Once again, I find myself violating my ‘no current-affairs’ guidelines but this just fell into my lap. Some obscure American political hopeful said some surprisingly ignorant things in public and although it deserves all the ridicule it can handle, I was surprised to see that his opinion on rape and conception is entirely consistent with fourteenth century English legal doctrine.Said American politician expressed the belief that “legitimate rape”, which I believe he defines as violent, sexual assault, rarely produces pregnancies because the woman’s physical response to trauma prevents conception. Now, considering that there is absolutely no evidence that emotional trauma response produces spontaneous abortions or prevents conception under these circumstances, the implied message is, if you become pregnant through ‘rape’ that, by definition, means it wasn’t “legitimate rape” of sufficient trauma and violence otherwise, your body would have prevented the pregnancy.
I’m pleased to see that the medieval flavour of this logic was not lost on other historians. I decided to chime in on this because I just read something similar in P. J. P. Goldenberg’s Medieval England: A Social History 1250-1550.1
In 1314, a certain Joan brought rape charges against her attacker before an English court. Joan became pregnant by her attacker and, since the learned judges at the time were all versed in the Galenic theory of the humours and cognisant of the requirement of ‘will’ on the part of male and female seed in the process of conception, ruled that since Joan had become became pregnant, she must have consented to the sexual contact. And no, this isn’t an Onion article.
I’m not sure what this candidate for office would think about this historical precedent. I hope, if he is a decent human being, he would recognize a terrible injustice. I won’t lay money on it.
1 Published by Hodder Arnold, 2004. The case I mention is described, briefly, at page 8-9.