Silence is the enemy

These days, I don't often participate in mass bloggings about various topics, at least not as much as I used to. I can't say if it's laziness or being jaded after having blogged on nearly a daily basis for over four years now, or an ornery tendency to want to go my own way these days. Whatever the cause, I'm making an exception today because I've been asked by Sheril Kirshenbaum, who writes:

Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why? Because they are our sisters and children-the victims of sexual abuse who don't have the means to ask for help. We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we're able to speak for them. I'm asking all of you-bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens-to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.

In regions where fighting has formally ended, rape continues to be used as a weapon. As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote from West Africa, 'it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement.' The war has shattered norms, training some men to think that 'when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.' An International Rescue Committee survey suggests 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way over the previous 18 months. Further, of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12. That's 61% age 12 or under. We read about their plight and see the figures, but it's so easy to feel helpless to act in isolation. But these are not statistics, they are girls. Together we can do more. Mass rape persists because of inertia so let's create momentum.

Kristof writes:

Traditionally, an international issue was "serious" only if it was arcane and, preferably, incomprehensible. To be respected in foreign policy, it helped to smoke a pipe, spout theories about ballistic missiles, and frequently employ the word "hegemony."

Now pipes are passé, three of the last four secretaries of state have been women, and a new foreign policy agenda is emerging around issues like poverty, genocide, climate change and a topic that until recently was hushed up -- sexual violence.

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.

Unfortunately, mass rape has been an element of warfare since ancient times right up to the 20th century. Indeed, as someone who's been interested in World War II, I know that that war witnessed mass rape on a scale arguably never seen before. For example, there was a reason the "Rape of Nanking" was called the "Rape of Nanking." It's estimated that some 80,000 women were raped by the Japanese in a systematic fashion. Often soldiers would go from door to door looking for young women and girls, whom they would then gang rape, after which they would often kill their victims, sometimes through mutilation or stabbing by bamboo sticks, a bayonet, or other objects into the vagina. German soldiers mass raped Russian women in village after village as they invaded the Soviet Union. Four years later, the Red Army returned the favor against German women as they rampaged through eastern Germany and Berlin, in the process also subjecting Polish women to a second round of mass rape after Poland had already suffered one during the German invasion. Since then, it's happened time and time again: Rwanda, Kuwait, Congo, Darfur, and all too many other locations.

That's because rape is not about sex. It is about power, control, and humiliation. Mass rape is a strategic tool to humiliate and cow the enemy. What's unusual about Liberia is that the rape usually ends once the fighting does. I like to delude myself that humans as a species have grown beyond such atrocities, but then stories like this puncture that delusion.

So please join in the effort to bring attention to this horror and, hopefully, thereby focus international attention on it and then:

More like this

By now perhaps you have heard of the Silence Is The Enemy project started by Sheril Kirshenbaum at The Intersection with help from Isis at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess. From Sheril's post: Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of…
A sexual violence victim recovers in Goma, Congophoto by Endre Vestvik A few weeks ago, the NYT published a horrifying account by Nicholas Kristof of the pervasive sexual violence left over from Liberia's civil war. A major survey in Liberia found that 75% of Liberian women had been raped - most…
About a week ago, Nicholas Kristof wrote an eye-opening op-ed in NYTimes - After Wars, Mass Rapes Persist. In Liberia, and probably in some other places, the end of war does not automatically mean the end of rape: Of course, children are raped everywhere, but what is happening in Liberia is…
This month, Sheril Kirshenbaum and Dr. Isis are spearheading a blogospheric initiative to call attention to a continuing epidemic of mass rapes in Liberia even six years after the end of its 14 year civil war, and to try to do something about it. Last month, Nicholas Kristof described the situation…

Thanks for making an exception for this one, Orac. I've joined several facebook groups and have been sending regular contributions to Doctors without Borders for the past several years, thanks largely to Nicholas Kristof's continued coverage of these tragic acts.

I am frankly mystified by how difficult it has been to get the American public to pay attention to this crisis. Kristof has been consistent in his coverage, and Eve Ensler went on the interview circuit a few months back, but most of the MSM won't touch this with a ten-foot pole.

The numbers of women affected are simply staggering, and the lack of attention this issue has received overall is truly heartbreaking.

By Jennifer B. Ph… (not verified) on 01 Jun 2009 #permalink

In between the news of Dr. George Tiller's murder and all of this, my (shallowly-situated) inner feminist is crying.

I don't want to sound all Birkenstocks and Bell Hooks, but it's more than apparent that women still have a lot of struggles to face in this world, in this day and age.

I can't imagine what it's like to have one's body turned into a crime scene, and it pains me to know that so many people will not need to imagine it.

I don't have enough disposable income to give to Médecins Sans Frontières right now (I recently made a large donation to another organization, But when I do, I'll pitch some dollars, euros or whatever in their direction.

Fight the good fight, and let's remind people that women are people, too.

By Rogue Epidemiologist (not verified) on 01 Jun 2009 #permalink

Add Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and a few other so-called civilized European nations to the list as well.
It's a disgusting, sickening thing, no matter who does it.

Thank you for the nudge on this. I knew about Darfur's atrocities towards women, but had no idea about the situation in Liberia.

I joined the FB group. I shall make a contribution once employed again. However, writing to congress reps is free. I will get on that tomorrow when I am awake and had my morning coffee.

Will the bad news please stop now?

Is there someone who thinks that American soldiers have never raped? Maybe not on the scale that is reported here, but it goes with war and that is why we need to stop glorifying "our brave heroes" and all that nonsense and acknowledge war for what it is--the worst of humanity.

I haven't met anyone with that delusion, Anthro, but doubtless there is someone who thinks American troops have never committed such an act. It would be hard to maintain, especially given the recent civilian murder trial of a former US soldier who raped a 14-year-old girl in Iraq and then systematically murdered her entire family to cover it up.

It's not quite the same as what's happening in Liberia, though. Horrific as what our soldiers have done, what's happening there goes way beyond that. It's hard to believe, but go follow the links and read the stories. Medecins Sans Frontier is funding hospital wings entirely for women so badly raped that they need *inpatient* care. This isn't for post-traumatic stress disorder. This is because the rape wounded them so badly. They talk of little girls (7!) asking if they'll ever be able to have children, and the doctors unable to look them in the eyes and tell them the truth (they've lost all of their reproductive organs). Some have colostomies. Yes, it's that bad.

We had a shocking rape here in the Twin Cities not too long ago. A man essentially raped a female friend of his to death. (She died of blood loss, and had serious injuries to her internal organs.) He was convicted of first degree murder and given life without possibility of parole. I'll spare folks what details made it into the press. They're pretty horrific. That's an aberration in the US.

In Libera, it's apparently commonplace, even though the war has been over for some time. It's no longer about subjugating the enemy. Now, it's just that the men apparently think this is appropriate. The civil war went on so long that an entire generation of males grew up believing that this sort of behavior was normal. The entire social fabric was disrupted in a way that's hard for us in America to grasp.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 02 Jun 2009 #permalink

Much awareness about the situation in Darfur has been raised. Yet little has changed and most people cannot be bothered to care. So what will make this campaign be any different?

By Robert Chambers (not verified) on 02 Jun 2009 #permalink


"Is there someone who thinks that American soldiers have never raped?"

No, I doubt anyone actually believes this. The difference is in Liberia and Darfur rape is actively encouraged and the perpetrators are not punished. US Soldiers are actively discouraged from raping anyone and are punished when they are caught as has been pointed out.