Silence is the enemy
Posted on June 5, 2009
A friend told me recently about an evening she’d just spent visiting an elderly uncle who was staying with her parents. Now this uncle, let’s call him Bob, is in his seventies, and is fond of telling stories about his past. This particular evening was no exception, and as my friend, her partner, and various other relatives (including his wife) settled down to chill out after a big family meal, Bob started off on one of his tales.
But this story turned out to be a bit different from the normal, everyday reminiscences the family was used to hearing: this one was about the time Bob was out in Libya doing his National Service, more specifically about the time he witnessed 6 or more of his colleagues line up and rape a young woman.
Apparently the soldiers had been given a night off and so had gone out to a small town close to where they were billeted. There, they’d come upon a local couple, and after a brief discussion among themselves about how they hadn’t seen a woman in ages, one of the group went over to the man and asked him how much he’d be prepared to take to let them have sex with his wife The two men negotiated, and eventually the husband settled on a price.
According to Bob’s version of events, he then looked on as the rest of the group took it in turns to rape the woman.
When the soldiers had all had a go and were content they were finished, the husband asked them for the money they’d promised him. The soldiers gave him nothing, instead they beat him to the ground, and ran away laughing.
My friend sat in stunned silence as she listened to this story, and not just because of her horror over what these men had done: but because in his telling of it, her uncle gave no indication that he found the tale in any way problematic. Because in his telling of it, he recounted it in the same way he’d recounted all of his other old stories: and because when he finished, he sat back smiling as if he expected the assembled guests to find it as entertaining as he did.
I wonder how many other old soldiers have similar stories to tell.
My guess is it’s far more than many of us would care to imagine.
It’s long been recognised that rape is and always has been used as a weapon of war, and as a weapon of ethnic cleansing and genocide, as detailed here by Katharine MacKinnon in her account of the systematic rape that took place during the Bosnian/Serbian conflict:
“Like all rapes, these rapes are particular as well as generic, and the particularity matters. This is ethnic rape as an official policy of war: not only a policy to defile, torture, humiliate, degrade, and demoralise the other side; not only a policy of men posturing to gain advantage and ground over other men. It is rape under orders: not out of control, under control. It is rape unto death, rape as massacre, rape to kill or make the victims wish they were dead. It is rape as an instrument of forced exile, to make you leave your home and never come back. It is rape to be seen and heard by others, rape as spectacle. It is rape to shatter a people, to drive a wedge through a particular community. It is the rape of misogyny liberated by xenophobia and unleashed by official command. It is rape as genocide.
It is rape made sexy for the perpetrators by the defencelessness and youth of many of the victims and the rapists’ absolute power to select victims at will….It is rape made exciting by knowing that there are no limits on what can be done, that the women can be raped to death. Most of all, it is rape made sexually irresistible by the fact that the women are about to be sacrificed, by the ultimate power of reducing a person to a corpse, by the powerlessness of the women and children in the face of their imminent murder at the hands of their rapist. It is murder as the ultimate sex act. Do not say it is not sex for the men. When the men are told to take the women away and not bring them back, they rape them, then kill them, then sometimes they rape them again, cut off their breasts, and rip out their wombs….This is rape as torture and rape as extermination.”
From MacKinnon, “Crimes of war, crimes of peace” in Are Women Human.
Even in areas where there is no longer conflict, rapes and other forms of sexual violence continue to be perpetrated for months and often years afterwards. It seems that wherever conflict arises, and wherever armies march, increases in sex crimes against women, both in local populations and more recently within the forces themselves, will follow close behind.
And these aren’t ancient crimes; these aren’t long-forgotten narratives filched from the pages of history to provide evidence of the barbarity of our forefathers. No, these atrocities are modern and completely of our time. From the Red Army and the rape of Berlin, to Vietnam, Darfur, Bosnia, Iraq and Rwanda, the 20th and early 21st centuries have been littered with the bodies of the victims of this abuse. Indeed, only in the past few weeks it’s come to light that there’s now photographic evidence of the rape and sexual abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib by American armed forces.
And the one common thread running through it all is the silence. Because far too often and for far too many people these are the stories they don’t want to hear told, the truths they don’t want to acknowledge. These are the victims in far off lands, the others, not like us and not of us, and their suffering isn’t ours.
Well it’s time for that silence to end.
As a follow-up to this NY Times article on the continuing mass rape of women in Liberia, Isis the Scientist, along with other US bloggers, has decided to launch an online initiative aimed at raising awareness of sexual violence, not just in Liberia but globally. They’re calling it Silence is the Enemy, and those involved are now donating all of their June blogging revenues to Medecins Sans Frontieres for the treatment and relief of victims of mass rape and other systematic sexual assaults.
Obviously the blogs need as many hits as possible over the next few weeks to generate that income, so spread the word and get clicking:
The list is likely to grow, so keep checking here for updates.
Hat-tip to theOlady.
It’s interesting (well I know that isn’t the appropriate word, but still) the phenomenon of rape in war Cath.
Although I am opposed to evolutionary psychology and all its works, it’s hard not to wonder whether it isn’t a combination of sanctioned aggression and men in groups that legitimises it. It’s incredibly common – not just in wartime though it happens in *peacekeeping* forces as well though.
What I find horrific about the uncle’s story is that the rape wasn’t, in this case, a weapon of war. There wasn’t even a war on, and the Libyan couple weren’t ‘the enemy’. They just felt like it, like having another beer before bed. It’s actually worse, if such things can be graded, than (say) the rape of Bosnian Muslims by Serbs, because that can be partially explained, if not justified, by the stress and madness and seething hatred that war engenders. It’s the sheer casualness of the Libya story that is horrific.
The banality of evil…
The title of K. A. MacKinnon’s book “Are Women Human” says it all really.
I agree Tim, and there’s also the racism that’s evident in that story. You can imagine the reaction of men like these if a group of soldiers from overseas came here and suggested it was ok to treat “our women” like that……
And I do think, aside from the way war brutalises people, and the sanctioned aggression that Polly talks about, that that “othering” plays a big part in this.
Soldiers are trained to see “the enemy” as somehow less than, and I think that makes it much easier then for men to justify to themselves the outrages they perpetrate.
Veering slightly off-topic I know, but what’s always fascinated me about the holocaust, and the Rwandan genocide and other such atrocities, is this question about what is it that makes some people able to stand up against this kind of almost mass psychosis. How is it that some are able to still keep their moral compass when all about them are losing theirs, and makes them able to not only refuse to participate, but risk their own lives in the process.
And how can I be sure, that in a similar situation (dog forbid it ever happens), I’d be strong enough to do the same?
This is my uncle we are talking about. I can truthfully say that I am not often involved in family conversations what make my stomach turn, but when he started talking, I thought I was going to be physically sick. His nonchalance about the event was stunning. He obviously remembered the rape vividly, he named the main negotiator/rapist/perpetrator of assault, and he remembered he was from Yorkshire. He ended his story with “its a funny old world” totally unaware of my distress and showing no distress himself. I left a few minutes after.
He is the father of two daughters and I don’t think for a minute that he has ever considered that his daughters could be vulnerable to rape or assault. I don’t think he even considered that the Libyan woman was of any consequence or importance. I remain deeply troubled by his revelation, I think about it a lot.
I know I never want to see my uncle again. By his own admission he did nothing to stop the rape and assault, he did not report it to his superiors, as far as I am concerned he is as guilty as the perpetrators.
Thanks for writing about this Cath.
How very horrible for you Jemima. I’m sorry.
I don’t think he even considered that the Libyan woman was of any consequence or importance.>
All rapists (or colluders) find ways of denying their crime, denial is the mindset of the rapist. It’s probably much easier in warfare – the dehumanising is done for you.
My view is that men start wars and go to war in order that they can do this. There isn’t another explanation. It’s not the by-product of war, it’s the reason for it.
Anyone remember the ‘Morgan’ rape case wherein a number of men were charged with group raping a woman. The men were acquitted because the husband who initiated the rape had told the rapists ‘my wife wants you to penetrate her sexually because she likes rough sex and if she says no, she is play acting.’ So, the law as defined then, held that if a man ‘honestly’ believes a woman is consenting to being penetrated by the man, then the man cannot be convicted of rape. Note again, the man’s viewpoint supecedes the woman’s right of sexual autonomy.
Notice the men’s views override the woman’s because her sexuality was/is owned by men and if a man says to another man ‘it is okay to use my female partner as your own sexual depository’ then this is not rape just ‘sex’ as defined by men.
The British soldiers who committed group rape on a Libyan woman obviously believed the husband owned the wife’s body and sexuality.
I’ve always found it odd how society overwhelmingly condemns the holocaust but continues to ignore the on-going male war against female bodies. Aspects of the holocaust are conveniently omitted such as the fact many women imprisoned by the Nazis were deliberately turned into the male Nazis’ sex slaves but this continues to be ignored.
I call it compartmentalisation – wherein many men view their sexual crimes against women as as non-crimes because certain women are deemed non-rapeable since the male rapists/rape apologists refuse to view all women as human beings – not men’s sexualised commodities.
Likewise the continued suppression of photographic evidence of male US soldiers engaged in systematic rape and sexual torture of Iraqi women is considered not important enough to publicly release. Security is used as an excuse – but there is no justification for men’s sexual violence against women.
Or rather, society commonly condones and justifies such male violence in certain circumstances, such as war or when certain groups are labelled the enemy and hence dehumanised.
I’m sorry Jemina that it was your Uncle who made this revelation and given the hype surrounding D-Day landings and the much lauded ‘heroics’ of the Allied forces I once again remembered a large number of allied soldiers did commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against French and German women. But these facts are always kept hidden because no one wants to know a large number of male soldiers do take advantage of ‘war’ in order to enact their pseudo sex right to women and girls.
Good post and worth highlighting the campaign!
If you train someone to kill, to the point where dehumanising becomes natural then where does that stop? If you spend your day trying to kill people with grenades, machine guns etc. then surely rape (and crime in general) doesn’t seem so bad.
You grow up being told that killing, raping and stealing, for example, are bad. You must NEVER, EVER, EVER do these things. Then you’re told killing is ok. What does that do for the other rules?
Particularly when we’re talking about conscripts or those who had to join armed forces due to societal pressure – their rights are taken away, their *lives* are of no value, they are numbers. Try telling those people that they don’t have the right to choose what they do with their lives, and where they lose them, but that a woman has a right to decide who she has sex with.
It’s not difficult to see why rape takes place in war. I don’t think it’s a sign of some misogynist plot and I don’t think it says much about the average man’s regard for women. Because a soldier is not an average person, s/he’s a damaged person. (remember the female soldier at Abu Ghraib?)
War has lots of terrible effects. Rape is one symptom of the terrible things that happens to the psyche of a soldier, the damage that is done. It is not, as one poster suggested, the reason “men go to war”
I think you’re right about the last point Si – men don’t start wars just so that they can commit rape – they don’t need to.
However I’m having a problem with the damaged psyche argument – not least because of its undertones of ‘what about the menz’. I think you’re right about the removal of social taboos, which may be the only thing that stop men raping in other situations. And you also can’t ignore the influence of group pressure on human behaviour, as numerous psychology experiments have shown.
However Jennifer’s reference to the ‘Morgan’ case is interesting. This is, as Jennifer said a case where a woman was raped by several men and the defendants were acquitted because they said they believed she had consented. Her husband had told them she liked ‘rough sex’.
Now what kind of fuckwit a) takes that situation at face value and b)has no problem with the concept of having group sex with an apparently unwilling and protesting woman?
Rape is a sexual fantasy for a lot of men is the bottom line. And that’s ‘normal’ men. Various studies have indicated 25-53% of men. Some more information on that here,
distressing, but ubiquitous tale. . . the older you get, the more times you hear these same old stories. . .
while livestreaming an american NPR radio station yesterday, there was a small story, less than 10 minutes long, on a young woman who was employed by Halliburton in 2005, was sent to Iraq, and within 4 days was drugged and gang-raped. . .by her “fellow workers”.
“Jones had been raped, repeatedly. By how many men, she’s not sure. But she says one man was still naked and asleep in the room when she came to.
“Apparently, he knew he was beyond the reach of any jurisdiction, so he was still brazen enough to be there,” she says. ”
“The young woman’s breasts were so badly mauled that she is permanently disfigured. It has been four years since the attack, and despite the physical and circumstantial evidence, the Department of Justice has declined to investigate.”
the story is about “arbitration contracts” that protect corporations – but I feel it fits in quite well with this blog post.
everywhere women are de-humanised, and it’s always war – not against ALL men, but more than SOME.
link to broadcast: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105153315
What a sad story.
Soldiers don’t rape because their psyches are damaged. They do it because they can.
Not saying that war doesn’t fuck the psyche up, the mental health stats for veterans show that it does. But that is no excuse for rape. Actually, this argment bugs me because it often almost sounds like it’s justifying rape, and torture – ‘war is brutal, what do you expect?’. Well, yes it is brutal, but that doesn’t mean reform is impossible – war could be almost bloodless – and it certainly isn’t an excuse.
Rapists are not evil monsters with devils’ horns and ‘rapist’ tattooed on their forehead, they are ‘normal’ men.
(NOT the same thing as saying all men are rapists, btw).
And plutonian is absolutely right, as the Halliburton case and numerous cases of female soldiers raped by their fellow soldiers, y’know, the ones who are supposed to be fellow soldiers.
“Soldiers don’t rape because their psyches are damaged. They do it because they can.”
Yeah, but a damaged head, doesn’t help does it, war is a form of pornography.
“They do it because they can”
You can add prison guards, care workers and teachers to that,