A heavy letter about sexual violence and lack of access to abortion

Dear President Trump,

You probably know better than most that domestic violence often doesn’t stop with psychological and physical abuse; it frequently includes sexual violence. And we all know that when perpetrated in the context of heterosexual relationships, sexual violence can lead to unwanted pregnancies and such pregnancies serve to keep women and their children trapped in abusive situations. The risk of DV is high under normal circumstances, but as we are seeing (surely even you have some awareness of this), the incidence has been escalating during the time of covid-19 physical distancing, and consequently this means that more women are experiencing rape at the hands of their male partners. This is not some secret known only to feminists, so I find it beyond disturbing that I’m not seeing this reality being talked about.

Maybe folks on Twitter are calling it out, but as far as I can tell, the mainstream media is only talking about domestic violence as a monolithic construct. They are not unpacking the associated risk of rape and subsequent unwanted pregnancy. What’s more, they are not making the connection between this horrible reality for thousands of women and the diabolical decision by many states to deem abortion a non-essential service.

I hit on this awful juxtaposition about 10 days ago and have worried it like a sore tooth ever since, scanning the WP and HP for some indication that someone out there gets what is happening for women (and no doubt many, many girls trapped at home with sexually abusive male relatives or their mother’s male partners). I kept hoping that someone else would piece this together, but so far I’ve not seen it and in the meantime at least Alabama, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas have ruled that abortion is not an essential medical intervention during the pandemic and I doubt they are making exceptions in the case of rape/incest.

When I was talking the other day about the paradox of having more degrees of freedom in the current shut down situation because our usual autopilot notions and habits won’t do right now, I was acutely aware that there are tens of thousands of people for whom this idea is just so much bullshit. I didn’t know how to say this without blowing the whole Zen-ish vibe I had going, but for people who are trapped in dangerous, violent situations, their degrees of freedom have shrunk precipitously and they are almost certainly spending their days tiptoeing across eggshell shards and shrinking further and further into themselves (or completely checking out) to survive their ordeals.

I’m not bringing up this horrible collision of ultra-misogynistic realities to suggest that the public health shelter-in-place orders are inappropriate, but rather I’m bringing it up because just as the virus is laying bare the stark racial health disparities in our country, so too is it making clear who does and does not have agency over their own bodies. I’m also bringing it up because it’s yet another aspect of human suffering that we’re going to have to reckon with long after the immediate covid-19 crisis is past. As someone whose job involves helping people overcome trauma, I’m feeling sad and overwhelmed by the prospect of what the aftermath of this is going to look like.

May we be safe – just safe – it shouldn’t be too much to ask.
May we get clear that we are all supposed to have the right to pursue happiness.
May those in dire situations somehow find support and solace.
May we accept what we are seeing in this awful covid-mirror and may we not make peace with it.

Tracy Simpson

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