George Clooney Cares About It

Yesterday I wrote about the new global campaign to end rape in conflict, and why it's a winnable goal. Today, it's time to bring home the reasons why we need to put in the required effort. We’ve all got our lives to live and our own pet issues to look after, and it’s easy for those of us in the U.S. to think of “rape in conflict” as a conceptual "Terrible Thing" that happens to those Other (Poor, Brown) People Far Away. But when we tie it in a tidy little “Over There Issue” bow, we totally erase the ways it’s a "Right Here Issue," both in that we’re complicit in it, and, relatedly, that there are things we in the US can uniquely do about it.

Herewith, then, are "Four Ways Rape in Conflict is a Right Here Issue." It’s by no means a complete list—if you’ve got others, please share them in the comments. 

It’s a crisis in our own military.

One in three women in the military are survivors of sexual violations that happened while on active service, according the Department of Veterans Affairs, That’s double the rate for U.S. civilian women, even according to Department of Justice numbers. The rate of soldier-on-soldier rape in the U.S. military is bad enough to have inspired a class action lawsuit—one that, ironically, may yet be dismissed for the very reason that rape is such an outsized crisis in our military in particular: service members have no right to recourse through civilian courts. This stands in stark oppositions to the policies of many other countries including Israel, Australia, Britain, who, not coincidentally, have lower rates of military rape. And survivors of soldier-on-soldier rape can’t quit their job or take any actions to stay away from their rapists without permission from commanding officers. What’s more, many service members who do report sexual assault through the proper military channels are not only ignored, harassed, and otherwise denied justice. They’re often summarily labeled with a personality disorder and dismissed without veteran’s benefits—a status quo that organizations like the Service Women Action Network are working hard to change. To say that rape in conflict starts at home is an egregious understatement.

It’s rampant on our borders. 

Not all U.S. armed conflicts are happening “elsewhere.” There’s an ongoing one on our border with Mexico. Though statistics are hard to come by, we know from continued reporting that rape of undocumented immigrants is pervasive, sometimes at the hands of U.S. officials or fellow immigrants, but especially by coyotes—men Mexican immigrants often hire to help them get to “safety” in the U.S. Teresa Rodriquez, then the regional director of the UN Development Fund for Women, told the Boston Globe in 2006, “Rape has become so prevalent that many women take birth control pills or shots before setting out to ensure they won’t get pregnant. Some consider rape ‘the price you pay for crossing the border.’” This is happening right here at home. That makes it our problem.

Our “War on Drugs” fuels it.

Lost in the Secret Service refusing-to-pay-prostitutes scandal was a crucial conversation raised in Cartagena: the impact the United States’ militarized drug policies have on the Latin American countries where those drugs are produced.  Because the United States resists decriminalization, drug production remains the province of brutal gangs that keep their supply chain operating by any means necessary—including widespread rape. This also encourages the governments of drug-producing countries to further militarize their domestic security approaches, producing police forces and armies which also rape with impunity. And the rapes aren’t just limited to crimes of expediency or opportunity—female journalists and human rights workers throughout the region are raped in order to silence and intimidate them. Meanwhile, both research and the actual experiences of countries like Portugal show that decriminalization not only reduces the violence that accompanies a criminalized drug trade, but also produces better public health impacts as well.

Our entire digital lives are bloodied by it.

Remember that alarming fact I mentioned yesterday about the Democratic Republic of Congo? DRC is considered the “rape capital of the world.” Over a thousand women will be raped there today. And another thousand tomorrow. And the next day and the next until we successfully intervene. The ongoing violence in the DRC has multiple, interlocking causes and motives, but one of those is the violent struggle for control over precious mineral mines—rare minerals required to make the machine on which I’m writing this (and likely the one on which you’re reading this). The militias fighting to control the wealth that flows from these mines use rape to bond male fighters to each other (after they’re all forced to participate) and to destroy civilian will to resist their rule. Then we use their products to text each other and play Draw Something. Not sure whether this is an issue you want to get involved with? Too late—you’re already involved. Do something.

Bonus Fifth Reason:

Clooney's doing something about it.

No joke. George Clooney took the pledge. So have Charlize Theron, Alfre Woodard, Clive Owen, and Ashley Judd. You don't want to get on the wrong side of the Cloon, do you?

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