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Is "birth rape" too shocking?

"Birth rape" is used to describe birth procedure lacking in consent, but is it over-the-top?

Is "birth rape" too shocking?

Women who have been subjected to shocking trauma in the delivery rooms of hospitals are sharing their stories. Their experiences are so horrifying, that they’ve given this particular kind of ill-treatment the name "birth rape", according to the Vancouver Observer. It’s hard to connect these two words, though - why not read on and decide if you agree that it’s an appropriate label.

As Bianca Pencz puts it in a recent article, "Imagine a woman lying on her back, immobilized with fear and a numbing drug, as a stranger penetrates her with his hand and touches her with sharp objects, against her consent".

The trauma of birth is obvious- some women struggle to recover from the birth process, and undergo counselling in order to cope. It has been acknowledged that it may produce the same symptoms as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), although it is often misdiagnosed as post-partum depression.

What birth rape is:


“Any action of a medical professional taken during childbirth, which results in trauma for the mother and which was done without the mother’s informed consent - sometimes even against her will.”

It could include inserting of forceps into a woman’s birth canal against her wishes, a forced, unnecessary membrane sweep, an action that induces labour, or even forced general anaesthesia and a Caesarean Section performed without the consent of the mother.

What birth rape isn’t:


“Medical procedures done in childbirth [are not] birth rape when they are done for a medical purpose, and the birthing woman makes an informed decision to undergo the treatment.”  (Jane Zimmerman, in her blog post, what feminists should know about birth rape).

The key words are “informed decision”.

Zimmerman clarifies the use of the term “birth rape”:

“It is birth rape when a woman is pressured to the point of feeling she has no other choice than to accept the procedure, or when she is actually physically forced to. Some women even try to scream and fight the hands of medical professionals off their bodies, but are otherwise forced to submit,” she says.

Fighting, resisting, under pressure, physical force, lack of consent. Those descriptions make the argument for the use of the term a lot more convincing. When a woman is traumatised by someone, especially a medical professional whom she trusts, without giving permission, that trauma is almost identical to the PTSD experienced by victims of sexual rape.

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Do you think it’s a fair description of a birthing experience gone wrong?
  By: Scott Dunlop

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2012-04-11 15:32

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