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The Perversity of Sexual Assault Knows No Bounds

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First it was the military. Then college campuses and churches. Then prisons. Then war crimes and UN Peacekeepers. I wrote about them all, with increasing despair. Now come stories of sexual aggression in Baltimore's public housing sector, refugee and migrant camps abroad, and the public squares of some of Europe's finest cities. How can so much violence against women continue to persist?

The military problem spills over into the National Guard. Take the example of Jennifer Norris, who served in the Air Force and two National Guards. Sexually assaulted four times in two years, like many other military women, she faced retaliation when she reported the crime. She calls it "the biggest betrayal I ever experienced," and admits she thought of suicide. Forced into medical retirement, she says she got fired for being raped.

Campus rape was illuminated chillingly in Jon Krakauer's 2015 book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Rape is the most underreported serious crime in America and at least 80 percent of cases go unreported. Less than five percent of rapes are prosecuted and fewer than three percent end with a conviction and jail time. Kraukauer shares dramatic stories of several young women in Missoula, a microcosm of the nation, who were raped by the university's football players. He also highlights the post-rape travesties these women endured from university officials, police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, the media and the public. How could so many people act in collusion like that? And that's just one college in one town in America.

We hardly need reminders of travesties committed by clergy of all faiths and their religious communities but here's a chilling example. In 2014, a pastor in Memphis was arrested for sexually abusing a 16-year old family member. The church and family had been told about the abuse two years earlier but decided that rather than report the crime to police they would pray for the offender. I can't help wondering what's become of that child while the perpetrator walks free.

When it comes to prison abuse I get information first-hand from an incarcerated woman I've corresponded with for over twenty years. She has personally experienced medical sexual abuse and she knows lots of women who are forced to have sex with guards in order to be free from physical and emotional punishment or to get sufficient basic supplies. Another favorite means of sexual assault? Think about jeering guards watching strip searches on hidden cameras or participating, as some in a Texas county jail did for three years, in onsite "rape camps."

Stories of sexual abuse by UN Peacekeeping forces, the latest taking place in the Central African Republic where several young girls were recently raped, are particularly egregious. Take the story of sisters Gisele, 14, and her sister Esperance, 15, two orphans who were beaten and gang-raped in the Congo. Or of Joaki and Chantal, both 14, who were impregnated in 2005 by Uruguayan peacekeepers there. The soldiers went home while the child-mothers remained abandoned by them, and the UN. A landmark study by UNICEF reported in the 1990s that "in six out of 12 country studies, the arrival of peacekeeping troops [was] associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution." A later review concluded that sexual abuse and prostitution followed most UN interventions.

Related to this, rape as a war crime remains widespread, particularly where there is ethnic conflict. It is often used as a means of psychological warfare in order to humiliate the enemy, and it can often include sexual slavery or be part of ethnic cleansing.

Meanwhile, migrant and refugee women are now facing rape and other sexual assault as they desperately seek safety and asylum. According to a recent New York Times piece, women are often forced to pay down their family's debt to smugglers by providing sex and there has been a surge in trafficking and other abuse by fellow refugees and police officers. Domestic abuse has also spiked. One psychologist in Berlin reported that nearly all of the women in her care have experienced sexual violence. It's so bad the therapists have to seek help to deal with the stories they hear.

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Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)
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