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.

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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.

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.

Violence against women: Why are we still watching?

One night a few weeks ago, I saw something on TV that truly disturbed me. It was a scene from the new television series The Following, a show about a cult of serial killers and their leader (I know that’s a vague synopsis, so if you’re really interested look here.) Now, I don’t regularly watch the show, but I’ve stumbled upon it a few times in between channel surfing and leaving the TV on at night as I work around the house. Most of the scenes I’ve seen so far have been sort of silly or just plain far fetched, and the acting is mediocre at best. I’ll put it this way: I’ve never stayed on the channel for more than a few minutes.

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But the scene I witnessed that night is something I won’t soon forget. It made me feel shocked, disgusted, and then, somewhat unexpectedly, genuinely mad. Angry. At the world, and at this unethical, insensitive, and just plain careless show.

Here’s the brief version of what I can’t un-see: It’s night time, and two male serial killers are standing behind a parked car. The trunk is open. Inside, a gagged and bound woman is laying on her side, crying and pleading for her life. The men are casually watching her as they go back and forth about who should be the one to kill her. It comes out that one of them ( a serial killer wannabe, I guess) has not actually killed someone by himself before, so the veteran killer pushes him to make this this woman his first kill. The newbe, however, cannot bring himself to do it, so the other guy grabs the knife from him. He laughs and makes fun of him, and we get the impression that he thinks the new guy is “too weak” or “not man enough” to follow through with the murder.

At this point, I thought for sure that the show would cut to a new scene, that we wouldn’t, of course, see what it usually left to the imagination on a prime time cable television show. Call me naive, but I’m used to murders being walked in on after the fact, the specifics surveyed only later in crime scenes and on lab tables. But if this scene is any indicator of future ones, The Following is taking TV murder–and specifically, the witnessed killing of women–to a whole new level. So instead of hearing what exactly happened to this victim in all-business conversations between medical examiners and forensic specialists, I saw it for myself.

I watched as the killer approached the woman, who was really hysterical by this point, and excitedly (yet rather unceremoniously, which may have been another reason why it was so disturbing) stab her over and over and over again. Although he stood in front of her as he stabbed her, viewers could not only see blood spray and soak her shirt, but also hear nauseating cutting sounds. I immediately felt sick and to be honest, a little traumatized.

After getting over the initial shock of watching a woman die (the entire scene was maybe a minute and a half, and yes, I was frustrated with myself for watching the whole thing), I started to feel a different emotion: anger. It’s days later and I’m still angry. And no, I’m not willing to let it go.

First off, I’m angry that there is still a mainstream appetite for violence against women. Every victim that I’ve seen so far on this show has been female. The serial killers themselves are both male and female, but they abduct, torture, and kill women. I admit that my exposure to the show is limited, but what clips I’ve seen have had a heavy presence of female victimization.

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Is this unusual in movies and shows about murder? Perhaps not, but on a mainstream channel at a not-too-late hour of the night, I’d expect much milder violence. Certainly not full murder scenes. Certainly not horror-movie quality torture and suffering. And certainly not any of these things to a character who I genuinely feel for. In that brief moment, I felt her fear, and even though she was just a TV character, I feared for her. The problem, I think, is that the scene was much too real. I related to her, and imagined myself in her situation. Why? Because murders like that really happen. The scene was too close to what really happens to thousands of women each year.

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In light of recent cases like the chilling trial of the Cannibal Cop and this chef who was found guilty of boiling his wife’s dead body, I’m so, so tired of seeing and hearing about men who get off on not just abusing women, but on torturing them. On shooting, strangling, and stabbing them, and then of disposing what remains of these daughters, sisters, and mothers like trash. It pisses me off that it’s acceptable to nonchalantly watch these real-life horrors re-enacted on TV. What’s more, it scares me. It deeply concerns me that our culture is so desensitized to the murder of women that we can sit down on our sofas and enjoy seeing it played out over and again. And then, that we can defend it.

I won’t make the mistake of watching men hurt women on The Following again. I do have to wonder about the writers of this show, though. Who are they, and what’s their agenda? Because if you were to ask me, it seems like they’re interested in showcasing–and encouraging–a culture of misogynistic violence.