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: