Silence Is The Enemy

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 1, 2009 8:52 am

In 2006 I was sexually assaulted.  I never expected to blog about it.

One evening in DC, a stranger grabbed me as I walked from the metro stop to my apartment after work.  I wish I could say I screamed or fought back, but I was too horrified. Instead I could only stare in disbelief at the jackass holding me down. This can’t be happening. In a desperate scramble I somehow managed to break away before it escalated to rape and ran inside my building. He winked and blew a kiss from behind the glass door, as if to say ‘oh well, next time‘. I was the third women in the neighborhood to report a similar story to police in two weeks–also the luckiest.  The experience forever shattered a false sense of security, knowing that to monsters like this man, I’m nothing more than conquest, having no identity beyond what I can potentially provide for them. The reward isn’t about sex–but subjugation and power. And I will not be a silent witness to rape.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why?  Because they are our sisters and children–the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help.  We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we’re able to speak for them.  I’m asking all of you–bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens–to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.

rape_by_slytherin_prince.pngIn regions where fighting has formally ended, rape continues to be used as a weapon. As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote from West Africa, ‘it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement.’ The war has shattered norms, training some men to think that ‘when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.’ An International Rescue Committee survey suggests 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way over the previous 18 months.  Further, of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12. That’s 61% age 12 or under.  We read about their plight and see the figures, but it’s so easy to feel helpless to act in isolation. But these are not statistics, they are girls.  Together we can do more.  Mass rape persists because of inertia so let’s create momentum.

The movement began a couple weeks ago after I was feeling particularly outraged after reading Kristof’s terrific NYTimes piece. I wondered aloud to Isis how we might draw attention to the mass rape taking place across the globe. Very soon we began coordinating a blogospheric awareness campaign to say 1) this is happening 2) it’s completely monstrous, and 3) we want change.  But acknowledgment isn’t enough–people have to be motivated to care and act. We want folks thinking about these girls beyond a single morning they read a few coordinated posts.

Silence Is The Enemy was born–so named because we will not be. All through June, I’ll continue posting information, details, benchmarks, and let everyone know about progress made, new initiatives, and stories from the region. I encourage others to do so as possible.  The Intersection, On Becoming A Laboratory And Domestic Goddess, AetiologyBioephemera, Neurotopia, The Questionable Authority, DrugMonkey, Adventure In Ethics And Science, and Sciencewomen will be donating all revenue this month to Doctors Without Borders. The goal is two-fold:  Raising funds and–arguably more importantly–awareness. Since blogging revenue increases with traffic, we hope to get people to keep coming back for more information about what’s going on and thinking about how to make a difference. Do not feel obligated to donate, but it’s one idea. There are many ways to contribute:  Write and email Members of Congress (Congressional Directory here), speak at community meetings, encourage others to get involved, or donate to our chosen charity (Doctors Without Borders). Help us maximize our donations by visiting Isis, Jessica, Tara, Neurotopia, Mike, DrugMonkey, Janet, Sciencewomen and returning here often because every click will help raise money. Spread the word.  We want to make sure elected officials at multiple levels realize this is a global issue that matters to a large voting constituency!

Aside from inaugural posts around the blogosphere, I will keep a growing coalition list linked on the sidebar (as soon as WordPress cooperates) to every blog involved, ways to contribute, helpful urls, examples of letters to Congress, and more. We encourage readers and bloggers to join us, publicize, and speak out in a growing collective voice for those who cannot. Already many science bloggers, social justice groups, writers, and others have agreed take up the call. If you compose a post, make sure to email me at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com with the link so I can add your blog to our growing membership.  Everyone is encouraged to get involved and dream up creative ways to participate.

Will you join us?

Update 1: The incredible Arikia Millikan of The Millikan Daily has volunteered to create a central hub for posts, news, progress, and more! Will post the site when it’s live…

Update 2: Join The Facebook group

Update 3: Check out all the new blogs now included above that will join us in donating June’s revenue to Doctors Without Borders!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Education, Personal

Comments (117)

Links to this Post

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  32. About Half of Liberia’s Adult Victims of Sexual Violence are Men (RP) | Feminist Critics | June 2, 2009
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  64. Liberia » LIBERIA | July 2, 2009
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  1. Blogger

    So sorry to hear about your experience. It’s gratifying to know that there are big hearted persons in our world today.

  2. Thanks for leading the charge on this critical issue and for providing a platform for everyone who wants to help. Count me in.

  3. Terrific! I’ve added Science Cheerleader to our blogger coalition and will have the list on our sidebar as soon as possible.

  4. Sadly, rape seems to be deeply ingrained in many cultures. So much so that we see hideous practices like breast ironing to “protect” girls from rape. Not to mention girls as young as twelve being given in marriage to adult males, which becomes legally sanctioned rape.

    http://drvitelli.typepad.com/providentia/2007/05/activists_seek_.html

    http://drvitelli.typepad.com/providentia/2008/01/marrying-too-yo.html

  5. Christine

    Hi –

    I’ve started a Silence is the enemy facebook group, hopefully it will get the traffic up on all the donating blogs. I’ve copied over part of this letter (with link) – please tell me if you would rather I didn’t.

    Is the Coalition all the blogs which are donating? Or just those that express their support? I’ve linked to all those you’ve mentioned.

    Please keep me updated (email or here) so I can keep the group current.

    If you want moderation status or even full control of the group, I’d be more than happy.

    Take care,
    Christine

  6. Done. Thank you for getting this going. Have already blogged and will help spread the word. This is an international issue and I hope more bloggers world-wide take part.

  7. I just invited a zillion people to join that facebook group (thanks for setting it up) and judging by the comments here and on my site, so far, people are getting interested.

    Still waiting for some of these other blogers to come up with their posts!!! Let’s get going, folks!

  8. madge

    As a survivor of a brutal rape attack when I was just 19 that left me physically and emotionally scarred and cut short what looked to be a promising career just as I had gained promotion to my dream job. I can only applaud this initiative and add my voice till the silence is broken

  9. I have just posted a blog on this issue and linked back to your blog

  10. Good for you, Sheril (and Chris), for speaking out on an essential subject and for taking a lead.

  11. Jon

    I’m so sorry to hear about this. A very good friend of mine was assaulted on the street years ago and she always talked about it in low tones, and preferred not to talk about it at all. Something like this can affect you for a long time. Whatever you can do to address this problem is well worth the effort.

  12. Brendan White

    I’m glad you were able to avoid rape.

    @Romeo Is there a human culture that doesn’t have a deep running stripe of rape? If we spent half the resources we spend on pot on rape this country would be a lot better place.

  13. Bravo. But I would not call it silence. It’s noise. Desperate, silent, deafening noise.

  14. I have put this article out on my twitter feed, joined the facebook group, and will try to spread the word. I have a daughter. I want her to grow up in a world where girls need no longer be afraid, or used, or abused. Thank you for starting this.

  15. It won’t reach many, I think, but I’ve added my voice over at my little blog as well.

  16. Tremendous thanks to all who have contributed so far and added their words, actions, and motivation to the effort. This is only the beginning.

    I’ve been updating our coalition list and will continue as new posts come in.

    Momentum is building…

  17. Thanks for taking the lead on this Sheril!

  18. Albert Bakker

    Apparently it isn’t allowed, but I’d like to try one more time.

    In a democracy, that is if the US is one, as civilians you can exert pressure on your government.

    The Obama government chose to cover up the crimes of the former administration among which rape ( gang rape of a 15 year old girl followed up by her suicide and the sodomizing children, one being only 11 years old, by US personel. They were legally covered by big shot government laywers the likes of John Yoo who’s legal opinions included that crushing the testicles of innocent children is OK if the president says so, all did and continue to do so with total immunity from prosecution under US or International Law. Sure a few small time shitheads were sacrificed for the camera’s, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn’t even register.

    Please, if you do not know what happened (and still does) or agree with the “don’t look back” policy of the Obama administration, empty your stomache and inform yourself, because as long as these warcriminals are outside jail any moral indignation coming from the US is merely seen as hypocrisy or blowing smoke to hide ulterior motives.

    And rightly so.

  19. Thank you for including me on the list, Sheril.

  20. Thank you for starting this. I’ve joined the facebook group and shared the post over Twitter. My blog doesn’t get a lot of traffic but I’ll have a post up soon.

  21. bn_girl

    Bravo, Sheril. Did you know about a similar campaign against sexual assault and harassment in India?? In 2003, the Blank Noise campaign was started in India. It is a public and participatory arts project that seeks to explore street dynamics and recognize ‘eve teasing’ as street sexual harassment or violence.

    http://blog.blanknoise.org/

  22. Linda

    Your collective initiative is wonderful and inspiring, and hopefully will grow powerful to help combat sexual abuse globally.

  23. Linda

    I just noticed that Mr. Kristof of The New York Times picked up your post..
    http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/silence-is-the-enemy/

  24. Thank you for your work on this matter and for generating awareness, Sheril. I’ve written a blog entry regarding this post and placed a link on my sidebar, as well as joining your Facebook group.

  25. Erasmussimo

    I applaud your initiative here. I still can’t understand how rape and various forms of sexual assault continue to be taken lightly by some males. Much progress has been made on this problem here in the USA but in some foreign cultures rape is still seen as little more than a prank. The only way this will change is for loud, repeated insistence that all forms of sexual assault or coercion are absolutely unacceptable under all circumstances.

    A sad warning, however: do not expect to have much of an overall impact in the short term. Male attitudes towards sex are deeply ingrained; it will take decades of repeated loud reminders to alter those attitudes. I remember when feminists made a big push against rape in the 1970s. They accomplished a lot, and they were successful, I think, in establishing that “No means no”, eliminating the rapist’s defense that, if the victim hadn’t been beaten to within an inch of her life, she obviously wanted it. So, yes, a decade’s worth of hard work by millions of women all over the country succeeded in improving matters. But the problem isn’t solved. I think it’s time for another big push, and I’m glad to see you taking the initiative here. Your focus is more international, and I fear that you will face greater opposition. But the push needs to be made, and I’ll be at least a “patron of virtue” here.

    I wonder if it might not be possible to come up with some sort of “big tent” approach here? Do you think it might work to engage the participation of conservative elements of our society, say, churches, to get a joint statement that EVERYBODY agrees to denouncing loudly and clearly ALL forms of sexual violence?

  26. Sheril, Bravo for speaking out and for this awareness campaign. My blog just launched and it’s not a monetary blog, but I have posted on this issue just the same, with links to you, to Doctors Without Borders, and to Kristof’s op-ed piece. I’ve also posted a link and comment on Facebook. If everyone does a little something, we WILL make a difference. Thank you again.

  27. Christine

    It’s worth having a look at this photo essay from the NY Times (it’s a couple of years old, but things haven’t changed much):
    http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2007/10/06/world/20071002CONGO_15.html
    Along with this brochure from the World Health Organization – it shows the problem, but also shows there are solutions through support to local organizations like Umama in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. http://www.who.int/entity/hac/crises/cod/sgbv/sgbv_brochure.pdf
    Of course the main challenge is making the practice unacceptable – something which will require pressure from donors, governments, the military, paramilitaries and communities.

    This is a hugely worthwhile campaign and it’s wonderful you’re leading the charge. At the same time, I was a bit disappointed to see huge Shell advertisements on your website. It is violence which erupts over the fighting for natural resources which often fuels sexual violence against women.

  28. This is a hugely worthwhile campaign and it’s wonderful you’re leading the charge. At the same time, I was a bit disappointed to see huge Shell advertisements on your website. It is violence which erupts over the fighting for natural resources which often fuels sexual violence against women.

    Thanks Christine.

    As for the ads, just like at our old home on Scienceblogs.com, we don’t control them. However, I’ve already expressed I share Joe’s perspective on Shell’s ‘solution‘ to our carbon problem.

  29. Albert Bakker

    http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=32352517
    Watch it if you can stomache it.

    …And basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children, in cases that have been [video] recorded, the boys were sodomized, with the cameras rolling, and the worst above all of them is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking. That your government has, and they’re in total terror it’s going to come out.
    – Seymour Hersh http://www.pastpeak.com/archives/2004/07/post_1.htm

    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2009/05/2006-australian-documentary-on-torture.html

    So now it’s time to start worrying about Congo because Kristoff says so and it feels good. Some are already warning not to expect to have much of an impact on the short term. No kidding. There’s not going to be any term in which any influence will count for any improvement, instead it will get worse if it is seen that it is the US interfering.

    This seems to be a very tough lesson for the educated classes but you have to base your priority of action not any what you perceive to be the worst, but on where you can make a difference. You can’t make a difference in Sudan or Congo, but you can in the US and there is enough to be done as you can see, but perhaps choose not to. Maybe it is not as rewarding for your feelgood glands, but it is much more effective even though it isn’t either anything you can win in a single attention span.

    And sweeping the stairs from top to bottom is the only way in the cleaning business.

    I’m sorry if I offended anyone, but I think a little reality check is in order.

  30. Chanda

    Funny that there’s been a lot of discussion in my group of physics friends in Waterloo recently about how important it is to challenge the silence around rape, to challenge a culture where jokes about rape are still acceptable, and to start talking about how we can create a safe space for the brave women and men who survive sexual (and other forms of physical) abuse. As a survivor and a physicist, let me say thanks for posting about this on a science blog. No community should be exempt from this dialogue.

    And thanks for becoming empowered and involved. I can only hope that more survivors feel like they can.

  31. Jay

    Done with links to this post.

    Found you through Isis and Zuska. Proud to do my small (very small!) part.

  32. jack ash

    Maybe if you hadn’t been out of the kitchen where you belong, this wouldn’t have happened…

  33. Yeah, because no women are EVER sexually assaulted in their homes by their boyfriends, husbands, fathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, or friends. Ever. I only ever read about that shit in the newspaper, like, twice a week.

    At least Jack Ash, while showing himself to be a complete moron, was able to choose an appropriate pseudonym for himself. Though Ass Hat would have been even better.

  34. What a great project — please count us in.

    http://www.svfreenyc.org/blog/

  35. Andrew from Chicago

    Take a listen to the new Green Day album 21st Century Breakdown, and in particular: “Know Your Enemy”

    “Do you know your enemy?.
    Do you know your enemy?
    Well, gotta know your enemy, wah eh..”
    …..
    “Silence is the enemy.”
    “Against the urgency”
    “So rally up the demons of your soul”

  36. Dear Sheril, sorry to hear, but as you seem to say, nothing has really happened. I hope that the man wasn’t Mooney – in that case, even the short encounter you described would be a pretty strong tea. ;-)

  37. This is a great initiative for online culture! I am a writer using twitter as a platform, and my current story has deep roots & connections in this alltooprevalent issue.

    Let’s wake the masses!

  38. Aerik

    And yet Phil Plait can prime his readers to harass women by always noting how ‘hawt’ female scientists/geeks/skeptics are whenever they appear on his blog and push the skepchicks nude calendar, and says with a straight face he has no part in our culture of toxcity and rape acceptance.

  39. I will also be linking to your site and encouraging people to participate – thank you.

  40. Thanks for bringing light to this issue and leading the charge to bring about change. My organization, The Xenia Institute, recently did a public event focusing on violence against women in our community and state, and we’re looking for ways to broaden our scope to look at the global impacts of such violence. We’ve posted a link to this blog at our site and we’ll look for ways to blog about the issue. Again, thank you, and peace.

  41. Dear Sheril, sorry to hear, but as you seem to say, nothing has really happened. I hope that the man wasn’t Mooney – in that case, even the short encounter you described would be a pretty strong tea. ;-)

    This comment is absolutely despicable on a number of levels.

  42. I find this to be such an important issue in this world. Being the mom of two little girls I will do what I can to pass the word. Thank you for doing what you do! http://www.tacotongue.com/2009/06/silence-is-enemy.html

  43. I’m just adding my few links to help googleboost this campaign into orbit.

  44. Gracy Luyima

    I don’t know the history behind the photo used on this campaign, however as a woman hailing from the part of the world this campaign targets I have to ask why a photograph of a white woman is being used for a campaign targeting rape survivors primarily in Liberia and the DRC. As African women our voices are not often heard and we are often invisible in global cultural discourse. We are objects rather than subjects. To see a white woman standing for the raped woman of Africa is just one more way African women are rendered invisible. I am deeply touched to see how many of you care about my sisters’ suffering and I applaud your good intentions, however as an African woman this is not the kind of initiative I can support. Campaigns that keep us -the women of Africa-, silent, are ultimately not useful to our cause.

  45. Anna P

    While we are on a great cause of exposing violence against women, I also wanted to bring to everyone’s attention to the situation in Northern Sri Lanka.

    The GoSL unilaterally broke off the ceasefire agreement in 2007 and the fourth wave of Eelam war had begun. The war intensified to an unprecedented level since late last year as the GoSL was determined to destroy every single LTTE member at any cost. The Sri Lankan armed forces started bombing and shelling indiscriminately. They did not care about civilian casualties as they deliberately targeted public places such as schools, hospitals and temples. Thousands of men, women, children and elderly were killed ruthlessly by the Sir Lankan army. The GoSL army even attacked the Tamil civilians who themselves had herded into an area that the GoSL claimed was a “safe zone” with full force of its military and heavy weaponry. The number of civilian casualties rose from 50 to 60 per day in January 2009 to more than 1,000 a day in late March and April 2009. The most conservative number stands at 20,000 casualties since January 2009.
    Rest of the ‘fortunate’ 300,000 civilians who fled the conflict zone are now being ‘processed’ in military controlled ‘welfare camps’ which resemble more of concentration camps. Apparently they are being checked to make sure that there are no LTTE members hiding within any group of people. There are barb wired camps with people kept more or less as prisoners. The UN has asked for access into these camps many times and been denied. Children are separated from their parents; families are split and put into different camps. No independent media is allowed near the camps. The first independent report was aired on UK, Channel 4 in late April. The visas of the reporters were revoked and they were deported from Sri Lanka immediately.

    Channel 4 Link: http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/politics/international_politics/grim+scenes+at+sri+lankan+camps+/3126257

    There have been numerous reports of human rights abuses in these detainment camps. As with many wars the sufferings of women in such conflicts is much greater. The Tamil women have gone and are going thorough unthinkable mental and physical torment by the Sri Lankan and Indian armed forces during each conflict. Throughout history, women’s bodies have been considered the justifiable booty of victorious armies. In conflict situations, whether they are inter-state wars, civil wars, or conflicts born out of deeply divided societies, women are specifically targeted in large numbers for acts of sexual and gender-based violence. They are tortured, raped and stripped of their personal sense of dignity.
    There are many reports now of kidnaps, rapes and murders of girls in the camps committed by the Sri Lankan army. There are even reports of forced abortions of pregnant women. The Channel 4 footage shows an anonymous whistle blower talking about women’s decomposing bodies being left for days in some of the tents in the camps. Recent sky news footage reveals the shocking negligence of a Sri Lankan government official, carelessly blaming the NGO officials for the offences.
    Sky news Link:

    http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/video/Sri-Lanka-Tamil-refugees-tell-of-rape-and-kinappings-in-camps/Video/200905315285812?lpos=video_Article_Related_Content_Region_1&lid=VIDEO_15285812_Sri_Lanka:_Tamil_refugees_tell_of_rape_and_kinappings_in_camps

    The armed forces have a history of horrific sexual violations against Tamil women. While several incidents of sexual violence against Tamil women have gone unreported for obvious reasons, the details of many reported ones too have not been revealed. Recently there was a video of armed forces removing the clothes from killed or captured LTTE female soldiers and sexually assaulting them. In many cases, the victims were killed after being sexually violated. The most gruesome was that of Koneswari where a grenade was exploded inside her vagina after being raped and killed, to remove all traces of the sexual offence. There is clear evidence that sexual violence in many different ways had been practised by the Sri Lanka armed forces. The continuing pattern of sexual violence against Tamil women persists because of the climate of virtual impunity that prevails. In the thirty year war, not one army personnel have been held accountable for any war crimes. There were many women in the past who have survived and many brothers of women who were violated who have joined the LTTE later as that’s the only way they thought that they can get justice.

    Unheard voices, the blog of Regina David, a former worker at women’s centres in northern Sir Lanka for 23 years, portrays firsthand accounts of many horror stories:

    http://reginidavid.wordpress.com

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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