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Posted in: Rape, Barbarism

Published on Aug 02, 2009 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

Rape, And A New Kind of Immigrant

Rape as Weapon, Not a Spoil, of War


First, I want to thank my many readers (90 so far) who have posted comments in response to my blog about the four child barbarians from Liberia who gang-raped an 8-year-old-girl in Phoenix. As more than one reader noted, even in (imperfect) America, the gang-rape of a child, even by other children, is considered a crime and prosecuted as such.

Thus, Phoenix prosecutors have charged 14-year-old, Steven Tuopeh, as an adult, while the other boys, who range in age from nine to thirteen, have been charged in juvenile court. In addition, the 10- and 13-year-olds also have been charged with kidnapping. Their identities are being withheld because of their ages.

According to the Phoenix police, calls have come in from all over the United States offering money; some people have offered to adopt the young girl. The girl's family has been admonished by the President of Liberia, who is a woman, who said that she herself had been the victim of an attempted rape during the Civil War and that now, in Liberia, rape victims are no longer blamed, the shame does not belong to them but to the criminals who sexually violate them.

Google records nearly 60,000 articles about the case (some are repeats of course), from all over the world. People are interested in the issues this case raises. How we understand these issues will determine our destiny as a nation and as a modern, civilized culture.

When a Western country accepts immigrants from a non-Western country, where war zones exist on an almost permanent basis, we must understand that child soldiers, mainly boys, have been recruited to hate, rape, kill, and torture. Professor David M. Rosen has written a powerful book about child soldiers: Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism. Rosen, a professor of anthropology, compares Jewish children who fought against Nazis, child soldiers in Sierre Leone, and Palestinian child fighters and raises important ethical questions.

Traditionally, rape was a spoil, not a weapon of war. That's all changed. On every continent today, when war is waged, repeated, public, mass, gang-rape has increasingly been used as a weapon of war, not as a spoil. For years now, I have called this "gender cleansing" because the repeated gang-rapes are meant to destroy the girl or woman's soul and through her, the soul of her family and people. Many wartime rape victims kill themselves. Many are rejected by their own families. Some are killed by their own families. At best, the victims enter serious depressions which, if untreated, may last a lifetime.

I was once asked to accompany a Christian mission to Sudan to help the raped women. Unfortunately, I was unable to undertake the physical hardships that would have been involved but I suggested the creation of a private "Woman's Tent" in which the rape victims could bare/bear their shame and sorrow in a comforting and consoling setting. I believe that just this, (and it's little enough), could nevertheless save some minds and perhaps lives. Trained lay counselors who could speak the same language would have been required–and they would have had to understand rape in a very western and feminist way.

So much for the victims. I am not sure about the victimizers. Like batterers, rapists do not often change their ways through talk-therapy. They do not usually seek treatement and court-mandated treatment does not seem to work. Not even in the civilized West, not even in America. In America, more rapes are reported than in a Third World country where rape is shameful and sometimes leads to the family's murder of the rape victim. Americans do prosecute rapists more than ever before (which is good) but prosecution and conviction do not necessarily lead to rehabilitation. When rapists are freed, they tend to rape again.

South Africa instituted a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in order to pre-emptively acquit former criminals so that the criminals might publicly acknowledge their former crimes and the nation might move forward. Well, perhaps this is a useful model; some mental health professionals would like to apply it to other kinds of crimes, including rape. I wonder if South Africa has focused on sexual violence as a crime, one deemed just as important as that of apartheid? I fear not because I have been told (by experts) that South Africa still has the highest rate of sexual violence in the world.

A genuinely apartheid regime in which both racism and torture prevail–all, theoretically, may be subject to change. Can sexual violence, mainly against girls and women also be ended with mass public hearings and pre-forgiven confessions? Is this possible in a patriarchal culture, either in Liberia, Rwanda, Congo, or Sierre Leone in Africa; or on Main Street, USA?

Full disclosure: I received my first serious death threat way back in 1971 when I dared to publicly suggest, that, in terms of rape, we consider taking the weapon away from the offender. However, I was wrong. Rape, is a crime of power, not passion, and it takes place mainly in the imagination. A rapist can rape with an object. It is not a crime of sexual lust, and is not due to sexual deprivation–it is the calculated use of power over another human being; the victim's pain and humiliation is literally enjoyed by her attacker. And yes, men also rape boys and other men and the harm done is equally grave and long lasting.

So dear and gentle readers: Any ideas out there about how to end the epidemic of rapes that plague our planet? In war zones surely, but also everywhere else in times of so-called peace?

I still don't know what we, as a nation, should do in terms of accepting immigrants from non-Western countries, especially those who have survived wars. Previous immigrants (as many of my readers pointed out), came from Western cultures and very much wanted to become assimilated Americans. In the case of Liberia, we are dealing with immigrants who may be Christians, Christian-animists, or Muslims. We may also be dealing with war-traumatized peoples, which includes male children who were forced to rape and murder in order to remain alive. Do we extend compassion to both victim and victimizer? Can we do so without impoverishing or endangering ourselves?

Like Europe, we are now facing a very different kind of immigrant. Some do not value a modern western education and acheivement; some do. Some persecuted their countrymen and women in the Old Country and are only now pretending to be victims; some really are their victims, but they are traumatized, they have been touched by evil.

Even if one has not grown up in a war-zone, non-Western cultures are really "different" from our own. Some say that some of the "differences" are positive, like strong family connectedness, obedience to one's father, religious faith. Others say that non-Western tribalism and religions also condone (or do not punish) what we consider crimes, even human rights atrocities, and that this belief system is very hard and very expensive to change.

Ancient Jewish Wisdom: Compassion towards the cruel will result in cruelty towards the innocent.

As I said: How we handle this will determine our future as a nation and as a culture.


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