Missouri’s Republican candidate for the US Senate, Todd Akin, made a naïve remark on anti-abortion issue that has now become the target of thundering criticism. Time Magazine (August 20th, 2012) introduced the Congressman’s disastrous remark as follows:
Asked about his stance on abortion, the Republican Senate candidate attempted to explain his unqualified opposition to it, even in cases of rape: “From what I understand from a doctor, that’s really rare,” Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing ‘down’.”
I cannot understand the ‘legitimacy’ of the term, legitimate rape. OALED defines rape as — note carefully — the crime of forcing someone to have sex with you, especially using violence. Merriam-Webster defines rape as (2) unlawful sexual activity carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will, usually of a female.
From both definitions, rape is a full-fledged crime. It’s illegitimate and unlawful from beginning to end. Though Akin spoke of ‘a legitimate rape’, and newspapers keep using this word nonchalantly, isn’t the expression legitimate rape logically preposterous and impossible? In other word, can we say "a legitimate crime"?
I understand legitimate has another meaning of real, and I suspect the Congressman might have used ‘legitimate rape’ to this effect. But to me, legitimate rape just sounds like saying legitimate crime or lawful robbery.
So my question is, is legitimate rape a proper and reasonable English term, one without risk of causing the equivocal confusion that I felt?