Silence is the Enemy: Speaking out about rape, in Africa and around the world.

A sexual violence victim recovers in Goma, Congo (photo by Endre Vestvik)

Last week, I sat in a session at the Global Health Council’s International Conference on Global Health and listened to researchers and health workers describe terrifying accounts of widespread rape and sexual violence in countries like Liberia, Rwanda, Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We listened to these physicians and providers describe caring for women who had been raped with guns and machetes. They told stories of girls as young as two and women as old as 82, all who had been brutally raped, often repeatedly, and usually left for dead.

Just listening to these stories was a traumatic experience; I couldn’t fathom the trauma - both physical and emotional - that millions of women in these situations have faced.

Despite the fact that military conflict in some of these countries ended years ago, rape and sexual violence are widespread in many communities. As Nicholas Kristof reflected a few weeks ago in an op-ed for the New York Times, “The war seems to have shattered norms and trained some men to think that when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.” He reports one study from Liberia that estimated that 75 percent of women had been raped.

Seventy five percent. As one woman suggested, “Stand in a group with three other women and think about what that means.”

It gets worse. Doctors Without Borders in Liberia reported that 28% of the sexual violence cases treated in 2009 (January-April) have been girls under the age of four years old. Over fifty percent of the girls subjected to this brutal violence are under the age of 12.

In the weeks following Kristof’s op-ed, a number of female bloggers have started the Silence is the Enemy movement. Many of these women are donating any revenue from their blogs this month to Doctors Without Borders.

The point of the Silence is the Enemy coaltion is to get people talking. People must be encouraged to discuss sexual violence - in their own communities, as well as around the world. If people around the world raise their voices in opposition to sexual violence - if we can make a more powerful noise - perhaps we can finally draw adequate attention and resources to this pandemic of sexual violence.

For more information:

Blogs donating their June ‘09 revenue to DWB:

(For a full list of all of the blogs in the Silence is the Enemy Coalition, see this post at The Intersection.)

Actions to take:

  • Raise your voice. Blog, tweet, email, and otherwise share your thoughts. At the very least, share these blogs with others in your networks.
  • Join the Silence is the Enemy facebook group.
  • Donate to Doctors Without Borders.
  • Contact your representatives in Congress. Refer them to the sources above and ask them what they are doing to speak out against these atrocities.

2 June, 2009
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