On AlterNet today, Ruth Rosen lays out the escalating crisis of rape, sexual terrorism, abduction, and human trafficking in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. Just how effectively have we "liberated" Iraqi women from a vicious and oppressive regime? In many ways, according to Rosen, we've made things worse.
Unfortunately, Rosen masters the obvious in the piece's opening with the revelation that "like women everywhere, Iraqi women have always been vulnerable to rape." Also, as some readers have commented, she fails to acknowledge the particular threats facing women during Saddam Hussein's reign. But the piece as a whole provides a sobering account of several reports that document (in somewhat uncertain terms) that the incidence of rape, abduction and trafficking of women has increased notably since the U.S. invasion. There's also every reason to believe that the problem is much more dire than can even be documented.
The explosion of media interest in the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza, allegedly by five American soldiers, has understandably raised the question of whether this case is at all unusual. But cultural stigmas surrounding women's honor have made documenting the incidence of these crimes incredibly difficult. Rosen quotes Brian Bennett from Time magazine: "Families and courts are usually so shamed by the disappearance [and presumed rape] of a daughter that they do not report these kidnappings. And the resulting stigma of compromised chastity is such that even if the girl should resurface, she may never be taken back by her relations." Further complicating the task of documenting rape cases are "honor killings," which are performed to reclaim a familys honor.
It's unsurprising that as a result of this chaos, many Iraqi women have been relegated to their homes. "They fear kidnap and rape; they are terrified of getting caught in the cross-fire between Americans and insurgents; they are frightened by sectarian reprisals; and they are scared of Islamic militants who intimidate or beat them if they are not 'properly covered,'" Rosen writes.
The kicker to Rosen's piece reads like a swift kick to the gut of maddening uncertainty: "Amid the daily explosions and gunfire that make the papers is a wave of sexual terrorism, whose exact dimensions we have no way of knowing, and that no one here notices, unleashed by the Bush administration in the name of exporting 'democracy' and fighting 'the war on terror.'"