Media continues to under-report sexualized violence around the world: A February roundup
On February 24, a friend of mine—a journalist in Pakistan—posted an editorial on social media about a bill that had passed in the Pakistani Senate four days earlier, which punishes individuals who hinder prosecutions in rape cases, stigmatize the survivor, or trivialize the crime. My friend asked: “How was this story not all over the news?”
But the global media silence is hardly unusual. Stories like these barely make headlines. This one, “The fight against rape,” was the editorial published on Monday by the Express Tribune and pointed out the same thing my friend did: “That most Pakistani newspapers did not carry this story clearly indicates the priority that much of the media places on such important issues.”
Every month, a number of stories about sexualized violence against women, its aftermath, its consequences, fall below the public’s radar. The question becomes, then, What are we missing?
On February 20, the Pakistani Senate passed the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Amendment) Bill of 2013. It will attempt to ensure justice for rape survivors and calls for strict punishment for the perpetrators, including police and government officials, according to news reports.
The bill will, among other things, “tighten checks on medico-legal officers who dilly-dally on bodily examinations,” according to the Express Tribune editorial, and will forbid the stigmatization or “character assassination of victims during the trial,” as an earlier report said.
The bill will be voted on in the National Assembly next. The Tribune editorial continued: “The lawmakers’ commitment to passing this important legislation is pleasantly surprising; it makes one hope that new sensibilities will fan out across all state institutions in due time, and also that the bill will be passed by the National Assembly with similar ease.”
We hope that, too. But while we’re waiting, more news coverage would be welcome.
In October 2013, a 13-year-old Pakistani girl was buried alive after being allegedly raped by two men in the province of Punjab, news reports said. The girl clawed her way out of the grave, and was taken to a clinic for treatment. According to the girl’s father, the police initially refused to investigate the case. They only did so at the bidding of a court who ordered the rapists to be found, reports said.
Attitudes like those of the police seem to prevail in Pakistan, a country where few survivors report being attacked. The 2010 Human Rights Report on Pakistan by the U.S. Department of State found that there were “no reliable national statistics on rape due to the underreporting and the lack of a central law enforcement data collection system.”
A young girl sits in a care center in Monrovia. (Morgana Wingard/Sarah Grile)
The independent news outlet FrontPageAfrica published a story in early February, whose headline speaks volumes. “Another 12-year-old girl raped in Liberia,” it said. But who was the first? Did the media miss that too?
The body of Rachel Darling Gbarpue was found in the north central village of Cooper’s Town in Bong County on January 19, the report said. Her assailant had cut off “her mouth, her lips, eyes, nose, toes, hands, buttocks, vagina,” her grandmother said. She had also been brutally raped.
Gbarpue went missing on January 14 after she had been sent out to fetch water. She’s hardly the first girl to experience such torture in Liberia, but again, why do we not hear about these lives?
Sexualized violence is extremely prevalent in the country. In July 2014, the UN news service IRIN News cited Liberia’s Ministry of Gender and Development as saying that rape was one of the most frequently reported crimes in the country—and that the incidence of sexualized violence against women was among the highest in the world.
A young woman works on land in Darfur, alongside her children. (UN/Albert Gonzalez Farran)
On February 11, Human Rights Watch released a report that said Sudanese soldiers had raped more than 200 women and girls in the Darfur village of Tabit in a 36-hour period in late October. The rapes, the report said, “would amount to crimes against humanity if found to be part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population.”
One of the women told Human Rights Watch:
“Immediately after they entered the room, they said: ‘You killed our man. We are going to show you true hell.' Then they started beating us. They raped my three daughters and me. Some of them were holding the girl down while another one was raping her. They did it one by one.”
Sudanese officials denied that the incident ever took place, instead calling the HRW report a “flagrant attempt to level accusations,” reports said.
The HRW report was covered by multiple news outlets. But why? What was different about this most recent attack on civilians in Darfur vs. the many, many acts of violence that have come before in this conflict?
In July 2013, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out that Darfur hadn’t been in the headlines recently partly “because there has been a lull in the killing in recent years and partly because so much else is happening worldwide.”
Kristof brought up another point: The United Nations had reported that in the first five months of 2013, 300,000 people in Darfur had fled their homes. “Untold numbers,” he said, had been “killed or raped.”
Untold numbers. Why do we still not have any concrete information on this?
According to United to End Genocide, an organization that was formed in response to the genocide, the main reason for the lack of statistics in Sudan is that women learned that if they spoke out, the government-sanctioned perpetrator could strike again. Another reason could be that many of the women and girls who were raped during the conflict were later killed.
Sexualized violence was a main feature of the genocidal conflict in Darfur, which began more than a decade ago and in which thousands of civilians were killed and millions displaced. Even today, experts differ on the number of women and girls who were raped.
A still from a YouTube video that purports to show an Islamic State leader teaching recruits. (Karl-Ludwig Poggemann)
Yifat Susskind, the executive director of MADRE, an international women’s rights organization that works in partnership with local women, wrote a story for the Guardian last week that said the sexualized violence against women and girls in Iraq and Syria was creating a “potential tipping point.”
News accounts this month cited a report by the UN Committee on the Rights of Child that said its investigators had been told of the systematic killing, torturing, and raping of children and families of minority groups in Iraq. It said it had also received reports of “several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixions of children and burying children alive.”
Susskind’s story describes a case of a 14-year-old girl who said she was passed multiple times between fighters of the militant group Islamic State. Each time she changed hands, the girl said, she was raped. She finally escaped to a refugee camp, where she met Yanar Mohammed, an Iraqi women’s rights activist, who runs a network of underground shelters.
The women she met, Susskind said in her Guardian article, had reported that with rape occurring on such a huge scale, some families had chosen not to reject the survivors. This is progress. Often, rape survivors in the Middle East are ostracized by their families and stigmatized in their communities—some are killed by husbands or male family members, a way of erasing the shame and stigma.
A screenshot of the facts listed on a petition launched by the International Women’s Development Agency.
The International Women’s Development Agency, a women’s rights and gender equality organization in Australia, has put together a petition that will be presented to the United Nations on March 8, International Women’s Day. The petition calls on the global community to “end the right to rape.”
“If ‘the right to rape’ seems incomprehensible to you, it’s because we are lucky enough to live in a country that outlaws rape under all circumstances, including marriage,” one report said. “But there are women in the world who do not share in this human right.”
The petition states that 2.6 billion women live in countries where it is not explicitly against the law for their husband to rape them. Too often, it says, the act is not a crime. Instead, it’s tolerated and excused.
According to a January 2014 report published by the international human rights group Equality Now, five countries, including Costa Rica, Ethiopia, and Peru, have since 2000 amended or repealed provisions allowing rapists to marry their victims so as to avoid being punished.
Join in. Sign the petition. End the—insane—right to rape.
More articles by Category: International, Media, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Sexualized violence, Rape, War, News