Every time I see the newspaper headline, ‘Rape victim breaks silence…’, I wonder what life has in store for her after this brave act. In places like India, Pakistan or Afghanistan, while social ostracism is the norm, chances are that the woman may disappear or would be tortured further in her quest to get justice— till she calls off the case, out of the sheer humiliation of it all.
The act of rape or sexual violence is also an act of power or dominance and surviving rape, sexual abuse, incest and molestation may cause different feelings to emerge. During the healing process, many survivors of sexual violence undergo a dramatic reality shift and see life and themselves drastically different than before. While feelings of anger, fear, shock, denial and confusion are normal— Pain simply doesn’t go away, it has to find a safe outlet.
Yet, many rape or sexually abused victims choose to remain silent rather than let the whole world know!
Nancy V. Raine was told by her rapist to “shut up,” over and over during the hours of her rape, and these words continued to hunt her for years after the attack. In her book, After Silence: Rape and My Journey Back, Raine explores the pain, the silence, the stigma and shame that still surrounds rape and sexual abuse survivors, shedding light on the fact that the trauma doesn’t end with the attack but continues in the aftermath.
In the United States, rape is one of the most underreported crimes due to the victim’s fear or embarrassment or humiliation.Estimates of the percentage of rapes reported to authorities range from 10 to 50 percent. A high percent of women who have been raped develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Many women have difficulty maintaining a normal life following a rape, and may repress the experience for an extended period before they are able to talk about it. Over the past 20 years, feminist organisations have fought successfully to change public attitudes toward rape as well as treatment of rape victims.
Rape crisis centers in local communities throughout the nation counsel rape victims and perform other services, such as instruction on rape prevention, providing hotline services and legal advice, and supplying hospital emergency room advocates to offer emotional support to victims and assure that they are treated fairly by physicians and the police. Despite these and other advances in combating rape, it still remains a difficult crime to prosecute, primarily, because of society’s ways of alienating a victim and the stigma attached to a rape.
In countries like India, where the girl child is seen as a burden to the family and a sexually abused woman seen as a blotch in the society, most rape victims opt for silence or are silenced out of the fear of social ostracism. Even if a girl child is accepted in a family, once she is raped, the prospects of getting her married become bleak. Under such circumstances, parents or so-called ‘well-wishers’ discourage victims from reporting the crime. Many of the victims, in turn, unable to live with themselves and out of lack of support opt for suicide instead— something that is thought of as more honourable for a raped woman to do than to report.
And then there are places such as Libya, where, with the crumbling of an existing regime and a notorious dictator, Libyan women are finally summing up the courage to come forward to tell their horror stories of rape and sexual violence unleashed since the past 40 years by Muammar Gaddafi and his militia goons.
These horrifying acts were first brought to light in Libya through the deeply distressing case of Iman Al-Obeidi, the young woman who after being detained at a checkpoint in Tripoli, was gang raped and brutally attacked by Gaddafi’s men. Refusing to be silenced, Iman burst into the restaurant of the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli and told the international press corps there that Libyan troops had beaten and gang-raped her. Her public statement challenged both the Gaddafi government and the taboo against discussing sex crimes in Libya.
In response, government security forces dragged her out of the hotel to an unknown destination, and attacked journalists who tried to help her. Further on, the local press claimed she was drunk, mentally ill, a prostitute, and a thief, and said she would be charged with slander. Yet, The Washington Post described her as a “symbol of defiance against Gaddafi.”
A 2006 report carried out by Human Right’s Watch said that Libya actually “discourages rape victims from seeking justice” as most often, the victims themselves will be persecuted.During my travels throughout the Middle East, I have sadly heard of similar stories of women who, for fear of being shunned by their families, refused to seek help after being sexually assaulted.
What is more horrific is the manner in which women are being forced into a position of passivity and continue to be defamed by crimes committed against them—rapists can actually be exonerated if they agree to marry their victims.
Fearing their lives or having to marry their rapists, most Libyan women shy back into the darkness of their own repressed emotions. This was perhaps one of the reasons why Gaddafi commanded his security forces to use rape as a weapon of war.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), insists that proof does indeed exist to suggest that Gaddafi not only ordered the systematic rape of women within the country, but that he was providing his security forces with sexually enhancing drugs in order to do so.
The fact that they are women and they belong to a conservative society often stand as tall obstacles in a rape victim’s quest for justice. Yet, even as thousands of women are silenced and pushed back into their misery, in the name of ‘honour’, women like Iman Al-Obeidi come forth into the world, to give courage to many more and to remind the world that— Rape is a crime, talking about it isn’t!
Women’s Report Arabia