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Sexual Abuse at Abu Ghraib

May 28, 2009

Trigger Warning

Any woman who has been pressured not to press charges or speak about rape because it might damage a man’s reputation, any woman who has been told that speaking up about being raped might damage a cause for which the rapist stands or even just a poetic school, knows in her bones what the Obama administration’s refusal to release the pictures of the sexual abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib is about.

We, the survivors, know that rape in any context is torture. We know that when it is minimized, when exposing and denouncing sexual assault is made out to be less important than protecting someone else, the result is a horror contained—experienced and understood only by the victims. The perpetrators retain their social standing (in this case, the notion that the military represents the best of the US is maintained) and the possibility of rape being used in the future remains.

At the beginning of this post, I said “any woman”. The same could be said, however, of a man raped by a person of any gender, but rape is typically a gendered crime, and that plays into its use in prisons like Abu Ghraib. Because rape is typically committed against a woman, any man from a sexist culture (and that’s most cultures today) who is raped suffers the further humiliation of being treated like a woman. (Note that among the unreleased photographs is apparently one of a male translator raping a male detainee.)

All of this has been done in the name of the US and its citizens. It has even been done in the name of those of us who have survived rape at home. We have been made complicit against our will. I would say vicitimized all over again, but I know that the rage and pain I feel about this is nothing compared to what was and continues to be felt by the people who were physically violated.

These photographs must be seen. The perpetrators must be held accountable so that this can never happen again. Even that won’t be enough, but it’s the most we can do now.

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  1. Jay permalink
    May 28, 2009 5:34 pm

    I agree with most of your comments about the horrors of rape and its subsequent psychological impact. However, I respectfully disagree with your call for the pictures to be revealed. I could maybe support acknowledging what is in the content of the pictures, and I certainly support prosecuting the guilty parties if that is indeed what is seen in the undisclosed pictures. In the Sullivan post you link, he links to a site that re-posts previously released photos showing sexual abuse. The pictures are horrifying, do not reveal the identity of any of the perpetrators, and do not bring us any closer to societal atonement.

    I provide psychotherapy to many, many male victims of sexual assault. I cannot imagine one of them who would be willing to have pictures of this nature all over the internet and television. Reporting the crime and testifying against the perpetrator are difficult enough, but to know that pictures of the assault were being talked about by every media outlet in the world I think for many victims would be further traumatizing. I just do not see the benefit to the victims, their families, or the vast majority of American soldiers who would never engage in such appalling acts.

    It is my sincere hope that not releasing the photos was decided on grounds similar to those I just mentioned, and not merely as a way to minimize the crimes. Of course, reasonable people can have differences in speculation on that point I suppose.

    • May 29, 2009 12:40 am

      I can definitely respect your logic here. Where I disagree with you is on the issue of whether releasing the pictures would bring us closer to societal atonement: there cannot be atonement until full acknowledgment, and revelation, of the wrong is made.

      It would be important, in releasing the images, to make certain that the victims could not be identified in them unless they chose to identify themselves. I recognize that this isn’t a perfect solution to the important issues you bring up. There is, unfortunately, no perfect solution. The only perfect solution would be if the crimes had never been committed.

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