WMC Women Under Siege

Searching for good news in the fight against rape

We began 2015 by looking at underreported stories of rape and sexualized violence around the world. Cases involving sexualized violence against women—its aftermath, its consequences—were falling below the public’s radar. Now, six months in, we thought we’d take a look at some of the good things that have happened—the steps forward in the march to end sexualized violence globally.

It turns out that this is easier said than done.

A simple Google search yields results that are more depressing than encouraging: hundreds of stories on rape and sexualized violence all over the world. There’s only a handful on any kind of positive development. It seems very few good things have happened this year in the fight against sexualized violence. But, in the places where good things have happened, they’re worth noting.

Justice for rape survivors in Croatia

A Yugoslav army tank, destroyed by Croatian forces in the war. (Kos93)

Late May saw a huge step toward the combating of impunity in rape cases in Croatia. The country passed a bill that would compensate individuals who had been victims of rape during the 1990s war of independence, according to news reports. The law allows the survivors to a one-time compensation of about US$14,000, a monthly allowance of about US$340, as well as access to counseling, legal aid, and health care. It is unclear how many survivors will receive compensation.

One woman said the compensation was too late, but that it was “better late than never.” Ana Horvatinec said she and her daughter had been repeatedly raped by multiple Serb soldiers in November 1991. “Justice is not a word,” she said. “Sure, the law will change my life ... financially, but more than everything I am a human being again."

The law will take effect in January, news reports said.

Call to end immunity for UN peacekeepers accused of rape

UN peacekeepers look on as children approach them in southern Sudan. (Sudan Envoy)

Last month, the international advocacy organization AIDS-Free World launched a campaign calling for the end of immunity for UN peacekeepers accused of sexualized violence.

The group’s Code Blue Campaign was launched in the weeks following a report leaked by a senior UN aid worker who said that homeless and orphaned boys in the Central African Republic had been raped and sodomized by French UN peacekeepers. The aid worker who leaked the report, Anders Kompass, was later suspended.

No one has been arrested in the case, according to a May 30 story by The Associated Press. The UN, the AP report said, “seems unable to say when the abuses stopped or how long it continued to investigate.”

But violations by peacekeepers is not new news. Abuses by those meant to keep the peace in conflict zones have been reported widely for decades, especially as the number of missions and peacekeepers has grown, notably in Haiti, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Cambodia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, UN peacekeepers helped support sex trafficking as customers of brothels relying on forced prostitution, according to Amnesty International.  

In Britain, huge step toward resolving rape cases

Attacks on women in Britain have risen by almost 70 percent in the past decade. (Hernán Piñera)

Earlier this month, Bernard Hogan-Howe, commissioner of the Metropolitan police in Britain, said that police would treat rape and sexualized violence cases as seriously as they do terrorist threats, according to The Guardian.

The commissioner made the statement after a review found that the police had documented a 68 percent rise in rape and other similar offenses between 2005 and 2014, news reports said. The report also found that police and prosecutors working on rape cases have an overwhelming workload: Detectives working on the rape investigation team have had an average of 15 cases at any given time.

In a statement following the release of the report, Hogan-Howe said, “Even though changes have been made—including the reallocation of murder teams to the rape command—this report shines an honest light on what the whole system must do to ensure victims and survivors get the very best service. I am determined to lead an integrated response which will deliver a first class service with the victim at its heart.”

The organization Rape Crisis England & Wales, which promotes the needs of women and girls who are victims of sexualized violence, responded to the report.

“It’s encouraging to hear both the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police express such determination to improve the criminal justice experience for sexual violence survivors,” said Katie Russell, the organization’s spokesman. “It should be noted, nonetheless, that this isn’t the first time we’ve heard positive sentiments such as these from criminal justice agencies, and it is imperative now that encouraging words are translated into real action and cultural change.”

U.S. college students get into the fight against rape 

Ribbons hang near a poster on sexual assault at Vassar College. (Adam Jones)

The most covered story so far this year seems to be the one on the fight against sexual assault on U.S. college campuses, which came into focus the spring of 2014 with the efforts of Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz.

Last year, Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress on campus for her senior project. She said she would carry the mattress until her alleged rapist was expelled. Sulkowicz, who said she was raped in her own bed, even carried the mattress on stage for graduation last month.

Sulkowicz’s headlines had a snowball effect. Soon, schools all over the U.S. started talking more openly about sexual assault. Students called for better guidelines, more openness, and new policies in their schools. In March, a movement at the University of Texas in Austin gained national attention. The campaign, called "Not On My Campus," which was launched in advance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, asks signatories to support and empower survivors of sexual assault; work with the university to promote safety and security; and engage in bystander intervention.

Last month, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed three bills that were aimed at reducing sexualized violence on college campuses. McAuliffe’s Campus Sexual Assault Task Force also presented 21 recommendations, which included efforts to improve and increase reporting options and the creation of sexual assault response teams at all schools.

One fraternity at Iowa State decided to take matters into its own hands. On February 18, the men of Sigma Lambda Beta held an event, “The Next Generation of Manhood,” in which they spoke about the need for conversation on sexual assault following increased reports of sexual assault at their university. The presentation called on the male community at the school to help combat sexual assault.  One member of the fraternity, Joel Ibarra, said that he learned to be aware of what was going on around him. “I believe as a male, I have privilege that I don’t have to walk around with my keys in my hand, but I believe that a lot of females don’t have that privilege,” he said. “I kind of want to step up and engage males in our community, especially the ISU campus to do something about it.”

In February, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a campaign, called “Enough Is Enough,” which will address sexual violence on college campuses. The campaign, which has been joined by dozens of mayors across the state, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, builds support for a proposal for colleges and universities to implement measures to respond to and combat sexual assault on campus. The campaign also featurs a new State Police hotline (844-845-7269), in which specially trained officers will be on call 24 hours a day to respond to reports of sexual assault on campuses.



More articles by Category: International, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Rape, Law, Sexualized violence
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Shazdeh Omari
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