Plain and Simple: A Huge Disservice

As a currently unemployed member of the women’s rights community, tonight’s Vice Presidential debate was going to be the highlight of my evening – I was, quite honestly, hoping to see some serious Paul Ryan butt kicking.

Then I read this headline: “Report challenges rape ‘as a weapon of war’ idea.”

My brain froze. I’ll just follow the debate on Twitter, I decided.

First of all, USA Today, really, with the quotes? Also, rape as a weapon of war is not an “IDEA.” It is a FACT and an ATROCITY.

Before the rest of my rant, some context:

A report released Wednesday from the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Human Security Report 2012, says there is no “compelling evidence” that extreme sexual violence in wartime is increasing.

Sebastian Merz, associate director of the project, said at a press conference that evidence suggests that the most common perpetrators of sexual violence in wartime are husbands, partners, or other family members. Not combatants, as many in the field have found. The report also criticized the international community for (1) not recognizing that men are also victims and (2) not recognizing that women can be the perpetrators.

“The researchers urged the international community to become more serious about collecting and using reliable data on sexual violence in conflicts,” reports USA Today.

“We need a better understanding of the nature and extent of wartime sexual violence,” Merz said.

With that, I agree.

I have yet to read the report, but this is not for lack of trying (as I type this post, it is still “loading”). Since I cannot seem to actually access said report, I will keep my criticisms to a minimum. But, there are three points I need to make.

1. Does it Matter Who the Perpetrators Are?

The  fact is, women are being raped in conflicts across the globe, everyday, and the international community is doing little, if anything, to stop it. So, the report says that the majority of the perpetrators are not combatants but are, instead, men (and women) known to the victims.

Does this make the situation any better?

Sure, maybe we need to re-frame how we discuss the issue if this is the case – systematic attacks on women by the military are different from domestic abuse in a war torn country.

But here’s one of the many ways I think the report gets it wrong. First, the report itself admits that more and better research must be done to fully understand the  issue – so before we draw conclusions that automatically take away from the plight that women are facing everyday, why don’t we do that? Why don’t we improve our research, talk to women in conflict zones, and then reach conclusions about who the perpetrators are?

2. Check Your Sources

This report also claims that in the Democratic Republic of Congo – said to be the most dangerous place on Earth to be a woman or girl because of the use of rape as a weapon of war – rape is not being used systematically as a weapon of war. It cited a study conducted in 2010 by Sweden’s Nordic Africa Institute, which found that government and military officials made it clear that rape was not being used as a part of any “military strategy.”

I’m sorry, what? Let’s get this straight: the Congolese military and government told a Swedish institution two years ago that rape was not part of their military strategy. And we’re just going to take their word for it?

Let’s compare this to some recent, domestic news, shall we? Despite a prison sentence of 30 to 60 years for being found guilty of the sexual abuse of 10 boys, Jerry Sandusky maintains his innocence. 

If we follow this report’s reasoning, then he is innocent!

This argument also goes to point one. USA Today quotes the report:

“[A] major part of the reason for the high levels of sexual violence appears to be that the military command system is too dysfunctional, disorganized, fragmented, and corrupt to prevent undisciplined, and often unpaid, troops from indulging in opportunistic looting and rape on a large scale.”

Even if this is correct, how does this make it any better? 

3. Plain and Simple: A Huge Disservice

The bottom line is this: I haven’t read this report, but the fact remains that rape in conflict areas is used as a weapon of war. It has been used for centuries; it has been documented in conflicts such as Rwanda, Bosnia, and Liberia, among others; and it continues to be used today. This report argues that conflicts like these are the anomaly; I argue that we can in no way make this conclusion.

No, we likely don’t have as much research as we should; Yes, we should acknowledge, and perhaps re-frame the issue, if husbands and partners are just as responsible as the combatants in war torn areas for committing sexualized violence.

But we cannot rely on the word of those who might have committed (and in some cases overseen the implementation of) these atrocities to conclude that these crimes were not, and are not, being committed.

Admittedly, I am not in a position to say what research is needed, or how it should be conducted. But I can say this: reports like this do nothing except disempower and delegitimize the experience of the victims, disengage the media, and further the plight of women in conflict zones by diverting the attention of the international community elsewhere.

Rape in conflict is a very real problem, regardless of who the perpetrators are. Let’s not waste precious time, while more women and men are being victimized, so that those in a position to help can argue amongst themselves. The issues are just simply too important.

One thought on “Plain and Simple: A Huge Disservice

  1. It is clear that it does NOT matter who the perpetrators are. It is also clear that the abuse of women is a de facto weapon in war. It is also clear that the media should depend on independent sources, not involved parties, for their reporting.

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