A policy of rape

This Krisof column is sickening. He looks at rape in Sudan, and some of the information he puts forth is absolutely awful. Unfortunately he doesn’t really get into the history and politics of rape as a war tactic, but his column space is short. An excerpt:

Gang rape is terrifying anywhere, but particularly so here. Women who are raped here are often ostracized for life, even forced to build their own huts and live by themselves. In addition, most girls in Darfur undergo an extreme form of genital cutting called infibulation that often ends with a midwife stitching the vagina shut with a thread made of wild thorns. This stitching and the scar tissue make sexual assault a particularly violent act, and the resulting injuries increase the risk of H.I.V. transmission.

Sudan has refused to allow aid groups to bring into Darfur more rape kits that include medication that reduces the risk of infection from H.I.V.

The government has also imprisoned rape victims who became pregnant, for adultery. Even those who simply seek medical help are harassed and humiliated.


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16 comments for “A policy of rape

  1. Konstancya
    June 10, 2005 at 10:02 am

    In her 1995 book, _Nine Parts of Desire – The Hidden World of Islamic Women_, author Geraldine Brooks discusses infibulation and related topics extensively. I highly recommend the work which is based on the author’s many years of experience in the Middle East and North Africa. While such practices are mostly not of Islamic origin, this type of barbarism is actually on the increase in many countries where there is an Islamic majority. On the other hand, some Islamic countries don’t engage in the practice at all.

    Controlled mostly by males, many Islamic cultures seem to embrace female genital mutilation as another means of controlling women. Women are frequently told that the Koran says they must submit though, of course, the Koran says no such thing. But given the low rate of literacy of the majority of muslim women, far too many are dependent on others to interpret what they cannot read for themselves. The correlation between FGM and illiteracy is very high as one might imagine.

    The situation in Sudan, which includes branding of women after they’ve been raped, is yet another horrifying example of how much certain cultures seem to hate and objectify women. Multiculturalism often assumes that all cultural practices are benign and deserving of respect though sometimes odd. Female genital mutilation plainly disintegrates that insidious myth.

  2. June 10, 2005 at 10:05 am

    I had a long argument about this sort of thing several years ago. When do we respect other cultures, and when do we say “No, that’s savage, go sit in Time Out”? My reaction is to say, of course, that this is savage, and needs to be stopped, but we know the danger inherent to trying to “pacify savages.”

  3. June 10, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Heliologue, I think this is what Katha Pollitt meant when she said that feminism and multiculturalism are not compatible.

  4. June 10, 2005 at 10:47 am

    you should check out black looks. here’s a link to one of her posts on this subject. her perspective as an african woman is invaluable and her links are exceedingly informative.

  5. June 10, 2005 at 10:58 am

    Kristof has written several articles about what is happening in African and in Darfur, it’s thanks to him that I became more aware of the seriousness of the situation and the lack of action by the US or the UN.

    Thru one of his earlier articles I became aware of this organization:

    Save Darfur

    Further I would agree with you it is the lack of education and the lack of options that makes women’s lives in many islam based nations one of desperation and struggle.

  6. June 10, 2005 at 11:50 am

    Out of curiosity, do you (you=Jill and all others who care to comment) support military intervention into the Sudan? And Iraq? And if so in the Sudan, and not in Iraq, why?

  7. June 10, 2005 at 11:52 am

    I read an autobiography of a Sudanese women who underwent the infibulation (I think it was called “Aman”?). What struck me about this woman is that, even though she was later raped and suffered quite a bit of pain, infection, etc, she defended the practice. When she later gave birth in a hospital, she saw women who hadn’t had the procedure and she said they looked like “cows”. So there was an aesthetic dimension for her; she learned to see the unmutilated female genitalia as disgusting and ugly.

    Then of course there is the simple fact that her options as a woman were severely limited by her particular culture, and that without the mutiliation she would be considered dirty, unmarryable, outcast..

    I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of being a white, Western feminist thinking that I know better than this African woman what should and shouldn’t be done to her body. But frankly, that seems a better position to be in than the young girls who are being socialized into seeing their natural bodies as disgusting and into seeing their own mutiliation as a necessary and moral and just thing.

  8. June 10, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    Shankar Gupta, this post isn’t related to our policies of intervention as regards to Iraq or Sudan. It is about rape being practiced as a method of war, and the consequences to the women because of cultural beliefs (somewhat shared across many cultures, by the way). Hearing these stories should repulse any thinking being, and bring about a strong desire to intervene on the part of any country, not just the US.

  9. June 10, 2005 at 12:51 pm

    I wanted to add: There’s also a seriously horrible situation in the Congo with rape used as a weapon of war. There, women’s vaginas are being penetrated with weapons that cause serious injury, notably fistulas, so on top of the other problems these women face (similar to Sudan) they’ve got the pain, discomfort, and social stigma of a fistula.

  10. June 10, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    Hearing these stories should repulse any thinking being, and bring about a strong desire to intervene on the part of any country, not just the US.

    I couldn’t agree more. (first link downloads a PDF).

    But I should offer a non-snide response. Kristof writes:

    I’m still chilled by the matter-of-fact explanation I received as to why it is women who collect firewood, even though they’re the ones who are raped. The reason is an indication of how utterly we are failing the people of Darfur, two years into the first genocide of the 21st century.

    “It’s simple,” one woman here explained. “When the men go out, they’re killed. The women are only raped.”

    The key statement there is “how utterly we are failing the people of Darfur.” This article is unambiguously a call to action. It’s not just discussing the use of rape as a tactic of war in a vacuum. Kristof is writing about this to try to get the people and government of the U.S. horrified enough to do something. The question is, what? It seems to me that military intervention is the only viable option. And my question is, how does that square with opposition to intervention in Iraq, given the obvious humanitarian benefits of ousting Saddam’s regime?

  11. June 10, 2005 at 2:19 pm

    As far as rape used as a tactic of war, has anyone read reports of US solider raping women in Fallujah?

    Why hasn’t this been addressed by the media?

    Not to mention the violence against woman that continues to go on in Guatemala

  12. June 10, 2005 at 2:37 pm

    Why not indeed?

    Not to say that U.S. soldiers have never raped an Iraqi civilian or detainee. Much like the people of the U.S., the military is composed of some good people and some bad people, and war tends to bring out the extremes on both ends.

    There is an unsubtle distinction, however, between a soldier in the U.S. army raping someone, and, say, one of Saddam’s prison guards or a member of the Janjaweed militias doing it. The U.S. soldier, if caught, will be prosecuted, dishonorably discharged, and imprisoned. Saddam’s and the Janjaweeds’ men get praised and promoted for that kind of behavior.

  13. Konstancya
    June 10, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    It’s been enlightening reading all the responses to this painful topic. (Actually I consider both topics— institutionalized rape and FGM— of the same variant) This is one of those subjects that seems to follow women around like a dark shadow, though I have no personal experience with either. Perhaps that is because we feel not only some responsibility to affected women but also because the problem of systematized female abuse, so utterly intertwined with the politics of the day, is worsening in many respects.

    I, too, wrestled with the question, “Who am I to criticize other cultures— especially other women?” But this is not a matter of globally castigating a society or race or culture in its entirety. It is merely a matter of applying a few, very basic standards of humanity and ethics focusing in on certain behaviors or practices. If a woman can honestly say that she was not forced into genital mutilation, that she knew long before it was done what were all the potential dangers, drawbacks, and risks, that it was done when she was truly mature enough to give informed consent, and that she was given a choice, then I’d have to say it was her (unfortunate) option as long as it did not bring harm to anyone else.

    But if, on the other hand as it is so often done, she was held down as a little child by her aunts, screaming her head off whilst her mother wielded a jagged knife and then stapled her up with acacia thorns, not having the slightest clue of the assault to her sexuality and health, that, depending on the degree of mutilation, she might never have a normal birth, that her husband might use a knife in order to penetrate her the first time (as is sometimes the custom), that she might not ever menstruate or urinate normally and be very prone to both bladder and other infections, that she has a significant risk of dying during childbirth or soon after, that there is absolutely no medical or rational reason for such an assault to her person, and more……. well, then, I think we can safely make a judgment that the practice is a deplorable obscenity and that we should do all in our power to see it stopped.

    Now as to the matter of rape being a method of war across many cultures, I think in Sudan, it is far more than that. It is not just an act of power and violence, though that is bad enough in itself, nor it is the insanity of just a few. In the case of Sudan, there are also racial/ethnic factors where the systematic rape of women is an old practice intended to diminish and dilute the ethnic or racial makeup of the group under attack. And to make sure that all men know that a woman has been raped, generally seen in islamic cultures as the fault of the women, the rape victims are branded to ensure that they will be undesirable, especially to males of their own ethnicity. Often, despite Sudanese claims to the contrary, they are used as permanent slaves by their aggressors.

    It has been suggested that maybe the US should take military action to resolve this tragedy in Sudan. I disagree with that for two major reasons: (1) the problem is the responsibility of the entire international community and (2) with more conjoint international attention, military action might not be necessary or might be very limited. But that is not going to happen. If the UN were capable in this regard, the Darfur genocide would have been resolved long ago. So we come now to the one vehicle, the United Nations, that was founded to prevent or resolve precisely these kinds of situations. Without going into too much detail, it is my opinion that the UN will never be capable in that regard as it is currently structured. And the reason is because the UN lacks standards for the level of participation of member countries. You have the Security Council and then the rest of the countries who all participate at the same level, pretty much whether they are illegal aggressors, democracies, dictatorships or cesspools of gulags and women abusers.

    As a consequence of this lack of ethics-related criteria for levels of membership for the various States, all the corrupt states will obviously negate the vote of more honest democracies and republics. That is why the UN has done nothing substantive about Sudan and can’t really do anything else of much international value until it is accepted that not all cultures and nation states are equal in terms of human rights and freedoms. That’s my opinion anyway, for whatever it’s worth.

  14. jam
    June 10, 2005 at 4:49 pm

    Shankar writes: And my question is, how does that square with opposition to intervention in Iraq, given the obvious humanitarian benefits of ousting Saddam’s regime?

    you mean the humanitarian benefits the Iraqi people are enjoying right now? the ones they’re enjoying so very very much?

    There is an unsubtle distinction, however, between a soldier in the U.S. army raping someone, and, say, one of Saddam’s prison guards or a member of the Janjaweed militias doing it. The U.S. soldier, if caught, will be prosecuted, dishonorably discharged, and imprisoned. Saddam’s and the Janjaweeds’ men get praised and promoted for that kind of behavior.

    yeah, unsubtle. try making that distinction to the “someone” who gets raped. see if they care whose colors the soldier was wearing.

    this whole “hey, we’re not as bad as the brutal dictators we arm & support” argument is getting about as old as that other perennial favorite: ye olde bad apple…

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  16. June 12, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    Jam writes:

    you mean the humanitarian benefits the Iraqi people are enjoying right now? the ones they’re enjoying so very very much?

    Yeah, those ones. I’m so glad we finally agree.

    this whole “hey, we’re not as bad as the brutal dictators we arm & support” argument is getting about as old as that other perennial favorite: ye olde bad apple…

    I’ve never understood the “we armed these brutal dictators in the first place” arguments. If we gave Saddam and others the weapons they’re using to kill people, don’t we have more of an obligation to stop him, rather than less? And, as a corrolary, do you really think that the Bush’s administration is as bad as the Iraqi Baathist regime?

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