[Serious Trigger Warning for descriptions of rape and violence in the following quotes and the piece itself]
From the New York Times, “No, Sexual Violence Is Not ‘Cultural'” by Lisa Shannon.
The sexual violence in Congo is among the worst on the planet. The U.N. estimates that hundreds of thousands of women have been gang-raped, tortured and held as sexual slaves since the conflict began in 1998. […]
Any Congolese will tell you rape is not “traditional.” It did occur in Congo before the war, as it does everywhere. But the proliferation of sexual violence came with the war. Militias and Congolese soldiers alike now use sexual violence as a weapon. Left unchecked, sexual violence has festered in Congo’s war-ravaged east. This does not make rape cultural. It makes it easy to commit. There is a difference. […]
The media, aid workers and activists alike have consistently failed to tell the stories of Congolese men who were killed by fighters because they refused to commit rape. In interviews with hundreds of women, I heard countless stories of men who chose to take a bullet in the head, literally, rather than violate their child, sister or mother. In Baraka, one survivor recalled: “They tried to make my older brother rape me. He refused and was killed. So they raped me.”
And I have to just quote the whole end of the article because it is incredibly powerful and incredibly pointed. A must read.
“Cultural relativism legitimizes the violence and discredits the victims, because when you accept rape as cultural, you make rape inevitable,” Ms. Wallstrom explained in a recent opinion essay co-authored with the Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store. “This shields the perpetrators and allows world leaders to shrug off sexual violence as an immutable — if regrettable — truth.”
When we blame all Congolese men for sexual violence, not only do we imply that rape is inherent to the African landscape, we avoid critical questions, particularly regarding the role that we in the West play.
Who has been silent during 12 years of mass rape and off-the-charts atrocities? We have.
Who funds the bloodshed with our hunger for the latest computer processor and smart phone produced with minerals from Congo? We do. Perhaps unwittingly, but we do.
Who helped the fighters get their guns? We did.
This prevents us from taking the basic steps required to end the crisis: a coordinated international effort to choke off the militia leadership, some of whom reside in Europe and the United States; requirements that technology companies spend the extra penny per product that would guarantee conflict-free gadgets; and an aggressive plan to end the culture of impunity through justice and accountability measures.
When we label rape in Congo “cultural,” we let ourselves off the hook. And that is a cultural issue. Ours.
Thanks to Feministing for the heads up.