Saturday, May 14, 2011

Rape in South Africa and Congo

"Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused." — Freda Adler, criminologist, educator, Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University

IF YOU read the post called The Tipping Point from March 19 of this year, you might remember that I started this blog as the result of a chain reaction. I had been cranky ever since the November election when Iowans tossed out three judges who were part of the ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court that found that allowing gay people to marry does not violate the Iowa constitution. 

In order to feel like I was doing something besides being mad, I made a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center which entitled me to listen to a live conversation via phone between SPLC president, Richard Cohen, and Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project as they spoke about the marked uptick of hate groups since Barack Obama was elected president. That people hate him because of his skin tone was the last straw. I started this blog.

We, Paul and I, called it Hey Look, Something Shiny because the idea was that I would write about whatever caught my attention. I've noticed that in the last two months I've written most often about what might be called women's issues, although I think of them as justice issues. How can I not write about topics that break my heart, not to mention really, really piss me off?

There was a May 11 AP article that appeared in the Des Moines Register the next day reporting a new study that estimates that 1,152 women are raped in the African country of Congo every day. That works out to be 48 per hour!

You might be wondering how any of us can have an impact so far away. I'm not sure, but I'm thinking that a basic thing we can do is learn about how things are for other women in the world. If we know the facts, we can speak knowledgeably, and we can hold people accountable.

Dr. Jim Blessman, director of Blessman Ministries spoke to my Rotary Club about the epidemic of children with AIDS in South Africa, the majority of whom contracted it prenatally from their infected mothers. Although I applaud his organization's work to feed and care for children, I was stunned when he said that the scourge is the result of promiscuity on the part of South African women.

While it's true that 60% of those with AIDS in South Africa are women, it's imperative to understand why. writes, "In many societies, including those of the industrialized global North, women have historically been disempowered — whether by denying them voting rights until well into the 20th century or control over their bodies. African and Islamic societies are not unique in the restrictions they have placed on women, although they have been slower to change. Thus many women, married or unmarried, cannot insist that a man use a condom."

The South African website, Rape Survivor Journey, says, "a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read."

Mama Masika, who helped other women as a result
of being raped herself. From The Irish Times

That's because according to a recent study, approximately 1,300 women are raped in South Africa every day — one every 17 seconds. The study also found that one third of 4,000 women who were interviewed for it had been raped in the past year. Here's more from Rape Survivor Journey

"A survey conducted among 1,500 schoolchildren in the Soweto township, a quarter of all the boys interviewed said that 'jackrolling', a term for gang rape, was fun. More than 25% of South African men questioned in a survey admitted to raping someone; of those, nearly half said they had raped more than one person, according to a new study conducted by the Medical Research Council."

"A 2010 study led by the government-funded Medical Research Foundation says that in Gauteng province, home to South Africa's most populous city of Johannesburg, more than 37 percent of men said they had raped a woman. Nearly 7 percent of the 487 men surveyed said they had participated in a gang rape."

"South Africa has some of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world with more than 67,000 cases of rape and sexual assaults against children reported in 2000. Welfare groups believe that the number of unreported incidents could be up to 10 times that number. A common myth holds that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure a man of HIV or AIDS. Child abusers are often relatives of their victims — even their fathers and providers."

A man who has AIDS can infect as many women as he rapes or has sex with without a condom. Do the math.

Although I didn't know as much about rape in Africa as I do now, at least I knew enough to point out in the question and answer session following Dr. Blessman's talk that the incidence of rape is high in South Africa and that men in Africa (ditto the Middle East) generally think they can do what they will with a woman and refuse to wear condoms. 

In my mind, it's another case of blaming victims. Children born with AIDS are undoubtedly victims, but women who are raped and then contract AIDS are victimized three times — first by a rapist, second by AIDS, and a third time by being blamed for their illness. And what about married women whose husbands visit prostitutes because, whereas the culture demands that a wife be faithful, in the African culture a man can do what he wants?

Dr. Blessman went on to say that he felt divided about whether to urge condom use because he's afraid that it would encourage promiscuity. Apparently women's and children's lives are less important than his idea of what constitutes "morality."

Here's a link to Rape Survivor Journey

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