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Global Feminism in the News: Rape

September 1, 2009

Global Feminism in the News is a monthly column discussing recurring themes in international news stories concerning women. This month we will discuss rape in the news.

I decided over a month ago that September’s article would discuss rape in the news. In late July, three very different stories of rape emerged in the international news. In the United States, an eight year old Liberian girl living in Arizona was gang raped and consequently disowned by her parents. (This story was discussed in greater detail in fellow GAB author Emily’s July 27th post.) The quarterback of Pittsburgh’s professional football team, the Steeler’s, Ben Roethlisberger, was accused of raping an employee of a hotel where he stayed last year. The woman had not previously filed a police report, but was seeking damages in civil court. On a popular Australian radio show, a young girl mentioned, live on the air, that she had been raped at age 12. Her mother had called into the station to force her daughter to participate in the “Lie Detector” segment of the show in order to interrogate her about her sexual behavior.

The three stories have all continued or resolved in different ways. Several families have offered to adopt the Liberian girl, who is currently still in the custody of child services in Arizona. Ben Roethlisberger is demanding a written apology from the alleged rape victim and insists that she drop the civil case. It has since been discovered that the young girl’s mother already knew of the rape, and despite apologies from the DJs, the radio show has been canceled.

If you look for them, stories about rape and violence against women can be found everywhere. Bob Herbert, in response to a gruesome shooting during an aerobics class in Pennsylvania, wrote this quote in the New York Times which, although not describing an incident of rape, I believe speaks to the root cause of the previously mentioned three cases and other violence against women:

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected

In another NY Times Op Ed, Nicholas Kristof wrote about the heartbreaking and inspiring story of Pakistani national Assiya Rafiq, and the brave woman helping her survive. Mukhtar Mai and Assiya have both risked their lives by refusing to back down in the face of continued violence after Assiya was raped for years by strangers, then raped by the police she turned to for help.

Assiya Rafiq with her mother

Assiya Rafiq with her mother

Rape and sexual violence towards men also made international headlines. Several Congolese men have self identified as survivors of rape, in a country where rape is such an epidemic it has gained international attention. Aid workers say that

sexual violence against men is yet another way for armed groups to humiliate and demoralize Congolese communities into submission

Political prisoners in Iran have also revealed the common occurrence of rape in jail there, although officials have denied it. I find these two quotes crucial to the understanding of the epidemic of sexual violence against women. Victims of sexual violence are stigmatized, marginalized, often ignored or worse: blamed for their own victimization. Speaking with my father about this month’s post, he asked me whether I thought rape was more prevalent in developing or developed countries. I couldn’t answer, because I believe rape is so under reported that it would be impossible to guess even based on documented cases. Why is such an egregious crime so under reported? Is it because we have become complacent and accepting of its existence? Is it because victims are humiliated and demoralized in a uniquely destructive way? Or is it because victim blaming is so prevalent, as in the case of a woman who was raped at gun point in front of her two children in a Connecticut Marriott parking lot, then blamed by the hotel for failing “to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children”?

There was also news on the legislative and political side of this battle against sexual violence, as Secretary of State Hilary Clinton recently traveled to several African countries earlier this month. The message of her trip was clear; the safety and empowerment of the world’s women would be a priority during her tenure. (Read a more comprehensive summary of her views and goals here.)

Legislation that could have promoted gender equality in Mali was blocked by angry protesters, many of whom are women who stood to benefit from more equal rights had the law passed. (Read more at GAB author J. Mack’s August 28th post.) The Shia Family Planning Law (which I mentioned in my post last month) was passed in Afghanistan despite international outcry legalizing, among other things, marital rape and torture if a woman does not succumb to her husband’s sexual “needs”.

And, in a truly heart braking and revolting news story, a young woman was recently freed after living in a shed in her captor and rapist’s back yard for 18 years.

The makeshift tent where an abducted girl lived for 18 years

The makeshift tent where an abducted girl lived for 18 years

Sexual violence against women is not something any one person can solve, but it is something everyone can help stop. For anyone moved by this post, there are many steps you can take to further educate yourself and/or take action in your community. To learn more about the crisis of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, visit here, or write a letter to Hilary Clinton encouraging her to continue her support of survivors of sexual violence and empowerment of the world’s women. If you are interested in helping with the legal and living costs of Assiya Rafiq’s case, you can donate directly to her here.

And finally, to leave on a positive note and with a truly heroic example of individual actions we can take to stop the culture of violence, a Staten Island man recently came to the rescue of a young girl being abducted. Hearing her screams outside his home he rushed outside and scared away her attacker.

You can also take action every day to stop sexual violence against women. Continue the dialogue in your own group of friends. Let’s make it known that while we may currently live in a culture where misogyny and violence have become accepted, we are working for change and hope to one day live in a world where those things are the horrific exception to the norm.

One Comment
  1. September 14, 2009 6:53 pm

    Thank you for speaking to this very important issue. Too often, crimes of sexual violence are ignored and pushed under the rug. Only the most gruesome or “newsworthy” (usually those where there is an element of doubt against the victim) even make it to the news. Most rape happens in silence – in homes, among families, in marriages, etc. Though one person cannot be responsible for putting an end to rape, if people unite to say enough is enough, the power of our collective force could be incredible.

    For survivors who are interested in speaking out against sexual violence, visit I recently put together this website as a vehicle for survivors to share their voices in a positive way.

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