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Rape and Sexual Molestation - A Global Disgrace

Sept. 26, 2008
N. Lukanovich

Rape - the topic no one wants to talk about. If we pretend it doesn't exist, it will go away. Even easier to ignore, is sexual molestation that doesn't include intercourse. The sexual assault of women is rampant all over the world, both in nations with far reaching equal gender rights, and in nations that closely follow traditional and religious dogma. In many cultures, a molested woman is openly considered shamed and dishonored, and may never be able to marry.

In the West, we have progressed beyond conscious blaming of the victim, but there is still a subconscious tendency to presume that the victim could have prevented the attack, except in the most extreme cases - for example, if a child is abducted and molested by a stranger, or if an elderly woman is raped. Thanks to shame, blame, and fear of both humiliation and dismissive attitudes, rape is the most under-reported crime in every country in the world..

Young women and adolescent girls are considered to be the trigger for sexual arousal. If a man is overcome by sexual needs she only has herself to blame. If she's wearing a tight shirt or a short skirt, if she is walking alone after dark, if she was drinking, if she was flirting, if she is alive and young and attractive and not cloistered in a nunnery, then really, what can you expect? Men have told me that women who dress sexy are inviting attack, and I'm sure that there are women who believe the same. Unless they themselves have been molested.

I have been attacked by strangers twice, and was fortunate that both times the attacks were cut short. The first time, I was jogging midday beside the River Sava in Zagreb (where I was studying Croatian) in a baggy sweatsuit. A man stopped me to ask me for a cigarette (strange thing to ask a jogger) then grabbed my wrist in a vice like grip, while he opened his zipper and yelled at me - in Croatian - to jack him off. Lucky for me, he ran off when he caught sight of other joggers coming towards us.

The second time was in Darjeeling, India, in the early evening. I couldn't have been more covered from head to toe in long skirt, boots, jacket, and scarf. It was dark and I could have been the ugliest broad in town. I was crossing a small concrete sport area when a man spotted me, grabbed me and started to hiss violently that he was going to rape me, and when I tried to pull away he said he had a knife. I let loose a blood curdling scream and he quickly took off, clearly fearful that my screaming would draw attention.

Now, I am someone who has dressed sexy on countless occasions (and I do mean countless) and yet, looking all hot and sexy never did invite 'attack'. Dressing sexy invites looks, comments, and yes, even come ons, but not attacks. The common theme of my two attacks was that I was alone, female, and in the wrong place at the wrong time. My regret is that I didn't report either attack, partly because I was in foreign countries, and partly because I was too young to have the confidence to face any dismissiveness on the part of police. I would like to add that neither Croatia or India are particularly dangerous places for women, I generally felt very safe in both countries.

The truth of the matter is that rape is a violent act that is the fault of the offender. Young women are raped more often than older women by strangers for one main reason: they are more accessible. Sexual offenders are notorious for lurking about university campuses and parks, where women are often to be found walking or jogging alone. But sexual assault by strangers is far less frequent than sexual assault by those known to the victim. And if the assault is stopped before sex is forced, as in my case, the trauma does not effect your relationships with people you know, but induces a fear of being violently attacked simply because you are a woman, if alone and isolated. Like jogging in parks, or walking on an empty street.

Many people are surprised to learn that the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, often in the victim's home. To be sexually assaulted by someone you know, who you think you can trust, who your family trusts, is so painfully complex, it is difficult to unravel the various threads of trauma. There is nothing clear cut about unwanted forced sex from someone you know. The tendency of self blame and shame is much higher. The anger towards others that know the attacker deep and difficult to resolve.

The only thing that is patently clear, is that the answer to preventing sexual assault is not to keep girls and women locked up at home. The answer is to further awareness about the devastation of sexual molestation, to talk openly about the issue, to complete the cultural shift to a point where the victim is never blamed.

There are many actions that need to be taken to reduce both the incidence and emotional devastation of sexual assault. One is to talk about the issue in schools so that boys know from a young age that any form of forcing themselves on a girl sexually is a crime. Another is to better police campuses, parks, bus stations, metro stations, any and all areas where women are commonly attacked. Also important is to teach both girls and boys that they are not to blame if they are molested, and should not be ashamed. They need to know where to go for help, whether they have been molested by a friend, a stranger, or a family member.

Another important part of the solution is to recognize that sex offenders are not all the same. While most rapists are not mentally ill, there are those that seem incapable of self control, no matter how high their level of remorse and desire to change. The release of sexual predators who are likely to reoffend begs disbelief, public warnings are not enough. This type of sexual offender is the most difficult to deal with in any society, but the priority should be the protection of women and children, not the protection of 'criminals' who have done their time.

But shifts in consciousness can make a difference for the other kind of offender, the far more common perpetrators of sexual assault, normal men who don't respect women and desire to exert control over women. These are the men who don't think copping a feel is wrong, or having sex with an unconscious girl is wrong, or committing sexual assault in a group is wrong. The mob mentally of gang rape is terrifying in it's ability to overcome an individual's aversion to commit rape, and indicative of a belief that women's bodies are not their own: "if my friends are doing it it's okay, she's a slut anyway". Rape that occurs during war is gang rape on a monumental scale, as though it is an acceptable weapon to be used against the enemy. Rape during war needs to be prosecuted and the rapists need to be held accountable.

War should not be an excuse to violate women. It happened in the Balkan wars, it is happening in Darfur, it happened in Vietnam - historically it was a common practice, 'raping and pillaging' was not restricted to one twisted group of conquerors. During World War II, over 100,000 Korean women were abducted by the Japanese military and used as 'prostitutes' for Japanese soldiers. While most of the 'comfort women' were Korean, they were also from China and other Asian countries. Estimates are as high as 200,000 women who were kept in 'brothels' and repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers.

The fact of the matter, is that rape is more acceptable in some situations, and some cultures than in others. There are cultures in which the repercussions for a woman to admit to being raped are so devastating, bringing shame upon herself and her family, that rape is even more rarely reported than in the West. These are societies which deny the occurrence of rape, which do not recognize or prosecute molestation committed by family members, or persons in authority who have access to young women and girls.

While we do have a long way to go in the West, while it is still difficult for victims of sexual offences to come forward, while we need to completely change the attitude that the victim may share part of the blame, we do not sentence women to 100 lashes when they have accused men of rape. Far more blame is placed upon women in societies that believe women should obey men, and in cultures where virginity is such an issue that even if the woman can recover psychologically, society will not accept her as being pure enough for marriage.

In Western cultures, it used to be considered a wife's duty to service her husband. Rape within marriage was not considered a crime. This is still the case within many cultures in the world today. The difficulty for a woman in the West to accuse her husband of rape is astronomical; in many cultures it is out of the question. In fact, what would you call the wedding night for a woman who has been forced into an arranged marriage with a man who repulses her? In this kind of case, society is forcing a woman to accept sex with a man she does not find attractive.

What is considered to be acceptable in terms of violence against women is a barometer of gender equality in any given culture. When violence against women, in the form of sexual abuse or domestic abuse can be talked about without any shame on the victims part, without any blame put on the victim, when such violence is an extremely rare occurrence, then we can claim that women have achieved equality. When stories such as Nikki's no longer occur, when it is understood that any form of sexual assault can not be tolerated, then we can claim that girls and women are fully respected.

For information on sexual assault in Canada:
http://www.womanabuseprevention.com/html/sexual_assault.html

For information on the Comfort Women:
http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/actforwomen/comfort_women-eng
http://war_forgiveness.soundprint.org/script.php







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