This column by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times has sparked outrage and a need for action to combat the use of rape as tool of terror in many hot spots in Africa. What he reports is tragic and appalling. And after reading this, please go to the end for information on what you can do to help:
In modern times, we’ve seen mass rape as an element of warfare in Congo, Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Liberia — but the lesson here in Liberia in West Africa is that even when the fighting ends, the rape continues. And that brings us to Jackie, a lovely 7-year-old with tight braids and watchful eyes.
He tells the story of this young girl, raped by the security guard at her school. And puts it in a larger context:
Jackie is now in a shelter for survivors of sexual violence — and what staggered me is that so many of the girls are pre-teens. A 3-year-old survivor has just moved out, but Jackie jumps rope with girls aged 8 to 11.
Of course, children are raped everywhere, but what is happening in Liberia is different. The war seems to have shattered norms and trained some men to think that when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl. Or at school, girls sometimes find that to get good grades, they must have sex with their teachers.
“Rape is a scar that the war left behind,” said Dixon Jlateh, an officer in the national police unit dealing with sexual violence. “Sexual violence is a direct product of the war.”…
In Liberia, sexual predation during the civil war was “normal.” One major survey found that 75 percent of women had been raped — mostly gang-raped, with many suffering internal injuries.
The incidence of rape has dropped since then but is still numbingly high. An International Rescue Committee survey in 2007 found that about 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way in the previous 18 months.
Then there is the age of the victims. Of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated between January and April by Doctors Without Borders in Liberia, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12.
“The rape of little children is common,” said Oretha Brooks, a social worker at the excellent Duport Road Clinic in Monrovia. “It happens on a daily basis.” She introduced me to Wynnie, a 9-year-old girl in her waiting room who had been raped twice.
For similar accounts of the same phenomenon in the Congo, read this column, which was based on testimony given by Eve Ensler in front of a Congressional committee.
So what can you and I do about it? We can start by donating to organizations like Doctors Without Borders. And you can help raise money for them indirectly by going to two blogs, On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess and The Intersection. Isis and Sheril Kirshenbaum have pledged to donate the earnings from their blogs for the month of June to Doctors Without Borders and the more hits they get, the more money is raised for that cause.
But there’s more you can do. Speak out. If you have blogs, write about this issue and get others interested in it and motivated to help. Write to your Congressional leaders (Sheril will have a static letter available after today that you can use) and urge them to use whatever means are possible – political, diplomatic, economic, whatever – to help bring this to an end.
As the title of this collective blog project says, silence is the enemy. Let’s all speak out, to whatever degree we can, against this monstrous reality.