Silence is the Enemy

By Phil Plait | June 1, 2009 10:07 am

When you see something that outrages you, do you simply accept it, or do you speak out? One problem is that there are so many outrages in the world today it’s hard to know which ones to rage against.

So let me suggest this one: mass rapings of girls across the globe.

Blunt? Yes. But this is truly horrifying, and bluntness makes the point. And the problem here is lack of awareness; did you know that in war-ravaged places like Liberia, Sudan, and the Congo, mass rape of little girls is common. Learn about it in this disturbing NYT article, if you can stomach it. Reading that made my heart ache.

Silence is the Enemy

But that article must have been far more difficult for my Discover Magazine fellow blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum. She bravely describes her own near-rape experience, and has decided to take action, creating Silence is the Enemy, an effort to raise awareness about this appalling situation. She and other bloggers are also raising money for Doctors without Borders so that they can help take care of the victims.

Hmm. I almost wrote, "… to take care of the victims of this unspeakable act." But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Let’s make this not unspeakable.

Go read what Sheril has to say. Consider donating money, and if you have a blog (or a Facebook page, or a Twitter account), spread the word. Link back to her page and help to get more and more people aware of this.

Silence is the enemy. If we don’t speak out, then no action will ever take place. The first step in any solution is to do something.

Do something.

[Update: a Facebook group has been created for this.]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind

Comments (86)

  1. Expat Stu

    I’m sympathetic to Sheril Kirshenbaum — of course, who would not be? However I must say that “rape is not about sex, it’s about power” is one of the great clichés of our age. Not being a rapist myself, I’m perhaps not qualified to say what rape is about. But if there’s anybody less qualified than me, it’s a person who is not only not a rapist but also not a man.

  2. Shared on Facebook.

    (A bit off topic…first thing I thought of when I read the title of the post was Green Day’s new single “Know Your Enemy”.)

  3. Oh, also, the movie Taken ties into this topic.

  4. Nai

    I don’t like to interfere with nature.

  5. I have added to this on my own blog

  6. Expat Stu: have you done any research on this before claiming that it’s a cliche? And why would a woman be less qualified than a man to discuss what rape is about? That’s patently ridiculous. I don’t have to be a woman to learn about a woman’s reaction to sexual assault, so why would someone have to be a man to understand a given man’s motivation for assaulting a woman?

    And Nai: nice job. Way to trivialize what is clearly an extremely important topic.

  7. Sili

    When you see something that outrages you, do you simply accept it, or do you speak out?

    Keep quiet, usually. Too much of a coward to get involved in anything.

  8. I don’t like to interfere with nature.

    wait

    What?

  9. wackyvorlon

    There’s a couple really…. alarming comments in this thread. To my mind, the notion of rape being about sex makes little sense. Sex is not hard to find, at bars around the world and on street corners where professionals await your custom. If it were about sex, why embrace the damage it does to another human being, the physical injury, the risk of arrest and conviction?

    This does not fit well with the hypothesis. The argument that it is primarily about control, however, fits perfectly. That is the one thing a rapist does not get from more legitimate, and less anti-social encounters.

    It is an indefensible violation of another human being, and I am very alarmed to consider the manner of malformed mind that would do such a thing.

  10. killyosaur

    @Sili

    Keep quiet, usually. Too much of a coward to get involved in anything.

    And that is the issue. Too many people claiming cowardice in these situations and not being willing to do something, anything, about it. No one expects you to go all Frank Castle on every monster in the world but there is always some thing you can do, even in a very anonymous sort of way.

    @Nai you’re an idiot.

    @wackyvorlon Exactly. From what I have read on the topic, whether it is rape, serial murder, etc it is almost always invariably about dominance over others. It is not about sex.

  11. The real question, to me, is, what can be done? These kinds of horrific things are happening in the most war-torn regions of the world, and the only solution is either for a flood of refugees to leave the area, or for international forces to move in to stop the torture and slaughter. Problem is, the former requires that these people have a place to go in the first place, and the latter requires the kind of resources and commitment that, evidently, most nations either don’t possess, or currently have already dedicated to other causes (such as the military of my nation, which is currently heavily involved in Afghanistan).

    Of course, raising awareness is a good first start, as people might then be able to compel their governments into action. But without that government involvement, it’s unclear to me what a regular citizen can do to effect change (one need only to look at the horrors in Darfur, a very well-publicized atrocity, to see that simply raising awareness is not enough… nation states need to actually be willing to intervene if change is to actually occur).

  12. Su

    Wow Phil, there are some real dicks who comment on your blog. What the hell? This is why I avoid reading comments on here and in general.

  13. Expat Stu

    >>Expat Stu: have you done any research on this before claiming that it’s a cliche?
    Yes.

    >>And why would a woman be less qualified than a man to discuss what rape is about?
    Because the victim is not in a position to know what the perpetrator gets out of the crime. Most especially when, as in the present case, the crime does not reach a conclusion.

  14. Becky WS

    @ Brett from Canada:

    Part of what people can do is to speak out against the objectification of women in our own culture. Even though the systematic nature of what happens in some wars is horrifying, so are the rape statistics and especially reporting and conviction rates in many other countries including the UK and US.

    Something any normal person can do to fight against rape is to refuse to join in with sexist banter and jokes that contribute to view of women as sexual commodities or lesser human beings that need to have men dominate them. It might not be as “in your face” as mass rape in war zones, but it is something we can get involved in within our own communities that will make a difference in changing attitudes and behaviour.

  15. EVERYONE: READ MY COMMENTING POLICY.

    It is still in force.

  16. Expat Stu: your point still escapes me. You are assuming that all researchers who study rape have themselves been raped, and are women?

    And I don’t see where your premise is correct anyway. Why would a victim not be able to understand a perpetrator’s motives?

  17. @Expat Stu: The victim doesn’t know what the perpetrator gets out of it? They might well have more of an idea than anyone else, having experienced this person in more depth than an interrogator, and having to give them what they want (I base this statement on some psychological bullies I’ve had to work with). The horrible thing about being a victim is that you’re deeply involved in the whole sordid thing, and that’s why the scars stay for a *long* time.

    @Brett from Canada: Good points. Awareness often isn’t enough; just ask the excellent Mark Thomas. I’d say education is a good way to start, and being in an environment which isn’t about control or death. Providing such an environment is not very easy . . . but something we as a human race should be aiming for, no matter how hard.

  18. Cheyenne

    @Brett – Yes I agree that it’s true that there isn’t a whole lot one can do to help stop violence like this in some of the warn torn areas around the world but you can give money to groups like Doctors Without Borders as Phil mentions above.

    Reading that NYT article was a gut punch by the way. It’s frightening how humans can behave at times.

  19. @Expat Stu

    Wow, I am having a real hard time wrapping my brain about what you are saying. So are you to say thousands of experts who have studied the psychology of rape do not know of what they speak?

    And yes the crime does reach a conclusion. It is taking away power from women in many ways. It is leaving them unable to bear children. It is mutilating them beyond belief, both physically and emotionally. It is female genocide that is occurring in these rape camps This is not just localized to parts of Africa and the Middle East. The trafficking of close to 1,000,000 children a year to the sex slave industry is just another layer to this. The killing of female newborns in Asian and South East Asia is another example. The process of female circumcision. If you do not see a conclusion being reached here, maybe you need to re-exam your though processes.

    It is just another way for men to keep the illusion of power in patriarchal societies.

    Rape is about power and control, pure and simple.

  20. >>Because the victim is not in a position to know what the perpetrator gets out of the crime. Most especially when, as in the present case, the crime does not reach a conclusion.

    The logical conclusion to draw from your statement is that only a rapist is qualified to talk about rape. That’s just ridiculous. And I think we’re a bit above one-word answers here, care to elaborate on this supposed research?

  21. ND

    ExpatStu

    “>>Expat Stu: have you done any research on this before claiming that it’s a cliche?
    Yes.”

    Care to elaborate a little more on your research?

  22. BMcP

    Sadly I did know about this, just as I know the other great atrocity, Slavery, still occurs in several parts of the world. Worse in many cases, the two are linked (as in sexual slavery, which is just another type of rape).

  23. @Becky WS Says:

    No offense, but I think you’re convolving two entirely different issues. Yes, rape happens both in the developed world, as well as in these war-torn areas. But the underlying causes are so drastically different that I think it’s a significant error to believe that fighting for women’s causes in the developed world will make any difference whatsoever to women who are the victims in those regions.

    I mean, do you honestly believe that “[refusing] to join in with sexist banter” is going to have any effect, whatsoever, on the actions of warlords in, say, Somalia or Darfur? I sure don’t. Heck, I’m not convinced it would make any difference to rape frequency here in the developed world… but that’s a whole other debate. :)

  24. Cindy

    Nicholas Kristof spoke at my school this past spring and talked about a courageous young woman in Darfur who allowed herself to be gang raped by the janjaweed to allow her sister to escape. She risked being outcast by her society to speak up against it (because the rape wasn’t witnessed by 4 Muslim men who weren’t raping her she could be punished for adultery). The sad thing is that her sister has since disappeared.

    He also spoke about the sex trade in Cambodia where young girls are kidnapped or sold into the sex trade.

    The only uplifting part of his talk was about the courage the young women had to speak up and talk about the atrocities.

  25. ccpetersen

    Expat Stu,

    Hard to take your comments seriously. Frankly, you’re speaking out of your depth.

  26. A while back there was a film of a gang rape by a group of male orangutans on a lone female. Primates are studied to get clues to human behavior and this act is not just about us. It is aggression of the strongest towards the weakest. In places like Darfur it’s used to intimidate and terrify the people. I’ve always thought that a rapist should be immediately shot, but then there wouldn’t be due process. We have to remain civilized. I guess.

  27. IVAN3MAN

    Phil and everybody else, check this out: Motivation for rape.

  28. Whew! I thought I read “Science is the Enemy” at first! Wow, what happened to Phil, I told myself before rereading the title correctly.

  29. Quiet Desperation

    Sex is not hard to find, at bars around the world

    If you have decent looks and have a decent personality, neither of which I have. :-(

    and on street corners where professionals await your custom.

    And my ID when they pull out their police badge. :-P And, seriously, streetwalkers are a practical solution in your book? Can I wear a Hazmat suit? I’d maybe consider a state regulated brothel, but the USA, outside Nevada, it eternally mired in Victorian insensibilities on that issue.

    I think the Wiki link IVAN3MAN found is a good article. As usual, there is never a common answer that applies to everyone. How about Islamic cultures that use rape as punishment? Or punish women for *being* raped (I think stoning is the most common method)? What category does that fall under? I find it curious the article does not mention that, nor the “types of rape” article linked from it.

    Why is the world so sick? :-(

    I’ve always thought that a rapist should be immediately shot, but then there wouldn’t be due process. We have to remain civilized. I guess.

    Well, yeah. You would have it otherwise? Tell this guy he should have been shot: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22493315/

  30. Ray

    Molly said:
    “I’ve always thought that a rapist should be immediately shot, but then there wouldn’t be due process.”

    I beg to differ. A bullet *is* due process. A rapist caught in the act doesn’t need a trial.

    As for what we can do about it, I am less than optimistic.

    There are a limited amount of resources available and as a nation and international community we have to pick our fights carefully.

    For instance, in some cases in Eastern Europe and Africa, UN peacekeepers and staff were the ones raping and abusing. How do we handle this when the people who are supposed to be helping are doing the hurting?

    I also have to say that UN forces are not the answer either for other reasons. Primarily because most UN peacekeeping forces aren’t there to stop anything. Peacekeepers in Rwanda stood around and watched while over half a million were butchered. Peacekeepers in Bosnia did the same. I have no doubt that peacekeepers using the standard procedures would do the same in Darfur.

    There are no easy answers. Only easy problems.

  31. Craig

    I read a terrible account of a woman in Iraq that “recruits” female suicide bombers by picking out women and having men rape them. They are so ashamed of what happened to them that they are told by this woman that the only way to rid the shame is to die as a martyr.

    There are some very sick people in this world, and more of us need to speak out to raise political awareness. If it isn’t on the radar screen of the politicians, substantive changes will be much more difficult.

  32. Really?

    Expat Stu –

    Raping a six-month old is about sex? It isn’t at all about the power of raping and obliterating the internal organs of a defenseless child? Clearly most men crave sex with a six- month old. How about an 80-year old? Sexy, isn’t it? Can you really be this moronic? Rape in every instance is about power and this is backed up by lots of research. You clearly have never been raped.

    As for Nai – you are pathetic. If only nature would be so kind as to blot out whatever gene pool you came from…

    Speak out. That is what you and everyone you know can do. The silence makes it worse. This is happening to women every day, every minute on this planet. Your daughter, mother, sister, grandmother could be next. Until the world can loudly condemn this heinous crime, it will continue. Look at the comments from these two above. I’m guessing these are at least semi-educated men and this is what they come up with? Disgusting.

  33. Caleb Jones

    I can remember back in college reading an essay titled (I think) “The Rape of Nanking” describing the details of the atrocities that occurred there by the Japanese army. It was probably one of the most horrific things I’ve ever read.

    @Nai

    You’re probably a troll, but just in case you’re one of those absolute moral relativists or “if it occurs in nature, it must be morally acceptable” evangelists:

    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/relativist-fallacy.html
    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-common-practice.html

    Rape is wrong, no matter who you are. Even staunch moral relativists have their own limits. I’ve yet to meet a moral relativist that holds that belief so strongly they’re willing to allow others to do whatever they want to them in order to showcase how much of a moral relativist they truly are.

    Of course the flip side, absolute and strict morality, is bad as well. In my experience, this is usually what strict moral relativists are pushing back against–however, they just take it too far.

  34. Phil, do you honestly claim never to have heard the old “power not sex” saw before now? The prima facie association of rape with sex, the fact that other species have much higher incidences of rape, and the research suggesting motivations and degree of coercion lie on a spectrum all suggest that the person making absolute claims of rapists motivations should provide some support for that claim, particularly when that person deems “monster” an appropriate term for a disturbed person who “grabbed” her.

    I can’t help but suspect the author has no criticism for people who kill on command, so long as they are on the right side. If there is criticism on the intersection blog about the industry of fear and violence we call “the military”, I was unable to find it…

    Rape must be fought, but eliminating it will not be achieved by reducing others to “monsters”; We must not adopt dehumanizing attitudes of rapists in the process of eliminating criminal behaviors. Prohibition against killing and fostering respect for all people (even the “monsters”) would is more productive than helping doctors treat rape victims after the fact, IMO.

  35. ccpetersen

    “Dehumanizing” is an interesting thing. Dehumanizing a rapist is not the way? Ever wonder how dehumanizing it feels to have some jerk stick his puny and pointless “business” where it doesn’t belong; not caring whether you want him to do it or not? Not listening to your protests? Not even giving a damn if you want him there or not? he doesn’t care about you–he just cares about the power of the act. To him, you’re not a human, you’re a thing to stick his business into and make himself feel big and strong. You don’t even exist. That’s the criminal mindset behind rape.

    I’d say that’s pretty dehumanizing. So, why NOT give him a taste of his own medicine?

    Yeah, we’re civilized, I get it. Yet, we allow this dehumanizing to go on in Darfur, etc. etc. ad nauseum… and allow the behaviors that lead to it to continue in our own society. But, hey, as soon as victims call for some kind of recognizition that they’ve been dehumanized by these jerks, suddenly it’s “too dehumanizing” to expect them to get as good as they gave, eh?

    Double standard much?

    And about that treating after the fact — that works real well when so often a rape victim is blamed for the crime committed against her (or him).

  36. @BurntSynapse

    Please excuse me if I come off as rude, however I do not see why you are bringing killing on command or the military as a death machine into this issue. The issue is the systematic abuse of women. I use the term systematic because it is being carried out on an organization level.

    Even IF the writer of the other blog has no criticism of people who kill on command (not very logical to make such an assumption just because she hasn’t written about it this article) what does it have to do with the current issue?

    Unfortunately, the “monster” label is applied to women here as well, even in our own culture where it is common for someone to say “She was probably asking for it” “She deserved it, did you see the way she was dressed.”

    Thankfully we have come a long way in less than a century. I think maybe many people forget that it is only in our recent history that women have been deemed persons under the law. Unfortunately, in many countries, women are still considered chattel, property to be owned, sold and abused as the man sees fit.

    War is bad, yes. It is a very ugly thing and as long as people are going to argue over resources and arbitrary lines of land, it will continue to happen. However I still fail to see why bringing up the military as a government run killing machine has to do with this subject or the other author”s views on said subject.

  37. James

    I think ExpatStu’s point is that women generally don’t know what it is like to have large (relatively) amounts of testosterone in their system. That is not an excuse, even though it may sound like one, just pointing out that women can’t really know what it feels like to have a man’s set of hormones in the same way a man can never understand how having a woman’s hormones feels.

  38. Utakata

    I strongly suspect in this case and from the little research I’ve done, where children are invold is quite likely a power and control issue. I will also point out that…and even less spoken about, I suspect many victems are also boys. Though I leave it to more qualified researchers to prove or debunk my suspicions.

    Also…

    @ 4. Nai Says:

    “I don’t like to interfere with nature.”

    This is why I despise apologists.

  39. @ccpetersen:

    “I’d say that’s pretty dehumanizing. So, why NOT give him a taste of his own medicine? ”

    Do you really need to ask that question? Or are you not familiar with the idea of “sinking to their level”? In short: we the people, and the governments who represent us, should endeavour to be better than that. I mean, perhaps in your world, it’s okay to devolve to mindless, irrational vengeance when dealing with criminals (I’m assuming you’re also a supporter of the death penalty). But, personally, I’d like to think we’re better than that.

    But in the end, it doesn’t matter. That issue is 100%, entirely beside the point, as is the question of motivations. The simple fact is, these things are happening every day in various regions throughout the world. It’s sick, and it’s disgusting, but that’s the reality. The question is, what can be done about it. Pointing about how you’d love to rape these people back is hardly constructive.

    Oh, and as an aside, “Really?”, it’s worth pointing out that, no, the acts described by Phil probably won’t happen to my sister, mother, grandmother, or anyone else I know, as, last I checked, they didn’t live in one of those war ravaged regions. Please, quit trying to convolve the issue of domestic sexual violence and the acts perpetrated by these war criminals. They are fundamentally different situations, with fundamentally different underlying causes (last I checked, rape in the western world wasn’t institutionalized and promoted by invading armies as a technique of psychological terror on the local populace), and, IMHO, it only confuses the issue when you try to compare one to the other.

  40. Really?

    I don’t believe that dehumanizing a rapist will get us anywhere. They are already “dehumanized” in some way to be able to perpetrate the kinds of acts they do. If you read the accounts of what happens to women/babies/girls in place like Darfur, Liberia, or the Congo, or to point that finger at the modern world, the banlieue outside of Paris, the rape clubs in Japan, the US, ad nauseum, you will understand that these men are already in some way dehumanized. What matters is that for each successive generation of women, their chances of living a rape-free life increases. Education is what will change that, and confronting cultures that allow it head on like the US taking a stance against Afghanistan’s rape laws. Every country in the world standing up and saying “No more.” Our daughters, wives, etc have the right to walk down the street without the fear of attack.

    I was very fortunate to escape an attack a few years back. I ran for my life home one night, and the only thing that saved me was the glass front door slamming shut as I threw my weight against it a half a second before my pursuer threw his entire weight against it. Thank god it held. It is absolutely about power. He smiled at me and licked the glass. I have never been so scared in my entire life. Thank god I’m a runner, but I shouldn’t have to be.

    Talk to everyone you know. I know too many women who have been raped in civilized society. Unfortunately, probably each of you do to.

  41. QUASAR

    “…mass rapings of girls across the globe.”

    GET OFF MY INTERNET!

    1. mass genital mutilations of young boys

    2. mass conscription of men

    3. corporal punishment only for men

    4. no child custody after a divorce for men

    5. male homosexuality illegality

    ARE WHAT REALLY OUTRAGE ME!

  42. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Ugh, more female friends than I would have hoped have been rape victims (and probably a few of the guys too). I say kudos to those who can speak out, and I weep for all of them.

    And some of these comments… I think it is safe to say that a rapist doesn’t know what rape is about either. It is an event with several participants by definition, and the tragic outcome is a lot larger than the mere rapist and his actions. Let’s not make him special, especially as his (or the rare her) sociopathology is akin to other criminals.

    I believe I’ve said this before here but will say it again: as long as females controls but a mere 5 % of the worlds assets (IIRC; UN statistics) sexist power games such as many rapes will continue.

    @ IVAN3MAN:

    Thanks.

    But the list seems on the face of it incomplete to me. None of those motivations cover socially organized rape, especially in the context of war and/or terrorism.

    According to an article I read systematic rape is done “as a deliberate strategy to terrorize the population, to control internal refugee movement and to extend their vulnerability” [UN 2005, from english to swedish and now back again.] The article adds that it is also used for “ethnic cleansing”.

  43. Really?

    Brett,

    I am co-mingling the issues. I got angered about rape and went off on a tangent, though still related to rape, albeit used for somewhat different purposes. It’s been a long day where I am.

    Quasar – I think men are at the root of each of your problems. Don’t take it out on women. Circumcision – promoted by the AMA and religions (led by men), Mass conscription of men (military – led by men), corporal punishment only for men (many women suffer corporal punishment as well around the world), no child custody (male-led judiciary though more men are getting custody), male homosexuality illegality (male-led government and religions).

  44. QUASAR, this is just my impression of you, but you may want to read the link in my name. Because right now you come across as ‘who cares about that issue? — here, let us stop talking about women and talk about issues men face’. Since (I assume), you are male, it makes you look more than a bit self-centered. Moreover, it is rather painfully ironic that you’re attempting to change the topic of conversation (read: get us to talk about your post instead of the topic Phil blogged about) in a post about not being silent about rape.

    Now, if you want to do a blog post or whatever, about any of those issues, well, it’s a free Internet. Or you can explain how they link to the primary topic besides ‘Things QUASAR cares more about than mass rape’, as Really? did, go for it. Until then, try listening.

  45. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Uh, guys? QUASAR is an old (well, probably young, looks like) troll here. Not a man.

  46. I won’t try to silence anyone talking about it, but I’m not sure what good talking about it will do. Yes, I was aware of it. Yes, I consider it apalling. But it’s a condition that’s persisted since the dawn of history. Did you know that murder and theft are also common in war zones? That men and boys are also victims of rape?

    There’s a lot to be alarmed about in war zones, and the answer isn’t to talk about the problem of rape or the problem of murder or the problem of theft. The real problem is war. You find a way to stop that, find a way to actually implement stable global civilization, and you’ll have solved the problem.

    Anything less is just screaming into the wind.

    Though there’s certainly something to be said for building and sustaining mechanisms to try war criminals and care for the victims of war crimes. As long as we have war, we have to deal with it.

  47. Andrew

    James,
    That isn’t really the point. Men and women both have hormones. Everyone has hormones. This doesn’t excuse rape. It doesn’t excuse its use as a tool of repression.

    (Also, thanks, Phil, for raising this issue)

  48. Breklor

    QUASAR, how is any of those things so awful as to obscure the rape of young girls? They are all awful things and they all need to be dealt with, but none of them justifies the “GET OFF MY INTERNET” comment.

    As for the “sex vs. power” argument, even if rape is about sex for a particular rapist (let’s play Devil’s advocate here), it’s still about his power to take his sexual pleasure from someone who does not choose to give it to him. I don’t care how much testosterone is in a man’s bloodstream; if he feels entitled to take pleasure at the expense of another person – especially when the “expense” in question is violence and terror – that is a matter of power. Power over sex, maybe, but power nonetheless.

    Moreover, rape, like any act of violence, is also an act of terrorism. Terrorism says, “I have the power to hurt you if you don’t do what I want.” Rape says, “Women had better stay in line and give men what we want if they know what’s good for them.” Again, that’s not about sex; it’s about power. Fear of rape keeps women from walking outside alone after dark. It keeps women checking their drinks in nightclubs in case someone’s put roofies in there. It keeps women from being alone in a room with a man for fear that he’ll just… take what he wants. Men are generally more physically powerful than women, and women know that. Rape is an exercise of and a reminder of that power imbalance. And sexist comments, comments like “she deserved it, she was asking for it, she should have known better” or which treat rape as a joke, just feed into that perception.

    And I see some people apparently implying that a man’s need for pleasure is somehow a mitigating factor. I, like a doubtless significant portion of the readership of this blog, am an overweight, geeky guy, and have had some long dry spells in my love life. At no time have I seriously considered that as justification for me to demand, let alone take, pleasure from anyone who wasn’t willing to give it to me. Does it suck? Yeah. Have I been upset, even depressed, at times? Hell yeah. But that’s nobody’s problem but mine.

  49. Jeremy

    One of the charities that I firmly support, the Polaris Project, deals with topics especially like the one addressed in this blog posting. Here’s one way we can take action. Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 to report a tip, to connect with anti-trafficking services in your area; or to request training and technical assistance, general information or specific anti-trafficking resources.

  50. IVAN3MAN

    Nai:

    I don’t like to interfere with nature.

    From the Wikipedia article on Appeal to nature:

    Appeal to nature is a fallacy of relevance consisting of a claim that something is good or right because it is natural, or that something is bad or wrong because it is unnatural. In this type of fallacy, nature is often implied as an ideal or desired state of being, a state of how things were, should be, or are: in this sense an appeal to nature may resemble an appeal to tradition.

    Several problems exist with this type of argument that makes it a fallacy. [Firstly], the word “natural” is often a loaded term, usually unconsciously equated with normality, and its use in many cases is simply a form of bias. [Secondly], “nature” and “natural” have vague definitions and thus the claim that something is natural may not be correct by every definition of the term natural; a good example would be the claim of all-natural foods, such as “all-natural” wheat, the claimed wheat though is usually a hybridised plant that has been bred by artificial selection. Lastly, the argument can quickly be invalidated by a counter-argument that demonstrates something that is natural that has undesirable properties (for example aging, illness, and death are natural), or something that is unnatural that has desirable properties (for example, many modern medicines are not found in nature, yet have saved countless lives).

    Generic forms of an appeal to nature are:

    “X is Y because it is natural.” (Y being a desirable property)
    “X is Z because it is unnatural.” (Z being an undesirable property)

    Or simply when a desirable or undesirable property is implied:

    “X is natural.”
    “X is unnatural.”

    This fallacy is exemplified, for instance, on some labels and advertisements for alternative herbal remedies. The labels often have the phrase “all-natural” to assert that the product is safe. The idea that natural herbs and plants are always safe ignores the many toxic plants found in nature (hemlock, nightshade, poisonous mushrooms) and any possible side effects the herbs might have. Cocaine, for instance, is an “all-natural” medicine derived from the coca plant, and which was prescribed for many years for everything from chest colds to depression, yet it is highly addictive and can wreak havoc on the body’s organs. Whether a product is “all-natural” or not is irrelevant in determining its safety or effectiveness.

    The presence of this fallacy is manifest in the logic behind certain objections to evolution, specifically objections to evolution’s morality. Those who object for this reason assume that if behaviors such as polygamy, infanticide and violence are shown to be natural, that would make them acceptable. This misunderstanding has fueled some animosity towards evolutionary biologists, for example sociobiology was criticized from this angle in the latter half of the twentieth century. (See also: Sociobiological theories of rape.) Others, while not believing ‘natural’ to be ‘right’ themselves, assume that those advancing evolutionary theories do. This objection should not be confused with the closely related criticism that biologists in these fields are suggesting genetic determinism.

    Some have argued that biological findings regarding evolution and human nature have helped propel the political right into power. Biologist John Maynard Smith replied to such criticism with the question “What should we have done, fiddled the equations?” In reality, writers in this field often consider the selfish behavior seen in nature important in understanding why we act the way we do, and as a warning of how we should not behave. One of the main themes Richard Dawkins pursues in The Selfish Gene is that “we should not derive our values from Darwinism, unless it is with a negative sign”. He points out that a society that uses nature as a moral compass would be “a very nasty society in which to live”. He makes the point, however, that there are many people who simply cannot discriminate between a statement of what is and what ought to be.


  51. Damon

    I’d just like to point out that the inspiration for Sheril’s quest, however terrible, is ultimately ANECDOTAL. I’ll leave the irony out to dry for a while.

  52. @Damon

    Here is some non-anecdotal stuffs for you http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000021

    You will find journal after journal on said inspiration for Sheril’s quest

  53. Radwaste

    Speak? Talk about your role.

    Think about a population of millions which lets a few control them. Think about the freedom of speech defusing explosive situations, because a person who can talk endlessly can discharge their desires is speech, not action – as if mouthing slogans and hot-button phrases solves the problem at hand.

  54. coolstar

    Brett from Canada and Ivan3man: thanks for adding some sanity to this discussion (and no thanks to Phil for helping getting it off track). As Brett from Canada has pointed out, rape in war as a TOOL of oppression is about as old as the human species. Two other obvious examples: the Soviets raping their war across eastern Germany at the end of WWII and just about everyone in the Thirty Years War. As Brett has also pointed out, the last few decades has proved that the world in general will do very, very little or nothing to stop these atrocities. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t TRY or stop publicizing them, but the sad fact is that the largest outcome of articles like the one in the NYT is that people will rub their hands together and talk about how terrible things are and then THINK BETTER OF THEMSELVES FOR HAVING HAD THOSE THOUGHTS. Full stop.

  55. survivor

    I just wanted to thank you, Phil, for bringing this issue to light. The first step to fighting against these horrible atrocities, is to start talking about them. There are so many taboos about talking about rape even in our own country, that just starting to talk about it is the first step to doing something about it. I know what it is like, to go through these poor girls are going through, and how traumatizing (to put it lightly) it can be.

    For the other commentators in this thread: No matter the circumstances, rape is about power. Whether it occurs in a war torn desert nation, or in a suburban park here in the US, it is always about power.

  56. madge

    I am the survivor of a brutal rape attack when I was 19 that left me physically and emotionally scarred. It also cut short what looked to be a promising career as I had just that same day been promoted to my “dream” job. I don’t understand what drives someone to do that to another human being. I’m not sure I care. He was never caught, no doubt if he had been there would have been many psychiatrists to ask him how it made him feel. Nobody asked me. I left this comment yesterday but ironically it disappeared. I could have left it, and maybe I should have but then the silence would continue. So I will add my voice to to this campaign until the silence is broken. I thank Phil forever for posting this.

  57. MarkW

    Amnesty International is also campaigning on the use of rape as a weapon of war.

    http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=10927

    ‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict’

  58. MMR

    When speaking of rape, people tend to think of warzones, about a stranger attacking you in the street. Sad truth is that in the west, most rapes happen on dates, inside a marriage, between friends.
    And while most people will be sympathetic to a woman who was brutally attacked in the carpark on her way home from work, very few will understand the woman who was raped by her husband as punishment for folding the towels wrong. Especially if he claims it was just make-up sex after an argument, and hey I like it rough, not my fault that she is bleeding.
    Or when a girl get raped by the most popular bloke in school. That has to be a lie, right? He could get anyone so why should he force anyone? Surely she is just angry cause he dumped her? She probably inflicted that black eye on herself too, right?

  59. QUASAR

    @ Really?, Breklor

    Go rape a monkey!

  60. Hi Phil,

    I hate to pick nits because you’re doing a Really Great Thing by posting about this. But pick them I must.

    When we talk about victims of violent crimes (especially sexual violence) “admitting” to being victimized, we are perpetuating the lie that these victims were somehow “asking for it”. They weren’t, and aren’t, asking to be the subjects of violence and hatred. Never. Not ever.

    To “admit” to something means to confess fault or guilt, as if one were responsible for the action. To “admit” to something implies that one accepts the shame and blame for what was done to them. We should never talk about victims of sexual assault “admitting” to being a victim of someone else’s violence. It is not the victim’s fault. Never. Not ever. It would be better to talk about victims “speaking out” about/against their attackers and violence perpetuated by these crimes.

    I know that you didn’t mean it this way. This victim-blaming language is pervasive in our culture, especially with respect to sex crimes, and it’s not at all surprising when we hear it and use it ourselves without understanding what we’ve really just said.

    OK, I’m done picking nits now. Thank you for posting about this.

  61. madge

    This news is just breaking on the BBC

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/8079136.stm

    A 13 year old girl gang raped by up to a dozen men

  62. Quasar, that’s it. I left your earlier comment up, rude as it was, because I thought you had some point to make, but now we’re done. Your comment, #60 above, is beyond the pale. This is a post about girls getting raped, and you use it as a way to insult or joke or whatever it is you did there.

    Enough. Go away. I don’t want to see you posting comments here on this blog any more. If you do, I will mark them as spam.

    Cripes. I have ONE FREAKING COMMENTING rule here and some people, even regular commenters, seem to feel that they can violate it at will.

    Read my commenting policy. Follow it.

  63. ambivalent academic, point taken. I have edited the text.

  64. Madge, it must have been very hard to post that, and I’m glad you did. There are some folks who just don’t get it commenting here, and maybe a real-life story from someone else here will bring it home to them.

    May there come a day when we can’t tell stories like your anymore, because they just won’t happen.

  65. Cooper

    So, Phil, will you be breaking your silence and speaking out againt the Playboy piece that was basically advocating rape against a number of conservative female commentators?

    tommychristopher.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/playboy-magazine-officially-hates-women-conservative-or-otherwise/

  66. Most rapists are male. Men have traditionally used violence to gain what they want. I’m not advocating that violence, I’m just stating the fact. They use violence to gain property, power and anything else that it can get them. So the idea that some men use violence to gain sex isn’t all that hard to imagine. But very few people are willing to buy that line of thought. It reduces sex to a commodity. Which is very dehumanizing. The rape survivor becomes a ‘thing’ rather than a person. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

    As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse I empathize with rape survivors of all ages and genders. This is never an easy topic to discuss.

  67. Thanks Phil. Kudos to you for cracking down on the crackpots too.

  68. madge

    Thank you Phil. May that day come a little sooner thanks to campaigns like this and folks like you that point the way to them.

  69. Andrew

    Cooper,

    Excellent attempt at distraction. I can’t speak for Phil, of course, but I’ve never been a fan of Playboy’s attitude towards women. It’s not like, say, Gloria Steinem didn’t go after them years ago.
    That being said, is it not possible for everyone, without reservation, to admit that the use of mass rape as a tool of oppression around the world is completely abhorrent, and, having admitted that, to try to help?

  70. whb03

    Cooper, at no point did Phil ever even begin to imply that perhaps it is only nonconservative women being raped. How you even begin to justify that every social evil must be dished out with an appropriate cry for the oppressed conservative is beyond me. You sound to me like a typical conservativ— [Phil’s commenting rules just kicked in, transmission interrupted-

    Phil, you’re absolutely correct, things like this must be said. Good job as always.

  71. Nai

    Dr. Plait sound like you’ve never tried jackrolling, feels good man.

  72. Cheyenne

    @Nai – Since you can’t get a girlfriend I would think jackrolling is probably what you are into. Man I bet it would be scary to look up the history of the websites that you go to.

  73. Looks like Nai wants to get banned, too. Cheyenne, be careful lest you violate Phil’s commenting policy. Nai is trolling for reactions. Don’t let him/her/it push your buttons.

  74. IVAN3MAN

    @ Todd W.,

    I think that Phil Plait should have a word with Hive Overmind Discover for a registration/log-in requirement before posting a comment, like they have recently implemented at Universe Today, which has significantly cut down on the number of trolls making inane comments.

  75. Charlie Young

    Registration would be good, though at another blog I frequent, someone hacked the registration database. They weren’t abusive but made several comments to prove it wasn’t secure. Be careful.

  76. Cooper

    Cooper, at no point did Phil ever even begin to imply that perhaps it is only nonconservative women being raped.

    At no point did I imply that he did.

    ???

    How you even begin to justify that every social evil must be dished out with an appropriate cry for the oppressed conservative is beyond me.

    Dude, your brain is, like, in another dimension or something. You’re reading things in that only exist in the unique dimensionality of your own mind.

  77. ‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict’

    A statement attributed here to Major Patrick Cammaert former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DR Congo. Exactly what metric and what data, if any, he based that statement on isn’t clear.

    My own investigations show that, if the metric is prevalence of sexual victimisation, then it’s a lot worse to be a soldier in Liberia than a woman, and no worse to be a woman than a man. See the trackback immediately above for citation and analysis.

  78. QUASAR, I agree with you. Referring to an MSNBC article about the rape of women in Neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, I said:

    I focus on men and boys as victims in an effort to protest against and compensate for their almost complete effacement from the discourse, both mainstream and feminist. I don’t object to a focus on women per se. This was an important article. I’m glad it was written. I’m glad that Tuomas drew it to my attention. But when I ask “what about the men?“, when I complain about how the “genocidal cull of […] males takes place in the blink of an eye“[*], I do so in the knowledge that nowhere else on MSNBC is there an article that focusses on them. Were the men tortured before they were killed? How many men were injured? How many of them have been rendered incontinent by their injuries? I don’t know because the media doesn’t tell me.

    Nor does it tell me about the vast numbers of men who were sexually victimised, which, like you, I didn’t know about when I wrote that. I agree with the “Silence is the Enemy” campaign that the Central African War (of which Liberia is just a small part), including the mass rape of women aspect of it, receives scant attention from the media. But compared to the profound silence about the mass victimisation of men, both sexual and non-sexual, the coverage of the rape of women is a deafening clamour.

    But I’ve also got to say this, QUASAR: being obnoxious in other people’s spaces is not the way to win their hearts and minds, nor does turning up with a washing bill of complaints unrelated to the matter-at-hand help to endear you, or our cause, to the good people here.

  79. Phil, I realise that in responding to this and other matters, I’m continuing a derailment, so please let me know if I’m out of line here.

    Breklor:

    As for the “sex vs. power” argument, even if rape is about sex for a particular rapist (let’s play Devil’s advocate here), it’s still about his power to take his sexual pleasure from someone who does not choose to give it to him.

    It is an exercise of power, sure. I’m not clear precisely what meaning to attach to the word “about” that would make it “about” power. Bank robberies are also exercises of power, yet we do not hear people insisting that they are “about power” is if this were some profound statement of truth.

    Moreover, rape, like any act of violence, is also an act of terrorism. Terrorism says, “I have the power to hurt you if you don’t do what I want.”Rape says, “Women had better stay in line and give men what we want if they know what’s good for them.”

    I don’t agree that all violence is terrorism. To assert that, is to deny any difference in meaning between the two words. I think that acts such as 9/11, and similar atrocities have a particular character not shared by all acts of violence, one worthy of being designated by a word.

    That character is that terrorism is 1. violence, 2. perpetrated by an individual or group, 3. against civilians, 4. with the intention of instilling terror in the wider population, 5. for the purpose of bringing out political change.

    Rape generally fails criteria 2, 4, and 5. It’s not committed by any group (except “rapists”. Feminists like to blame “men”, but most men are not rapists, some rapists are not men, and men – half the world’s adult population – are not a cohesive group capable of perpetrating anything,) and there is no evidence, contrary to feminist claims, there is any political goal.

    This is not to deny that some rape is terroristic, war rape, for example, where sanctioned by the military command.

    Again, that’s not about sex; it’s about power. Fear of rape keeps women from walking outside alone after dark. It keeps women checking their drinks in nightclubs in case someone’s put roofies in there. It keeps women from being alone in a room with a man for fear that he’ll just… take what he wants.

    Fear of various things influences people’s behaviour. Fear of car-theft keeps people locking their cars, fitting steering immobilisers, and in some cases not parking in places perceived to be unsafe. Yet we do not call car theft “terrorism”, largely, I suggest, because like rape it’s not perpetrated by a cohesive group and lacks the intent and purpose of terrorism.

    In respect of the specific points you make: Women’s actual risk of street rape is very low, and generally of street violence is lower than men’s. It’s true that they are generally more fearful than men, perhaps because of hyperbolic claims of “epidemics” and “tides of violence” made by feminist organisations. These claims would seem to meet every one of the criteria for “terrorism” except the first.

    My own experience is that women are generally not afraid to be alone with me. Of course there are some women who are afraid of men (and some men who are afraid of women) A rational approach is for men and women to identify the characteristics of dangerous people and avoid them.

    Strangely you don’t see feminists doing this. “Fear men!” appears to be the message.

    I agree that roofies are a particular danger for women that men don’t face, though I’m by no means sure how significant a risk it is. There are other dangers that afflict men only, or moreso than women. Men have to be careful not to stare directly at another man or (appear to be) pointing at him.

    And I see some people apparently implying that a man’s need for pleasure is somehow a mitigating factor.

    Do you? Perhaps I’d see the same implication if I went back and carefully read through all the responses, which I’m not inclined to do. I’ve see some people put sexual desire as an alternative motivation for rape (construing the vague “about” to mean “motivated by), which in no way implies that this is a mitigating factor.

    I, like a doubtless significant portion of the readership of this blog, am an overweight, geeky guy, and have had some long dry spells in my love life. At no time have I seriously considered that as justification for me to demand, let alone take, pleasure from anyone who wasn’t willing to give it to me. Does it suck? Yeah. Have I been upset, even depressed, at times? Hell yeah. But that’s nobody’s problem but mine.

    I agree that it’s not a justification to demand or take. The idea that it’s “nobody’s problem but [yours]” is a value judgement. One of the more persistent unexamined gender-norms in our society, is that men are presumed to be self-reliant while women are not, and consequently that women’s needs are recognised and serviced, while men’s are not.

    For me, “depression” does not even begin to describe the black pit in which I spent the last few years of adolescence, and the first dozen of adulthood. Yet in all that time, I was never able to articulate the kernel of my distress in the face of the overwhelming societal message that my needs were invalid.

  80. whb03

    @cooper:
    So, Phil, will you be breaking your silence and speaking out againt the Playboy piece that was basically advocating rape against a number of conservative female commentators?

    Sure sounds like a conservative rant to me.

    Dude, your brain is, like, in another dimension or something. You’re reading things in that only exist in the unique dimensionality of your own mind.

    Reading things into this? Sorry, I’m not reading much more into it than another conservative crybaby’s rant, or at the very least, a smartass remark. Brain’s right here in this dimension, dude, thanks anyway.

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