Tag: sexual violence

What the Public Heard/Saw in the Headlines for the ‘Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence’

If you haven’t read Pablo K’s piece on Angelina Jolie, celebrity, and the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, you should. There has been some broader discussion about the pros (see ‘Hollywood can actually help solve complex global problems‘) and cons of celebrity ‘endorsement’ (the foreign secretary was ‘starstruck’) of humanitarian issues- the Angelina Jolie ‘effect’, if you will. One thing that is certain, the headlines were certainly all about Angelina. “Angelina Jolie hosts/says/opens/kicks off…” were the most prominent headlines, with the content, issues, debates of the summit largely left out. Out of curiosity, I created a wordle map of the headlines. I took a blunt method of taking the headlines from the first three pages of google news for ‘global summit on ending sexual violence.’ To cut out the obvious, I deleted ‘global end sexual violence summit’ and here’s what the headlines looked like:

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Abenomics is a Not an Excuse for Comfort-Women Denialism

protesting-comfort-women-by-bloggerswithoutbordersOne of the traditional responsibilities of sane conservative parties is to write-out of respectability and legitimacy the scary, nut-job right-wing fringe. There can’t be a ‘no-enemies-on-the-right’ strategy, or you wind up with anti-Semites, racists, and black-helicopter guys grabbing all the media attention and delegitimizing wider conservative goals. In the US, Bill Buckley explicitly intended the National Review to screen out the John Birch Society and the American Mercury. In Germany, the CDU/CSU keeps the nationalist/neo-Nazi fringe at bay. (I worked for both GOP and CSU legislators in the past, so I’ve actually seen this in action. The late-night/AM newsradio listeners come out of the woodwork to tell you all about Jewish banker conspiracies and stuff like that.) In Japan, that means the LDP has to tamp down the endless Pacific War revisionism that keeps popping up. And for as much as I think Abenomics is an important Keynesian antidote to the right-wing monetarist-austerity hysteria of the last five years, it’s also increasingly clear that Abe’s victory allowed the Japanese version of the Birchers to get all sorts of air time they shouldn’t.

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Gang Rape and “Peaceful Death”

The world has payed attention to the gang-rape of a young woman (her name has not been made widely public) in Delhi and her struggle to survive over the last few weeks. The reports of the brutal incident on December 16th broke through the national news of India and set waves of reports through the rest of the world. The sheer violence, randomness, and horror of it seemed to fixate the globe.

Now, as we learn that this woman’s struggle to survive after multiple surgeries, cardiac arrest, and evidence of brain damage has ended, there seems to be an attempt to shift this story back into familiar categories of domestic sexual violence and out of the political sphere. Reports on the death of this woman consistently re-report the hospital’s claim that she ‘died peacefully.’ This may seem like a side note to the entire story, yet these words hold significant political value and raises some important questions, including:

Does the focus on her ‘peaceful’ death detract from the violent nature of her attack and her exhausting struggle for life over the last 2 weeks?

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UN Routinely Overlooks Male Rape Victims… And Female Perpetrators

Adam Jones and Augusta del Zotto made this case years ago, and so have I. Glad to note the New York Times has finally taken notice by publishing Lara Stemple’s excellent op-ed:

AS disturbing new reports of male rape in Congo made clear, wartime sexual violence isn’t limited to women and girls. But in its ongoing effort to eradicate rape during conflict, the United Nations continues to overlook a significant imperative: ending wartime sexual assault of men and boys as well.

Sexual violence against men does occasionally make the news: the photographs of the sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi men at the Abu Ghraib prison, for example, stunned the world.

Yet there are thousands of similar cases, less well publicized but well documented by researchers, in places as varied as Chile, Greece and Iran. The United Nations reported that out of 5,000 male concentration camp detainees held near Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict, 80 percent acknowledged having been abused sexually. In El Salvador, 76 percent of male political prisoners told researchers they had experienced sexual torture.

Rape has long been a way to humiliate, traumatize and silence the enemy. For many of the same reasons that combatants assault women and girls, they also rape men and boys.

Nevertheless, international legal documents routinely reflect the assumption that sexual violence happens only to women and girls. There are dozens of references to “violence against women” — defined to include sexual violence — in United Nations human rights resolutions, treaties and agreements, but most don’t mention sexual violence against men.

Ignoring male rape has a number of consequences. For one, it not only neglects men and boys, it also harms women and girls by reinforcing a viewpoint that equates “female” with “victim,” thus hampering our ability to see women as strong and empowered.

In the same way, silence about male victims reinforces unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability. Such hyper-masculine ideals encourage aggressive behavior in men that is dangerous for the women and girls with whom they share their lives.

Sex-specific stereotypes also distort the international community’s response. Women who have suffered rape in conflict have likely endured non-sexual trauma as well. But when they are treated as “rape victims,” their other injuries get minimized.

Conversely, when men have experienced sexual abuse and are treated solely as “torture victims,” we ignore the sexual component of their suffering. Indeed, doctors and emergency aid workers are rarely trained to recognize the physical signs of male rape or to provide counseling to its victims.

ne consequence of the neglect of male victims not mentioned in this article is that it perpetuates a false dichotomy that if women are the victims men must be the perpetrators. While I have no problem believing this is true in probabilistic terms, it is hard to know how strong that probability is given that analysts rarely consider the prevalence of female-perpetrated sexual violence in conflict zones.

One researcher who has Dara Cohen – has found a significant number of female perpetrators – nearly a third – in her study of Sierra Leone. And a study on the Congo published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found survey respondents reported women perpetrating rape in 41% of cases where the victim was female, and 10% of the cases where the victim was male.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


Representing Children of Genocide

This week I served on a panel discussion for Jonathan Torgovnik’s photo exhibit on the Rwandan genocide at the Woodrow Wilson School Bernstein Galley at Princeton University. The exhibit contained extraordinary photographs of female genocide survivors and their children born as a result of genocidal rape.

There is also a extremely evocative video available here.

I was asked to comment critically on the exhibit and the accompanying book, Intended Consequences: Rwandan Children Born of Rape. The review I presented was mixed.

On the one hand the exhibit is very much needed. Children like these are growing up in conflict zones wherever sexual violence has been endemic, and there is a dearth of attention to their needs by the international community. Torgovnik’s images and accompanying narratives urge us never to forget the horrific events of 1994, and never to under-estimate the intergenerational consequences of such violence.

On the other hand I worried that the photos and accompanying texts reproduce two narratives about children of genocidal rape that draw attention away from their own human rights – something I’ve written about recently in a Millennium article. Though references to the lives of the children are sprinkled through Torgovnik’s book, the majority of the testimonies are about the rapes themselves (situating children as products of genocide rather than as children who need help) and the struggles of the mothers in the aftermath (situating children as the source of these struggles rather than the victims of their mother’s neglect, abuse and stigma from the community).

The women’s needs and the earlier question of genocide prevention are extremely important and neglected topics in their own right. But conflating them with the topic of the children diverts our attention, I fear, from the child rights dimension of the issue. The book should perhaps have been titled “Intended Consequences: Rwandan Women Raising Children Born of Rape,” if the focus was to be on the mothers.

A child rights view of this issue would begin from a different starting point, I argued. It would:

1) Make the children’s present lives, not their mother’s traumas, the frame of reference. Rather than regurgitating the troubles from which they resulted, explore how the social stigma around their origins affects their everyday social, psychological and political worlds and what this means for their human rights and healthy development. As I spoke to Torgovnik afterward, it was obvious that his interviews with the mothers had allowed him to glean considerable data on precisely these factors; I would have liked to see them more front and center in the materials that resulted from his project – or to see other projects that do take this perspective.

2) Include children born of rape as a diverse category. This project focused only on children kept by their mothers, but research has shown that many of these kids end up with other caregivers facing a different range of issues. (Admittedly, following the larger category of children born of genocidal rape is a much taller order, and as Torgovnik rightly told me afterward, you must start somewhere.)

3) To the extent possible, allow children to tell their own stories. Of course this often isn’t possible for very small children, but these Rwandan kids are teenagers now and surely have thoughts about the genocide, about school, about bullying, about discrimination, about relationships with their parents and siblings that could be a basis for understanding how they are doing relative to other kids growing up after a genocide – even without raising sensitive questions about things they may or may not understand. I worry when I see adults speaking about children, with children’s voices absent. Admittedly it can be extremely difficult to secure access to interviews with such children. Still, finding a way to let these children have a voice is going to be very important to really assessing their needs and strengths as we gradually move beyond treating them as an invisible population.

4) Represent children only in ways consistent with their view of themselves and not in ways that will contribute to their marginalization, and protect them from the harms that can come from participation in research studies about sensitive topics. Here my view of Torgovnik’s work is mixed. His choice not to interview the children as such, while it prevented them from exercising participation rights, was meant as a form of protection. He also took efforts to make certain the photos would not be distributed in Africa, so the hope is that the images will do some good in drawing donor and humanitarian attention to the issue without contributing to further stigma within local communities. But I wonder about whether video disseminated on the Internet can be controlled in this way, and I worry about the psycho-social impacts on a Rwandan teenager who gains access to images of him or herself online, now or later in life, next to text of his mother’s disparaging comments. Torgovnik’s answer to this is a thoughtful one – you have to weigh the very small likelihood of that happening despite your best efforts against the good that can come to the children as a population from advocacy attention to the problem.

Which brings me to:

5) Projects such as these should serve the goal of improving protective measures for children. On this point, Torgovnik is to be strongly commended. He has used the publicity from his work to create an NGO, “Foundation Rwanda” which channels money from Northern donors to pay for school fees for these children, who otherwise cannot access free schooling through the Rwandan government’s survivors’ program. So his project has made a concrete positive difference in many children’s lives. The money for the initiative is a direct result of donations received after the publication of his photos in the British and German press. The program is implemented confidentially, so it doesn’t mark the kids as recipients of such aid in a way that might risk a backlash. As such, it also provides an example of “best practice” that bigger child protection organizations could use if they chose, to counter their claim that it’s impossible to do programming for this population without doing them harm. I have written more about this path-breaking initiative here.

Ultimately, I think this project raises an important question in human rights advocacy: how to balance the dignity and participation rights of vulnerable or stigmatized populations with the desire to generate resources with which to promote their betterment. Thoughts?


A “war on slavery?”

Over at Coming Anarchy, “Munro Ferguson” writes:

This past December, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon warned that the current geo-economic crisis would add fuel to the already raging fire that is international human trafficking. 146 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, there exists more slaves on planet earth now than at any other given time.

The UN puts the number of current slaves at some 27 million human beings, though a recent UN report offers the caveat that forced labor is much harder to track and enumerate than the most proliferate form, that of sex-slavery, and so the exact number may well be higher.

He accompanies his post with a link to a SkyTV documentary on sex trafficking. All pretty appalling stuff, albeit depressingly familiar to anybody whose even skimmed the surface of the subject. So, while I don’t particularly like describing a campaign against thugs, criminals, and slavers as a “war,” I have to agree that this issue needs to be much higher on the international agenda.

I know some of our readers have expertise in this area, so I welcome any comments. My sense is that the policy portfolio has to include (1) more aggressive efforts against trafficking rings, (2) economic development in regions such as the Balkans and Eastern Europe, (3) policies that exempt slaves from the legal requirement for passports and grant them at least temporary refugee status, and (4) massive public awareness campaigns to deter men from frequenting prostitutes at high risk of being sex slaves.

On that last note, it strikes me that even if there’s some truth to the argument, talking about how all prostitution is rape doesn’t help matters. Some prostitution really is rape–prostitution involving sex slaves–and at least some of the men committing the crime might change their behavior if they realized what they were doing. None of this will help, of course, in countries where dominant norms mean that men–and government officials–just don’t care.

The really thorny issue, as I understand it, concerns legalization. The underlying theory of legal prostitution makes sense, insofar as it allows state agencies to regulate the business and puts prostitutes in regular contact with state officials. But, in practice, there’s at least some evidence that legalization provides a “protective belt” that allows slavery and other forms of exploitation to flourish. This is one of those areas in which my long-dormant libertarian side wakes up, in that it strikes me that the problem isn’t legalization per se, but incomplete legalization, inadequate enforcement, and the stigmatization of prostitutes such that rape and exploitation are somehow considered part of their job description.

Anyway, some of the arguments for and against can be found here.


Rap(e)in(g) International Law

The Guardian reports a great triumph for women’s rights at the United Nations Security Council, which has recently passed a new resolution condemning sexual violence as a war crime and a component of genocide.

I’m thinking: how does this new resolution go beyond SCR 1325 of 2000, which called on governments not only to “respond to” but to actually “prevent” sexual violence? Since rape has already been recognized as a war crime since at least 1949, and since it is now also recognized, when perpetrated by an agent of the state, as torture (in the ICTY statute), as genocide (in the Akayesu ruling of the ICTR), and as a crime against humanity or genocide under certain circumstances (in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court), what exactly does it mean for the UN Security Council to, again, be claiming this is so and for the media to report this as “news”?

One thing it may mean is that the Bush Administration is seizing upon a symbolic opportunity to appear to be championing women’s rights and international rule of law.
Those who have followed the development of gender jurispridence in the UN system ought to see through this, however. In fact, with its excessive focus on rape as genocide (which obscures the continuum of violence faced by women not just at the hands of enemy soldiers but indeed from their own men in wartime); in its emphasis on women, rather than rape victims of both sexes (yes, men are victims of sexual violence too – surely Abu Ghraib drove that home); and in its watered down language (UNSCR 1820 claims rape “can” be a war crime, whereas earlier documents state that it is) this resolution could even be a step backward.

A genuine step forward would not involve more pretty language after almost a decade of gaps in implementation. It would involve action.

What UNSCR 1820 does, however, is to securitize war rape. In other words, this resolution is not about promoting women’s rights. It is about governments recognizing – at least in theory – that systematic sexual violence undermines not just women’s rights but governments’ own security interests:

“Sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security, affirms in this regard that effective steps to prevent and respond to such acts of sexual violence can significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, and expresses its readiness, when considering situations on the agenda of the Council, to, where necessary, adopt appropriate steps to address widespread or systematic sexual violence.”

Whether this is apalling or heartening depends on your theoretical perspective.

Full text of the UNSCR 1820 can be found here.

A helpful recent overview on rape in international criminal law is here.

Additional resources on gender crimes in international criminal law and jurisprudence can be found at the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice website.


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