies.
Part of KCSARC’s work includes medical advocacy supporting survivors who need medical attention or a forensic exam following a sexual assault. Each year, thousands of callers reach out to KCSARC’s 24-hour resource line, many of whom need emergent medical care. But, one of the most important assessments KCSARC does with callers is making sure they are in a safe location.
“We have sometimes called 9-1-1 on behalf of callers who were in an unsafe situation, and couldn’t call themselves,” said Laura Lurry, director of advocacy at KCSARC.
KCSARC advocates provide information to callers, including nearby hospitals and clinics where the survivors can access specialized medical care. The advocates prepare the survivor for what to expect when receiving care, which includes evaluating and treating injuries; providing emergency contraception; and testing for and dispensing medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections. Advocates also assist survivors with the process of reporting the rape to law enforcement.
“Sometimes victims aren’t sure whether they want to report to law enforcement in the immediate aftermath, and we tell them that’s OK,” said Lurry. “It’s really important that they know that medical care and a forensic exam will be provided regardless of whether they want to report.”
KCSARC recognizes the loss of power and control over one’s body following a sexual assault, and restoring that sense of control is key to long-term recovery for the survivor. While abortion care remains legal in Washington state, rape survivors in states where rape-related pregnancies are now banned will either be faced with forced pregnancies, unsafe abortions, or travelling out of their home state to access the healthcare they require.
Facts about rape-related pregnancy
According to the CDC, rape-related pregnancy is a public health issue where sexual violence and reproductive health connect. The short term impacts of rape include injury, STIs, and pregnancy. Long-term impacts of rape include depression, flashbacks, PTSD, and dissociation, among others.
The CDC states that almost 3 million women in the United States experienced rape-related pregnancy during their lifetime.
Approximately 18 million women have experienced vaginal rape in their lifetime, according to the CDC. Studies show women raped by current or former intimate partners were more likely to report rape-related pregnancy (26%), compared to those raped by an acquaintance (5.2%) or a stranger (6.9%).
Additionally, women who reported rape-related pregnancy by an intimate partner were more likely to have experienced reproductive coercion, compared to those who were raped by an intimate partner but did not become pregnant.
Sexual assault in Washington
The 2020 National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for Washington provides data on crimes against persons, including rape and attempted rape, but does not include statutory rape. Out of the 2,376 offenses reported, 534 arrests were made.
According to the 2020 NIBRS data for Washington, 70.5% of rapes occurred at a residence; about 33% of rape victims were under the age of 18; and 11% of rape arrestees were juveniles.
The King County Sheriff’s Office Sexual Assault Unit does not currently track data on rape-related pregnancies.
“We have only seen this data reported at a national level by the CDC,” said Kate Cole, communications for Public Health — Seattle & King County. “Washington Department of Health pregnancy and birth statistics do not collect data on pregnancy resulting from rape.”
Casey McNerthney of the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said rape and sexual assault go unreported in King County for a number of factors, but that rape cases and sexual assault cases are a priority for the office.
“In terms of prosecution and those cases, there are times where we both believe a victim and don’t have the evidence to prove the elements needed for a conviction,” said McNerthney. “That’s understandably frustrating for victims. It doesn’t mean we don’t believe them. We will keep looking at each case individually, and we will continue to advocate on behalf of rape and sexual assault survivors.”
If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault, call the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center hotline at 888-998-6423 or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673.