THERE is none like the fear of rape to terrorize women.
A few days before the release of abducted journalist Ces Drilon and co-workers, I was having merienda with my mother and grandmother. My grandmother is nearing 90; my mother, approaching 69; and I will soon be 43.
But this discrepancy in age did not affect what was on our minds that afternoon: the fear that Ces, the only woman in the group, would be raped by her abductors.
While beheading or certain death was feared for the cameramen and guide, rape was viewed as the “worst fate” for Ces. My mother added that no one is spared anymore, neither infants nor grandmothers, from being a victim. My grandmother mused about pregnancies resulting from rapes. Can any psychological treatment erase these scars?
Given the deep, unreachable roots this act of violence sinks into the lives of victims, will there be an end to its use as a weapon to not just scar women for life but also strike a mortal blow against a race, an unborn generation, even abstractions like dignity and honor?
In its campaign to stop violence against women, the Amnesty International (AI) has tried to raise global awareness of rape as the most commonly resorted to form of sexual violence during armed conflict.
Women are treated as objects, part of the war spoils going to the victors. Due to their positions in the family and clan as daughters, wives and sisters, women are reduced as symbols for oppressors to humiliate and obliterate because, according to the dictates of machismo, polluting their honor is worse than spitting on their menfolks’ manhood.
Reduced as symbolic tokens, flesh-and-blood women bear the lifelong brunt of these “insults.” The AI reports that in conservative societies, rape victims are rejected and even murdered by spouses and partners who blame them for not choosing death over “dishonor.”
Yet, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, rape is defined as a situation that deprives the victim of not just her right to give consent to sex but also forces her to provide sex to escape harm or secure necessities.
According to the AI, the Rome Statute declares the rapes perpetuated by combatants as “war crimes.” When rape is systematically carried out against a segment of a population, rape becomes a “crime against humanity.”
Yet, despite reports of Filipino domestics raped and brutalized, or raped and killed, by overseas employers, no Filipino official has yet spoken out against this crime against humanity. Is it because the noun “humanity” does not explicitly refer to us women?
International law declares as “torture” all acts of sexual violence, including rape, gang rape, abduction and sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced pregnancy, forced maternity and sexual mutilation. AI documents that rape camps in war zones are not just brothels for soldiers but a systematic campaign for racial cleansing or mass terror.
In the coverage of the news team’s release, no report I’ve read or viewed answers categorically if Ces was raped during her abduction. Rape or no rape, the silence is chilling.
The silence of victims, according to the AI, is a major reason why sexual crimes in war remain unpunished. Even women raped in front of their husbands or clans have been unable to talk about their ordeal.
In this Age of Information, technology deepens the damage left by sexual criminals: a victim can be as effectively brutalized by the perception of rape as by its actual commission.
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 22, 2008 issue