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Rape is a Favorite Pastime in War and Other Uprisings

february 16, 2011 by camille hayes leave a comment

The moment there is any breakdown in the normal social order, women start to get raped. The first time I noticed this was in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath. First we heard the reports of looting, then of the chaos afflicting the law enforcement system, then gradually the first rape reports began to trickle out. Then the trickle became a flood, and with that flood came the grim suspicion that the stories we were hearing only hinted at the full scope of the violence that was taking place. And at the time I remember feeling confused. I remember thinking that the looting made sense—supplies were scarce, people were stranded—but rape? How did mass sexual assault follow from a hurricane?

Now we’ve heard about Lara Logan, the CBS correspondent who was raped and beaten by a group of men after she was separated from her crew in Tahrir Square on Friday.The journalists were apparently caught up in a mob celebrating Mubarak’s resignation. Which again leads me to ask: how did we get from A to B? From celebrating a peaceful political revolution, to plucking random women from the crowd and gang raping them?

The variable that Katrina and Tahrir have in common, and which they share with war zones, military outposts and other places where rape is likely to occur, is that these are situations in which the rules that normally govern conduct have been temporarily suspended. Police aren’t on duty, there’s a power blackout, the military is busy at the Cairo museum guarding the sarcophagi, whatever. Don’t worry rapists, no excuse is too feeble! As soon as the last flat screen is loaded into your lootin’ van, feel free to start in on the rapes.

What’s most chilling, and frankly, fascinating about this to me, is how apparently flimsy the social prohibition against rape actually is. In the scenarios I’ve described, men started raping women literally the moment they thought they could get away with it. Clearly we’re failing in our efforts to socialize this impulse out of people, the question is why? Is it that there are simply too many competing messages that men receive? Messages which say, either tacitly or overtly, that objectifying, dominating and violating women is A-OK? Or perhaps it’s because society as a whole isn’t quite fully invested in the rape prohibition, either. Maybe rape is one casualty of war, or disaster, or even of celebration, that we are still willing to sustain.

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