Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rape in Iraq

I am so angry. I don't know when I've been this angry - maybe when I first learned about sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. I suspected there was a problem in Iraq that was not being addressed. In the past two days, I've read two extremely disturbing reports.

The first article, a new report by Madre, a group like RI for women's issues: entitled "Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the US War on Iraq" - talks about the extreme problem of rape of Iraqi women (by Iraqi men). To me, it smacks of Darfur - get back at your enemy and humiliate them by raping their women. It's shocking and horrifying and I hope it gets the attention it deserves. According to my friend Sayre, who attended the briefing about it, "Even a quick look at it shows how much information we’re missing in US media about the war in Iraq. Gender-based violence is a top priority of Iraq’s Islamists. The U.S. plan to support the Iraqi death squads is called the “Salvador Option,” from 1980s US policy in Central America, to train militias. The military isn’t even ashamed to use that term?!? I also didn’t know about the most popular TV show in Iraq, “Terrorists in the Hands of Justice.” (See Part VI: Gender-Based Violence Against Men.) This report argues that this show is like Radio Mille Collines.” (The notorious radio station that encouraged the genocidaires to kill the Tutsis during the Genocide in Rwanda). I for one, will be forwarding it to all the people on the hill that I have met through my work at Refugees International.

The second article, an article on, entitled "The Private War of Women Soldiers " that chronicles the stories of US women soldiers who have been raped and sexually assaulted by their comrades-in-arms. It's outrageous. To read it, click on the link. My login is dmartin, my password is alysonhowell (I don't mind sharing because although used to be my favorite online magazine, they have recently become quite lazy. It appears they have fired all their editors and they consistently try to sex up article by giving them salacious illustrations or using the word sex in the title. Just check out the 'debate' they are allowing in the letters section. You would think you were on an chat room with a bunch of imbeciles rather than on a prominent liberal journal like The Nation or Mother Jones.).

Anyway, I'm certainly not suprised to hear that this is happening. As I wrote in my report on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the UN Peacekeeping system - this happens in all militaries. I don't know what it is but something about the military correlates with higher rates of rape. Is it that learning how to kill someone when ordered that completely violates the internal human moral code so that it degrades the soldiers to the point where they stop seeing women as human beings? I don't think its a natural state of being. Men are not naturally rapists. Or if they are, all the men I know are doing a good job of hiding it from me.

My father is a retired air force sergeant who served from the 50's through the 70's and he would be horrified to hear about this. He and I have talked about violence against women in the 'good ole days'. he told me stories of seeing men he served with hauling off and punching their wives when they got a few too many drinks under their belts. He was horrified, noting it almost always seemed to be big tough guys with small petite wives. But - he noted - it was seen as a family problem, a personal problem - something you didn't get involved with.
Rapists don't belong in the military. they belong in prisons. The fact is that nothing will happen to fix this until women scream out and threaten to vote out all the politicians who don't demand that the military deal with this.

A colleague of mine that I respect immensely once said "Do you think it was the US government that decided one day to make it illegal to beat your wife until she died? No, it was the feminist women's movement screaming out until the US government took notice." And we still aren't there.

Today, in honor of tomorrow's International Women's Day, I spoke at the DC Bar Association about Justice for Rape Survivors in Darfur. Afterwards, the debate (amongst all women, of course) was lively. I spoke with two women who were in their fifties who told me about the 'bad old days'. We need another s trong women's movement. We need to support the women in the US military who are there because feminists in the 70s fought to get us equality. They are choosing to risk their lives in Iraq (for a war I DO NOT agree with - but still, I support their rights to fight there if they choose). We must now keep up with the work that got them there and fight to make sure that they have full protection of the law and the military code of justice to keep them from being harmed by their fellow soldiers.

So - if you are as outraged as I am - pick up the phone and call your congressional representatives and ask them to call a hearing on this. Or, if you live in DC, call your parents and ask them to do it!

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