It is tempting for a blogger to only deal with the easy topics and frame them in a way sure to please the target audience. I have in the past been guilty of writing meek posts but this will not be one of them. Every now and again we become aware of horrors which move us so deeply that we feel compelled to share our outrage. For me one such issue is war rape. This post will liberally quote from the online articles which have brought the underreported, ugly side of war rape to my attention. These sources are linked in the footnotes below.
Of all the secrets of war, there is one that is so well kept that it exists mostly as a rumour. It is usually denied by the perpetrator and his victim. Governments, aid agencies and human rights defenders at the UN barely acknowledge its possibility.
So adding to the horrors of being raped is the fact that various humanitarian agencies are reluctant to even admit that the problem exists. This is a shameful reflection on the hypocrisy of the West who prefer not to see what does not fit comfortably in its value system. As a result the survivors have nowhere to turn for help:
They will probably be ostracised by friends, rejected by family and turned away by the UN and the myriad international NGOs that are equipped, trained and ready to help women. They are wounded, isolated and in danger. In the words of Owiny: “They are despised.”
The bureaucratic inertia and narrow-mindedness of the aid organisations appear to be the main reason behind their inaction:
“There was never a recognition that this is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed,” Blume told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “All of us have been complicit in neglecting to address this issue.” (…) But so far, stigma and conflicting interests within the humanitarian sector have prevented specialised services and programmes tackling this problem from becoming mainstream.
Although not officially recognised, the issue is painfully real. The effects of the past trauma can even affect the spiritual life of the victims
“It kills your spirit,” says Steven Kighoma. “You can’t go to church because you feel you’re unclean before God.”
Part of the reason why rape is so frighteningly common in the war-torn countries is the fact the perpetrators are likely to remain unpunished:
The question is: in lawless war zones where order has broken down, how can you stop rape happening? “The law is a clumsy instrument when it comes to dealing with the perpetrators. The chances of bringing people to book are relatively tiny,” admits Dolan. It’s a subject that will be looked at in June at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London, the largest ever event of its kind. One priority is to stop the culture of impunity. There should be prosecutions of high level military leaders who give orders for rape to be used by soldiers, says Dolan. Currently, there have been very few.
For most of the victims this means there is never a sense of closure:
But many of the scars never completely heal. “You think you’re guilty; you blame yourself for what happened. You feel helpless,” Kighoma says, four years on. “It’s hard to forgive the people who did this.”
There is also little support for the victims in their own families and communities. This is, at least partly, because of the gender stereotypes which exist in many societies:
When men returned to their communities after being attacked, they faced a wide range of psychosocial challenges, including stigmatisation, and so did their families. The study quotes a respondent as saying, “When a man is raped, his family is also raped.” As men struggle with no longer feeling “like a man”, their families often experience social stigma if community members learn of the attack. “The whole family is not respected – his wife is considered lower than other wives in the community,” Christian told IRIN.
If you are interested in reading more about the men war rape here are the links: