The Limits of Blame and Shame
ИБ 1998 PUBLICATION of Margaret Keck and Kathyrn Sikkink’s Activists beyond Borders affirmed global activists’ hopes that new global norms, such as those that frame gender violence as human rights violations, could have important long-term impact on state behavior. Aspirations more than reality, such norms represent a new transnational consensus about what it means to be civilized, and activists hope that their creation means new incentives for states concerned about their international reputation. Non-state actors—organizations or networks, global or local—can draw upon global norms to hold states accountable. Does the creation of global feminist norms against gender violence—and their monitoring by transnational feminists and human rights organizations— bolster domestic activism, boost public awareness, and promote state policy reforms that address violence against women? If not, why?
The study of the politics of sexual assault in the new Russia shows that the consensus on global norms, even with the support of transnational and local feminist activism as well as human rights monitoring, is not sufficient to significantly change popular or state response to violence against women. After a short burst of attention toward rape and sexual harassment by foreign and local activists in the early 1990s, these issues were virtually ignored by policymakers, and Russians, if anything, became more likely to blame women for their own sexual assault. The global feminist campaign against gender violence can legitimate local
activism and some public discussion of sexual assault, but feminist entrepreneurs, both Russian and foreign, with only limited funds and without credible sanctions, could not induce meaningful compliance. Julie Mertus (2004) in Bait and Switch: Human Rights and U. S. Foreign Policy, shows that the U. S. policymakers “talk the talk” of human rights, but continue to see human rights through the lens of American values and national interests, applying human rights standards only to other states. Despite self-representation to the contrary, the European Union has had similar double standards, especially toward new member states since the breakdown of communism in Europe (Williams 2004). This Russian case study suggests that even states of moderate sovereignty—not the most or least powerful—can effectively ignore these new human rights norms. For those who are wary of any type of substantial foreign intervention and yet hope for feminist policy reform, this suggests that there is a tradeoff: global norms are not enough.
To clarify, I am using the term sexual assault as shorthand to refer to a variety of types of sexual violence committed by individuals, strangers or intimates, against adult women in intimate relationships or at work. I exclude trafficking in women, including trafficking for the provision of sexual services, reserving this issue for another chapter. I include what U. S. feminists have called rape, such as acquaintance rape, date rape, wife or spousal rape (which I summarize as familiar rape), and sexual harassment. Although there are important differences between these phenomena, sexual harassment, at least one form of it, is understood as much more like rape in Russia (where it has been proscribed in criminal law) than in the United States (where it is regulated through anti-discrimination civil law).