Punishing Women Who Have Been Raped

How would it feel to be raped by your enemies and then rejected by your family and friends for being sexually violated? Shortly after the war in Kosovo ended in 1999, reports surfaced in the press of the difficulties that Kosovar women who had been raped were having as they returned to their homes and families. Despite the tremen­dous suffering they had already endured from being sexually assaulted, if these women admitted that they had been raped, they risked being disowned by their families and friends. Instead of getting the support and compassion that they deserved, which have been shown to be helpful in healing the wounds caused by trauma, they had to keep their painful memories, thoughts, and feelings locked away from others or risk being shunned by their families and communities (Lorch & Mendenhall, 2000).

During the ongoing brutal war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an estimated one in three Congolese women have been subjected to gang rape so violent that thou­sands suffer from vaginal fistula (rupture of the vaginal wall, which can cause urine and feces to leak uncontrollably). In some regions of the Congo, as many as 70% of females of all ages have been raped or sexually mutilated, or both, often while members of their families or communities were forced to watch the assault (Klapper, 2007; Persky, 2012; Soguel, 2008). Many of these victimized women, instead of receiving health care, have been abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by their communities (Longombe et al., 2008). Recent reports indicate that increasing numbers of men are also being raped by gangs of militiamen conducting a reign of terror in the Congo. These male victims of sexual brutality also become castaways in their communities, derisively referred to as "bush wives" (Gettleman, 2009). Sexual assaults of Congolese women are sometimes perpetrated by women (as many as 40% in a recent study), whereas the vast majority of male victims are assaulted by men (Johnson et al., 2010).

In a case that shocked people in Western nations and sparked an international out­cry, a Saudi Arabian court sentenced a woman who had been gang-raped to 6 months in jail and a public lashing. The victim of this heinous crime was convicted of violating the

posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD]

A psychological disorder caused by exposure to overwhelmingly painful events.

nation’s Islamic law against mixing of the sexes because she was accosted by her rapists while in a car with a man to whom she was not related. Eventually the Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, bending to criticism from the United States and other Western nations, elected to pardon the rape victim, who was 19 at the time of the attack (Shihri, 2007).

Unfortunately, these attitudes are not confined to Kosovo, the Congo, or Saudi Ara­bia. Research has shown that in the United States some men also tend to blame the vic­tim of sexual abuse. In a study conducted among multiethnic groups in New York City, Cuban American men evaluated the teenage female victim of sexual abuse negatively (Rodriguez-Stednicki & Twaite, 1999). Another study found that Hispanic men in the United States tended to hold women more responsible for their rapes than did Cau­casian men (Cowan, 2000). These cultural attitudes and behaviors have a profoundly negative effect on the victims of rape and sexual assault. In a study that evaluated 157 victims of violent crime, researchers found that shame and anger play an important role in determining whether victims will develop posttraumatic stress disorder and that shame especially plays a role in the severity of the victim’s subsequent symptoms (Andrews et al., 2000). Thus it would appear that cultural values that blame women who have been raped (and those who uphold and apply them) can be a major contribut­ing factor to these victims’ continued suffering.

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