Should We Recognize “Birth Rape”?

Apparently the phrase “birth rape” has been circulating among midwife and childbirth blogs for the past few years, but it recently burst onto mainstream blogs, where it’s causing quite a bit of controversy.  The term does not refer to unwanted sexual contact, but rather to violations experienced during childbirth.  Birth activists say that these violations can be equated with rape because the victims are similarly vulnerable and powerless. 

Examples of actions that could constitute “birth rape” include “internal vaginal examinations without consent, breaking membranes without consent and inserting of forceps and other instruments into the vagina against the mother’s wishes.”

Blogging for the F-Word, Amity Reed elaborates, “Women are slapped, told to shut up, stop making noise and a nuisance of themselves, that they deserve this, that they shouldn’t have opened their legs nine months ago if they didn’t want to open them now. They are threatened, intimidated and bullied into submitting to procedures they do not need and interventions they do not want.”

Writers on these blogs are fully aware that the term is controversial.  More cautious writers point out the ongoing struggle to recognize sexual violence, and wonder whether including birth trauma is too ambitious.  Other proponents of the term cite similarities between the “at least he didn’t kill you” argument, which is too often hurled at rape survivors, and the tendency to silence women who suffered birth trauma by telling them that they’re “lucky to be alive.”

But others say that although birth trauma is a horrible violation, and one that is far too common, calling it “birth rape” is still inappropriate.  Tracy Clark-Flory writes on Broadsheet, “We have a special word for forced sexual intercourse, because it deserves a special word. Rape is used as a tool of terror, torture, intimidation and war (as we’re seeing right now in Congo).”

I agree with Clark-Flory, who takes care to emphasize that this kind of medical mistreatment is indeed unforgivable – but it’s not rape.  Doctors are not rapists; they do not have the same aims, and although they may be absentminded or thoughtless or egotistical or unable to listen, they’re not out to traumatize their patients in the way that rapists are.  Certainly, birth trauma is not accidental – doctors should be far more aware of their patients’ needs.  But in most circumstances, is not deliberate.  And frankly, defining birth trauma as “rape” will simply undermine attempts to get doctors to understand what they’re doing wrong.

Photo from Flickr.


Sarah M.
Sarah M7 years ago

This is a serious issue and it shouldn't be taken lightly at all. Women are being violated in a way similar to rape with similar consequences. When you are violated in such a way it doesn't matter how it happened--something is taken from you that can never be regained. I am a rape victim. I can completely understand where women being violated and degraded during childbirth are coming from by referring to it as birth rape.

Klaus P.
Klaus Peters8 years ago

Did you see a witch doctor.

Jane R.
Jane R8 years ago

This is a very stupid article. There's no such thing as birth rape. Doctors deliver babies, treat the mothers, period!! They all care about their patients or they wouldn't be doctors to begin with.

Sue D.
Susan L8 years ago

James C.- Though I don't think this should be called "Birth Rape", it is abuse. Just how many births have YOU been present for that you can use: "I have never ever seen a dr tell anyone to shut up or slap a patient so why all the lies ?" as a valid example? Just because 'you' have not heard it, does not mean it doesn't happen or that women have 'lied' about what has happened to them! You are arrogant and condescending to women for making such an un-informed comment.

James C.
James C8 years ago

Whoever wrote this article its a complete reject as the drs have to do there job and I have never ever seen a dr tell anyone to sghut up or slap a patient so why all the lies ?

Constantin Leon
Constantin Leon8 years ago

Thank you Lindsey for your explications about this matter.
I was really confused.
Thank you again and... greetings from Greece.
You are a very-very good team, you really are :-)

Constantin Leon
Constantin Leon8 years ago

The term is controversial, in trully. What do you mean by that? Is this another new expression made in USA? Are you talking about sexual abuse of children which includes rapes against children or is this a new phaenomenon with unexpresseds terms of language? I really dont understand. I am just a european citizen uncomfortable with many american terms and situations.

Megha S.
Megha S.8 years ago

i don't feel saying it a rape...rather...physical abuse..n more de dat...inhuman act...its completely..insane..torturing a to-be-mother..whu is a trauma..of labour pain...god...such heart threatning......

Roberto R.
Roberto R.8 years ago

Why should we of the public apologise for the millions of dollars spent on trained individuals who pass themselves off as doctors, "healing persons," who commit barbarity in the name of the know-it-all of the science of healing. If they are committing atrocities such as rape on birthing women, then let's call it what it is- rape- rape and a violation of human rights, straight up!

The mere idea of such acts taking place is a cause for outrage. These monsters do it to men also giving such procedures named as the popular " Silver Bullet," the penal probe in the office of the urologist, who makes the patient go through such humiliation straight up, paying good dollars for being violated often without any medical necessity except for the necessity of a greedy doctor to collect insurance dollars for performing such tests. This is no laughing matter and I empathize with these vulnerable women patients who seek safe, professional care in an urgent moment of need. So hang the bast&%$ and treat this as a crime- the crime called rape.

Tatiana T.
M B8 years ago

sorry typo, meant to say, "so that all your needs are met and you're not feeling violated".