Moral crimes in Afghanistan

In January of 2012, the Human Rights Watch reported that about 400 women were locked away in Afghani prisons and juvenile delinquent centers for something called “moral crimes.” Today, and on the eve of a major departure of international forces from the area, that number has risen to 600.

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So what are moral crimes? They include fleeing from abusive homes, escaping arranged marriages, and having sex outside of marriage–including rape.

Yes, you read that right. Women can be prosecuted and thrown in prison for being raped.

These women–victims of crime–are jailed for their “loose morals.” Their attackers regularly enjoy impunity.

It is estimated that 110 of these women are under 18.

Afghanistan Women On The Inside

New York Times article on the issue describes a few of the accused women:

Asma W., 36, ran away from her husband after he beat her, threw boiling water on her, gave her a sexually transmitted disease and announced that he would marry his mistress. Fawzia, 15, took refuge with a family that drugged her and forced her into prostitution. Gulpari M., 16, was kidnapped off the street by a stalker who decided he wanted to marry her; she turned him in to the first policeman she saw.”

It gets worse: this month, the Afghan parliament refused to endorse Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women:

So vociferous were the law’s opponents, including religious leaders who are members of parliament, that the speaker halted debate after 15 minutes and sent the law back to parliamentary commissions for further consideration. Those against the law characterised it as a violation of Afghan religious and cultural values, ignoring Afghanistan’s history of child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence and the prosecution of rape victims.”

Afghani women’s rights activists are deeply concerned that their cause–not to mention their achievements over the last 10 years–will be abandoned once troops leave the country.

Conditions are grim, and foreign donors may “consider the plight of Afghan women to be a lost cause.”

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The Human Rights Watch outlines the major steps that the country must take if it is to protect its women and girls:

The Karzai government should abolish the practice of prosecuting women for ‘moral crimes’. All laws that discriminate against women should be amended or revoked, and the EVAW law should be fully enforced throughout the country. The government should develop and implement a plan to increase the percentage of the police force that is female. And greater support is needed for shelters for women fleeing violence so that there is at least one shelter per province.”

Education is key, but so is the relentless, hopeful support of the international community.

Sex crimes and social media

Just when you thought sex crimes in our society couldn’t get any more shameful or disgusting, rapists are now partaking in a new appalling trend: sharing pictures and videos of their victims, pre- and post-crime, via social media sites.

What’s perhaps even more horrifying is that the accused perpetrators are young teenage boys, most between the ages of 14 and 17. Most acting in groups.

Their victims? Girls as young as 11, 12 and 13 years old. Children.

And there are pictures and videos of these children being raped and abused, being passed around like trophies and souvenirs.

This article outlines the most recent cases, and tragically, there are quite a few.

But how and why is this happening in the first place?

This article sheds some light on the deeply troubling statistics surrounding the issue:

The rate of sexual assaults is alarmingly high among adolescents. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice finds that 30% to 35% of female sexual assault survivors were first raped between the ages of 11 to 17. Many of these assaults occur when victims are under the influence of alcohol, and a surprising number of adolescent rapes involve multiple perpetrators. A recent study found that 12.4% of sexual assaults committed against 13- to 17-year-old teens were gang rapes.

Then, there’s this:

Rape is a crime of power and dominance, and social media provide new ways of asserting that power to hurt victims over and over again. Gang rape takes on a whole new meaning when images and slurs are posted and forwarded and spread endlessly. Adolescent sexual assaults are particularly likely to go viral (more so than instances of adult rape) because of the “everyone knows everything about everyone” culture of middle and high school. The ubiquity of cell phones with cameras and the power of the Internet make for faster, farther-reaching gossip, name-calling, character assassination and ultimately despair for the victim.

And most disturbingly:

What was once a horrible incident that the victim remembers and suffers in private agony has now become an all-you-can-watch public humiliation event.

Bragging about sex crimes on social media is a new fold in the cyber bullying phenomenon and it needs to be actively combatted. But it’s also a new way for police to investigate crimes and prosecute criminals. These boys are cruel and careless, and the very evidence they flaunt should secure them a very long time behind bars.

Are colleges protecting their students from sexual assault?

Some of the nations top colleges and universities–Swarthmore, Dartmouth, Occidental, University of Southern California, and University of California, Berkeley–are under investigation for underreporting sexual assault and harassment on their campuses. Current and former students have filed complaints with the U.S. Education Department, alleging that the institutions’ handling of incidents failed to comply with the Clergy Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley

The Clergy Act requires that colleges report violent acts on campus, including sexual assault, and publicly disclose safety and crime data. Title IX prohibits sexual discrimination on campus.

These complaints are the newest in a series of reports from students who claim that their school’s policies or procedures violated these acts. Last month, Yale was ordered to pay a fine of $165,000 for not reporting four cases of sex crimes almost a decade ago. UNC, Chapel Hill, Amherst, and Wesleyan have also been investigated over the last two years.

Yale

Yale

While it’s certainly a huge problem that both men and women are facing sexual assault on their campuses–places that are supposed to be safe and supportive for young people–it’s just as alarming that schools are reluctant to honestly report it.

Yale is currently disputing the fine, on the basis that the it is “unfair.”

I’d think “unfair” would feel little bit more like this student’s experience:

“For the entirety of my last year in college, I continued to live every day in fear,” Kenda Woolfson, a recent graduate, said at the news conference. “In May, I watched as my rapist shook the hand of our college’s president and received his diploma, and I wished I had not been discouraged by a dean from reporting the rape.”

Colleges that care about their students’ safety and wellbeing–not to mention their reputation–should take note. But if they don’t, I certainly hope prospective students and parents will.

Why we still need feminism

I don’t know about you, but I’m still reeling from last week’s horrific news story in Cleveland. In a matter of days, we’ve learned the details about what these three women endured while they were imprisoned by this man for an entire 10 YEARS. Let me say it again: THREE WOMEN WERE IMPRISONED IN A HOUSE IN A NEIGHBORHOOD FOR 10 YEARS. If I sound angry, it’s because I am.

Missing Women Found

I’m outraged, but not just for obvious reasons. Not just because three young women had 10 years of their lives ripped away from them in an endless cycle of rape and abuse. Not just because, as young teenage girls, they were offered rides by a man already convicted of domestic violence and assault and needless to say, never made it home.

Nor am I outraged just because, so far, we’ve learned that two of the women were impregnated by their attacker. One of them gave birth to a daughter, who grew up in the house and is now six years old. The other, who says that she was pregnant five times, miscarried after being beaten and starved.

I’m outraged not just because police were called several times to the house, but never bother to investigated any further than the CHAINED SHUT FRONT DOOT. Not just because they never looked into neighbors’ reports of hearing strange noises coming from inside the house, seeing bizarre sightings like, I don’t know, NAKED WOMEN CRAWLING ON DOG LEASHES IN THE BACKYARD, or a little girl staring out the window of an abandoned house.

No, I’m not outraged just because of these atrocities. Not just because of the unimaginable suffering, fear, and hopelessness that each of these women surely felt, and the hope for freedom she probably lost.

I’m outraged that all of these things happened, and continue to happen to women all over the world, and yet it’s still easier to turn a blind eye and say you didn’t notice anything. It’s still more convenient for us to choose “not to get involved.” It’s still ok to chalk things up to “private issues” and simply walk away.

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And on top of all that, some still have the audacity to question if feminism is really relevant in today’s “progressive society.” I mean, do you know any women who still need advocacy, who still need someone to step up for them and say “Yes, I care?”

I’m outraged, of course, that women are kidnapped, tortured, and murdered, everyday, everywhere.

But what really kills me, what really breaks my heart, is the realization that at the end of the day, it seems like no one really cares–not even the people who are paid to.

Mexico’s “invisible women”

This week, a horribly graphic video of a woman being beheaded in Mexico made its way onto the Internet and was eventually posted on Facebook. The woman, bound and kneeling, is decapitated by a masked man with a knife before a group of observers.

The poster’s intentions? To let Facebook users know what’s really going on in the world–a right that, until now, Facebook supported. The site received numerous complaints about the video–as they have about other graphically violent videos–and it was eventually removed.

But not before it got 2,500 likes.

Beyond the ethics of Facebook and the question of whether or not users should be exposed to such material, the bigger story, of course, is about the video itself, and the murdered victim. Reports are that the woman was killed by her husband, a gang member in the Mexican drug cartel, for allegedly cheating on him.

As horrible as this video is, it’s far from the first recorded incident of gender-based violence. Violence against women in Mexico so common that it’s almost unremarkable. Femicido–femicide, or the killing of women because they are women–is a widespread phenomenon. Everyday, women simply disappear.

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Why is this happening? According to Women Under Siege, it’s largely due to a culture of allowed violence, also known as impunity:

“It is a horrible concept that is reduced to this: You want to beat up a stranger, your wife or girlfriend, murder her, torture her, kidnap her, slice her up or sell her. You can do it, and chances are nothing will ever happen to you. Sick minds, macho minds, have free rein because the government does little to stop the violence against women.”

Most women who find the strength to speak frequently disappear, their tortured bodies found stabbed, decapitated, or hung off bridges or in trees. The government does nothing: “The women who speak up are dismissed, told they are locas, told that all of their daughters were part of the narcotics business or wanted to run away.”

To everyone except their families, these women are invisible. They are erased as though they never existed.

But just like the videos, these women are real. Their suffering is real. Their deaths are real. We may not want to watch the videos on Facebook, we may not even want to read about them in the news. It’s a lot to handle, and after all, what can we really do?

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For one, we can talk about it. We can write about it. We can raise awareness and make their stories known. We can stop worrying about the kinds of things we do and do not want to hear about on the Internet and start having real discussions about serious problems. We can express respect, empathy, and sadness–for the dead and for the families that lost their mothers, sisters, and daughters.

We can acknowledge–at the very least–that to us, they are indeed visible.

Waiting to be heard, in her own words

On Tuesday, ABC aired Diane’s Sawyer interview with Amanda Knox, the American exchange student who was accused of murdering her British roommate Meredith Kercher in Italy. Although she was initially convicted of the crime–and served 4 years in prison for it–a second appeals trial revealed a striking lack of evidence in the case. In 2011, she was acquitted and released to return home.

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Amanda Knox

Almost six years later, Knox’s nightmare is still not over. Prosecutors appealed the latest verdict, meaning Knox will be on trial for murder again, likely sometime next year (in Italy, double jeopardy doesn’t apply). In the interview, Knox talks about the new book she wrote detailing her perspective on the entire ordeal, a memoir titled Waiting to Be Heard. In particular, she addresses the Italian media’s unfair (I say ridiculous) fabrications about her life during the trial, and how these lies affected the first conviction.

Simply put, the media tried Knox before the courts ever did. The then twenty-year-old was portrayed as a manipulative seductress who, along with her Italian boyfriend at the time,  killed Kercher in a violent “sex game gone wrong.” Some stories even described the murder as some sort of Satanic ritual. Her behavior after the murder also picked apart. Every move she made was construed to portray her as cold, uncaring deviant. The papers dubbed her as “Foxy Knoxy”–a childhood name that she earned for her stealth on her soccer team–and wrote stories about her fictionalized sex life. They obsessed about how she didn’t seem “remorseful.”

So why all this fascination with Knox? Why this fixation with her personal life, her reactions, her looks? Because the prosecution had a story and a scapegoat that they knew they could sell. Who cared if she was innocent? To them, she was another easy victim. The prosecutors would look like heroes for putting this hated slut away. And indeed, the public fell for it–it seems we still can’t resist the sick hysteria of a witch trial.

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Meredith Kercher

Knox’s original sentence was 26 years in prison, despite having no DNA evidence to connect her to the crime scene. Another man’s DNA, however–a drifter and convicted criminal named Rudy Guede–was all over the victim’s body, including inside her. He also left bloody hand and footprints on the walls and floor of the apartment–clear signs that he was the actual murderer.

Guede’s lawyers worked a plea deal that got him a mere 16 years in prison–a sentence less than Knox’s. He’ll be eligible for work release next year.

Even though he’s the convicted killer, I had to search to find his name.

Surprisingly, after everything, Knox still says that she encourages young people to study abroad. Her advice?

“Be careful,” especially if you’re a young woman. Kercher lost her life, but in a way, Knox almost did, too.

Violence against women in India: The norm?

Protestors have taken to the streets after another horrific rape in India. This past Wednesday, a five-year-old girl was found in a New Delhi apartment after being reported missing by her parents on Monday. The girl was abducted, tortured and raped for two days by a 23-year-old man.

The New York Times reports that, in addition to beating, strangling, and genitally mutilating the girl, the suspect inserted an eight inch bottle and a candle inside her. The objects had to be surgically removed.

On top of such a horrifying crime, the girl’s parents told reporters that the police “had failed to take their complaint seriously, failed to carry out an adequate search and then offered them 2,000 rupees—about $37—if they would keep quiet about the case.”

There has been a recent trend in extreme violence against women in India, or at least a trend in the visibility of these crimes. This case comes just months after the December gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old woman. A few days after her death, in an unrelated incident, an 18-year-old woman committed suicide after being raped by two men. Last month, a Swiss woman touring the country with her husband was raped by a group of men who also beat and robbed them.

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These brutal crimes speak volumes about the culture of violence against women in India. Protestors are also speaking out about India’s culture of victim-blaming among the police and judicial system.

According to The Huffington Post:

“This is the mentality which most Indian men are suffering from unfortunately,’ Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, told the newspaper. “That is the mindset that has been perpetrating this crime because they justify it indirectly, you asked for it so it is your responsibility.”

Victim-blaming is not unique to India. For many emerging countries it is still the cultural norm. Police incompetence–and indifference–make matters worse.

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India’s Parliament passed a new law last month making sexual harassment a crime, and rape resulting in the victim’s death punishable by the death penalty.

Passing the law itself was a significant step in the right direction, but the way in which this most recent rape of a child is handled–and the punishment her attacker receives–will set perhaps an even more important precedent for India.