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Rape » Women's Courage

Posts Tagged ‘Rape’

Sex Deprived? So, Rape Thy Comrad.

February 17th, 2011

“‘Battle buddy bullshit’ said García from the Military Police. ‘I didn’t trust anybody in my company after a few months. I saw so many girls get screwed over, the sexual harassment. I didn’t trust anybody and I still don’t.’” [1]

In my introductory post I promised to look at the many ways war affects women’s physical and mental health and the role the media plays in spreading awareness and empowering women in difficult situations—so far we’ve examined rape as a tool in war, the hidden gender-war on the Mexican border, and the sweeping effects of social and mainstream media—now it’s time to turn to a new lens: women in modern warfare. In the midst if all the ROTC talk on campus, I figured, this would be an interesting exploratory piece for the week. It may appear strides have been made, as women increasingly choose to join military ranks along side men, but the story is much more complex. An excellent piece, written in the midst of Bush’s troop surges in 2007, titled “The Private War of Woman Soldiers” by Helen Benedict explores this exact theme with a unique twist: rape in the military.

After having interviewed over 20 female soldiers in Iraq, Benedict notes, “I can’t help wondering what the women [in the troops] will have to face. And I don’t mean only the hardships of war, the killing of civilians, the bombs and mortars, the heat and sleeplessness and fear. I mean from their own comrades — the men.” [1]
The threat of rape was so bad, women were warned by their officers not to go outside at night nor to enter shower facilities alone without other female companions for security. [1] This suggests several things: first, that the trend of sexual violence is all too real in the US military; second, that the authorities are aware of the regularity of these violations and unwilling to respond; and third, that this sets a dangerous precedent for women entering military service and for the nature of relationships amongst the genders within combat troops. Danger in war should not come from the home base—the last fear that a US soldier should deal with is the threat of his or her own side. Yet, as Spc. Mickiela Montoya, age 21, member of the National Guard in 2005, explains, she took to carrying a knife with her at all times. “The knife wasn’t for the Iraqis,” she told me. “It was for the guys on my own side.” [1]

In a time when going to war is low on the list of priorities for young American generations, there has been a trend to waive violent ad criminal records of enlisted army members—it seems the government is side-stepping laws meant to protect soldiers in an attempt to increase military participation and fight off soldier burnout rates. Consequently, these delinquent soldiers pose an increasing threat to the safety of other army members, particularly women.

Sex and war are a very tricky equation. Soldiers have been known to abuse and misuse foreign females for their own pleasure and carnal desire and (as discussed by several blogs from this course) have fueled the growing sex trades in the countries where they are stationed. As more women than ever before enter the US military service, our nation has to think about how we protect these brave individuals from falling victim to sexual violence in the midst of war.

The rape situation in Iraq became so bad that in 2004 former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered a task force to investigate. The statistics remain largely unavailable, but women’s stories are becoming more accessible. Col. Janis Karpinski publicly released that one of the reason several women soldiers died of dehydration was because of fear of traveling to watering centers due to the ever-present threat of rape from their male troop members. [1] In effect, she risked losing her high profile military position because she dared speak out against these offenses. Her superiors threatened her on the charge that she was “bringing attention to the problem” [1]

What astonishes me is that these stories never struck big in the media—it is as if little action was taken to curtail these incidents in order to protect US army’s reputation and to avoid discouraging enlistment. When NPR ran a story on wounded soldiers focusing on women in the Iraq war, they did indeed explore the effects of changing warfare on a growing female military front. It was noted that women fighting in the Middle East make up approximately 15% of troops. [2] While this is still a minority group, it is a larger fraction than has ever before been observed. The article also looked at growing casualties, 1500 US personnel dead by 2005 [2] –and as we all know that number steadily grew.

The NPR piece notes that the nature of modern war is such that all soldiers are always on the front lines, because there are no clear distinctions. Women are in the combat units, despite formal restrictions. As a result women are facing the same wounds and traumas as their male counterparts. [2] There is no gender distinction when it comes to battle.

What this detailed history of women in combat failed to examine, however, is how the changing demographics of the military play out internally. In fact, few pieces covering the war did this. If they had, they would discover a story of perpetual abuse.

Why does the media not care to inquire about these abuses and the stories behind them, so that we can safeguard the lives of women risking themselves for our nation. Even Rumsfeld had taken note of the rising trend, as he ordered the elusive investigation– so how did this slip from the media’s eye?

I was shocked to read Benedict’s piece, and to hear that American soldiers live in fear within their own side’s safe zones as victims of more than just the external enemy, but also the internal “domestic” enemy.

Benedict’s investigation ends on a very somber tone, she concludes, “If this is a result of the way women are treated in the military, where does it leave them when it comes to battle camaraderie? I asked soldier after soldier this, and they all gave me the same answer: Alone.”

We need to start nurturing the physical and mental well being of our soldiers and ensuring that women are provided the necessary protections to serve their nation, not alone, but as part of the US team.


[1] Benedict, Helen. “The Private War of Women Soldiers.” Salon. 7 Mar. 2007. Web. http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/07/women_in_military.
[2] “Wounded in War: The Women Serving in Iraq : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4534450.

“What Emergency?” Keep on Killing Them, We’ll Keep on Hiding It…

January 27th, 2011

Mexico is in the midst of what NGO’s call a “gender emergency.” At the same time, politicians are fighting to keep the facts hidden. [1]

The country has regions where the war on drugs has really taken a toll on civilian life (especially that of vulnerable populations like young women)— due to the increasing levels of violence the state of affairs is of international concern.

Ciudad Juárez has been plagued by drug wars and simultaneously high crime rates for the last decade. There was a spike in media coverage in the early 2000s regarding the high rape instances on the Mexico border, then again when the impact came to a peak in the midst of President Calderon’s decade-long war on drugs. [2] The militarized anti-drug cartel battle has taken over 34,000 lives (over 17,000 this past year alone). [2] In addition to these losses, record numbers of female deaths unrelated to the drug wars have been recorded—though not necessarily brought to attention nor dealt with in the public sphere. These female deaths are a byproduct of the culture surrounding drug cartels.

What we see is a phenomenon of increased attention on the cartel wars and decreased interest in the spikes of violence happening as a corollary of drug-controled social order. The statistics are dreadful: femicides in Ciudad Juárez rose by 130% between 2009 and 2010, resulting in over 430 (reported) deaths [2] —and this is supposedly in the aftermath of international condemnation of the state of affairs. The sad truth is, nobody knows how many women have been killed as a result of the violence in Ciudad Juárez since the start of the problems in the 1990s. Government reports claim numbers in the hundreds (data complied according to number of remains found), while other figures reach the thousands. There is no reliable data.

Ciudad Juárez has historically had a horrible reputation for crimes against women. Two decades ago, the region began to register an “alarming number of cases of women tortured, murdered, or disappeared.” [1] In turn, the international community put pressure on the government to fight to protect women’s rights, issuing over 200 recommendations for how to proceed with legal and political means to assure the matter was not overlooked. [1] The Mexican government then began focusing on curtailing drug activity as a means of strengthening the rule of law. In effect, the opposite has happened. The overzealous focus on one issue, resulted in an almost blatant ignorance of others.

In order to curb focus on the drastic figures about femicide in the region that threaten the fabric of political reform attempts, the corrupt authorities have resorted to falsifying reports and purposely misclassifying murders. The truth regarding crime rates is so stark that exposing it would severely damage the protected image of government figures. In fact, the government of North Mexico is in direct battle with the NGO’s seeking to bring attention to these human rights atrocities by declassifying them. [1] Authorities believe revealing the truth threatens the governments legitimacy. Others argue, however, that the methodical suppression of information is actually the root cause perpetuating this violence: as long as it is hidden, the message is that it is acceptance.

True Stories on the Ground: “It’s Open Season!”

Marisela Escobedo Ortiz led a campaign to expose the murder of her daughter by abuse by her boyfriend, a cartel leader; the campaign got so much momentum it was brought to trial. [2] During this time, she received daily death threats, but she kept fighting for justice. That justice seemed to come when judges ruled in her favor–then at the last minute, the decision was overturned, and consequently the activist herself was murdered. [2] This sent a direct signal to others fighting for justice—to stay away. To continue the trend, not long after Marisela’s murder, Susana Chavez (a feminist poet responsible for the phrase “Not One More Death!” —the slogan of the Juarez women’s movement) was found murdered with her hand cut off. [1] These are two (public) stories; hundreds of others just like them exist. Women are abused nearly daily in the region. Continued violence is happening, and there are no ramifications for the injustice, no legal consequences, no political outcry.

Activists pushing the injustice against women agenda are being silenced by fear.

The world cannot turn a blind eye to what has been happening for over two decades—to what continues to happen and will continue to happen unless the culture is changed and a rule of law is imposed to protect women.

When I was a senior in high school I write a “shocking” article for the school newspaper discussing these same atrocities. It terrifies me that four years later as a senor in college I am revisiting the same topic, and the state of affairs has only worsened.

How can we get involved? What can we do differently than what we have already done?

Watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbFixUgJkVA


[1] Carlsen, Laura. “The Murdered Women of Juarez « Eurasia Review.” Eurasia Review. Web. 27 Jan. 2011. http://www.eurasiareview.com/analysis/the-murdered-women-of-juarez-20012011/.

[2] Camareno, Rodrigo. “The War on Drugs’ Female Victims.” The Guardian | Guardian.co.uk. Web. 27 Jan. 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/jan/24/mexico-usa-women.

Women as a Tool: Sexual Violence in War & its Consequences

January 20th, 2011

With increased media attention being drawn to human rights abuses, the world has become increasingly aware of the ancient practice of rape as a tactic in war. While some suggest that the seeming increases in incidents have to do with an increase in awareness, studies show that the actual data suggests that systematic rape is becoming more common as the nature of warfare has changed. [1] There has been a spike in civil wars, along ethnic and religious lines, in which civilians (and not states) are the primary targets. Furthermore, according to the UN, women and children are disproportionately the key victims. By attacking these populations, the enemy penetrates the basic building blocks of society: family and community. [1]

A few notable statistics from the past decade:

• By 1993, the Zenica Centre for the Registration of War and Genocide Crime in Bosnia- Herzegovina had documented 40,000 cases of war-related rape. [2]

• Of a sample of Rwandan women surveyed in 1999, 39 percent reported being raped during the 1994 genocide, and 72 percent said they knew someone who had been raped. [2]

• Based on the outcomes of a study undertaken in 2000, researchers concluded that approximately 50,000 to 64,000 internally displaced women may have been sexually victimized during Sierra Leoneís protracted armed conflict. [2]

The statistics are frightening, and the tales dreary. In upcoming blog posts I will delve into personal stories and analysis of these particular cases, but what I would like to turn our attention to is the aftermath of this systematic torture on the individual’s health and psyche.

In Bosnia, for example, women who were impregnated by Serbs were said to be held captive to preclude them from seeking abortions. In one city alone, somewhere around 100 babies were born in January, all conceived from systematic rape — the International Red Cross estimates actual numbers of babies born to rape each month, not reported, to be much higher. [1] These births were the result of systematic rampage rapes, women and children held in captivity as sex slaves, and rapes in war camps. While the physical experience of rape is debilitating enough, the long-term consequences, on the women, the babies, and the communities are devastating. For this reason, rape is a powerful tool in war that penetrates deep into the social core of a nation and into the livelihood of its people.

Some of the consequences of rape include: physical harm to the victim (i.e.: lacerations, tears, broken bones), the spread of diseases (such as HIV), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), long-term depression and anxiety, mental symptoms (fear, suppression, insomnia and lack of appetite, difficulty concentrating, apathy, impotence, low feeling of self-worth), increased psychological arousal/inability to control feeling and bodily functions, sexual difficulties, and changed social capability (i.e. isolation or inability to communicate). [3] & [5]

With regards to PTSD and depression, The National Women’s Study found that over 30% of national rape victims suffer from PTSD—given that rates of PTSD for victims of war and witness to violence are significantly higher, the statistic is considerably increased. Within the US, 33% of rape victims report having serious thoughts of suicide; they are 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. [4] Again, one can only imagine the consequences of war rape to have more extreme effects.

Further, there is a grave cultural stigma associated with rape in many cultures, so much, in fact, that it leads women to flee, be abandoned by their families and/or communities, commit suicide, or to be killed by their family members in disgrace. [5]

When rape is associated with war, the social effects are even worse because the woman is seen as penetrated by the enemy. The child (if there is one) is thus a byproduct of the enemy’s domination; this is especially heinous in wars of ethnic or religious nature.

Rape as a tool of war is sadly becoming more commonplace. While there has been more media attention, documentation, and human-rights abuse follow-up, the powerful impact of this dangerous long-term tool remains an unparalleled strategy. Sadly, in far too many cases, there either is no documentation, or no justice. The medical follow-up for rape victims remains very low, and again, social conditions preclude women from seeking any sort of medical attention, especially when it comes to mental heath problems. The question of how to prevent and treat victims of rape remains an important and difficult one.


[1] Brussels, Belgium. UNFPA. Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in War and Its Aftermath: Realities, Responses, and Required Resources. By Jeane Ward and Wendy Marsh. 2006. Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond.

[2] Broken bodies, broken dreams: violence against women exposed. Jeanne Ward – Zana Briski – Lisa Ernst – UN. Office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA). Integrated regional information networks (IRIN) – 2005.

[3] “Consequences of Rape.” Marraiage and Family Encyclopedia. 2011. Web. http://family.jrank.org/pages/1351/Rape-Consequences-Rape.html.

[4] “Mental Health Impact of Rape.” Welcome to the Medical University of South Carolina. Web. 20 Jan. 2011. http://www.musc.edu/vawprevention/research/mentalimpact.shtml.

[5] “Rape.” Civic, Peace and Democracy Education (A Project by Pharos E.V.). Web. http://www.dadalos.org/int/menschenrechte/Grundkurs_MR3/frauenrechte/warum/verge.waltigung.htm.

Image Source: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=503.