Documentary ‘The Uncondemned’ Shatters Stigma on Sexual Violence

The persistence of rape in conflict, from a moral standpoint, represents a regression. Humanity better stand back up on that front if it wants to survive as a species.” Dr. Justin Kabanga, rape psychologist (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

When Godelieve Mukasarasi first began working with female sexual assault survivors of the Rwandan genocide, she described them as “the living dead.” Beyond shock and grief, they had shut down in order to make it through alive. One woman, Serafina, explained, “[rape] is the wound that you can’t cure among all wounds that you ever had.

As the Founder of Solidarity for the Development of Widows and Orphans to Promote Self-Sufficiency and Livelihoods (SEVOTA), Godeliève works to bring women together to break the silence on the pervasive sexual assaults that occurred with impunity in Rwanda. Nothing would erase the horrific violence inflicted upon them, but anything close to closure was impossible without justice.

After the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, tribunal members reached out to Godeliève in the hopes of connecting with survivors. The testimony they heard allowed them to prosecute Jean-Paul Akayesu, under whose supervision Tutsis were systematically raped and murdered. His trial marked the first time in history that rape was prosecuted as a crime against humanity and also a crime of genocide.

The film The Uncondemned tells this remarkable story, following the international team of lawyers and activists that fought to bring Akayesu to justice and the brave women who came forward to testify against him. In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, join Peace is Loud’s campaign to bring this film to colleges, universities and communities worldwide to strengthen support for survivors of sexual violence and torture.

Rape is a crime that feeds on silence, and it takes a rupture in the status quo to affect change. After the success of the Akayesu case, local Rwandan tribunals ruled that rape was a “category one” crime, in the same grouping as murder. This was a tremendous step forward, setting a lasting precedent for the severity of sexual assault.

The story of rape used as a weapon of war is sadly a universal one—but we’re working to make the story of justice for survivors a universal one too. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, described by UN officials as the “rape capital of the world”, we will be partnering with organizations working on the ground to bring The Uncondemned to safe houses for female survivors of sexual assault; and to mobile court judges and medical, law enforcement and legal experts to demonstrate effective, survivor-centered strategies for documenting and prosecuting rape on a local level. We’re particularly pleased to be working to integrate the film into a mandatory training for Congolese soldiers on gathering evidence in gender-based crimes.

The Uncondemned demonstrates unwaveringly that women feel the devastating impact of conflict the deepest, yet are underrepresented in peace talks. To reverse this trend, we’ll be working with global grassroots organizations who are looking for tools to help implement and localize UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, which highlight the urgent need for women’s participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Within the U.S., we’re working with universities and student groups to integrate The Uncondemned into classes and trainings that strengthen support to survivors of sexual violence and torture. We’ve developed film-accompanying discussion guides for law schools and medical schools which address the legal, medical and psychosocial aspects of sexual violence and present scenarios how to best respond to disclosures of sexual violence.

It is our hope that each screening of The Uncondemned will bring us one step closer to bringing justice and support for survivors of sexual assault and torture around the world. These crimes perpetuate as long as they are allowed to; it’s up to each of us to say, “no more”.

As for Godeliève, she’s still hosting her weekly SEVOTA meetings for survivors, including the three women featured in the film. “The fact that rape was taken into consideration in the prosecution of Akayesu [on screen] has had a worldwide impact on the issue of the rape of women”, she says. “In spite of being a rural woman with little means, I helped denounce injustice and fought for humanity”.

Please join us in bringing The Uncondemned to your campus or community. Learn more about the film, host a screening, and be a part of our global community.

 

Sugar Daddies are Definitely NOT Sweet

The situation is all too common…a young girl is looking to fill a void left by an absent or abusive father, and an older man seizes the opportunity to offer comfort and gifts – at a price. The term ‘Sugar Daddy’ is an awfully sweet-sounding way to refer to men who leverage their power and wealth to bait young girls into a sexual trap.

In Lesotho (southern Africa), sugar daddies are called ‘blessers’. As girls’ bodies start to change in early adolescence, older men take notice. The girls, often orphans with no emotional support, crave the attention and feel that it is cool to have an older man show interest in them. A mother from Lesotho explains, “we find that for some girls who have grown up without a father, these sugar daddies provide something like a ‘fatherly love’, but really they are exploiting them.”

Blessers initiate relationships by buying girls presents ranging from small trinkets to new clothing to cell phones. At first the gifts are given with sweet words and compliments and the girls are thrilled to have new, luxury items. But before long, blessers are asking for favours in return and they only have one thing in mind.

All relationships between girls and blessers are sexual in nature. Many girls become pregnant, which typically terminates the relationship because blessers will not take responsibility for impregnating the girls. The blesser returns to his wife and children, while the girl is left with the shame of telling her elders that she had a relationship with a man the age of her father.

Perhaps even more devastating than pregnancy, many girls contract HIV as a result of their blesser relationships. These men typically know their status yet they convince girls that having sex with a condom is a bad idea (some men go so far as to say that condoms cause kidney disease in men – a claim with no truth whatsoever). The girls have no defence and no retribution; their shame keeps them from asking for help.

Shocking as it is, some girls intentionally seek out blessers, entering into relationships with a list of goods they hope to secure. These girls know that this behaviour is dangerous, yet the appeal of accessing nice items is too strong to resist. Most girls do not yet recognize that the gifts are not worth the cost of what they are required to give up. It often takes hindsight for the girls to recognize that they do not really want to be in a relationship with a blesser. Many wish they could return to childhood and forget the adult world they abruptly entered.

Ending a relationship between a blesser and a girl is at least as unsavoury as the relationship itself. Most girls have no say whatsoever, and may even be further victimized for trying to end things. One girl shared, “my friend is trying to end her involvement with a sugar daddy and now he wants to kill her. She has changed her phone number too – he is stalking her.”

Some parents of adolescent girls try to warn their daughters of the risks associated with sugar daddies; others encourage it. Regardless, the girls are often more interested in what their peers are up to rather than listening to their parents. For parents with daughters who board at school, the concern is even worse. One mother explains:

“My daughter normally uses public [transportation] to go home. One day, I called her to check in and I heard men’s voices in the background. I started to panic. It was the case that they were just men near the bus, but of course I was so worried that maybe a man had offered her a ride in his car.”

The prevalence of sugar daddy relationships is difficult to determine since both the girls and the blessers go to great efforts to keep their relationships a secret – girls because of the shame, blessers because of the risk to their marriages and family relationships. What we do know for certain is that these relationships are too common. In any high school, it would not be difficult to find several girls who sneak off to meet their blessers after school.

Sugar daddies, as the adults in the relationships, need to take responsibility for protecting rather than preying on young girls. These relationships are dangerous and harmful, often leading to a lifetime of trauma. The good news is that this problem is relatively straightforward to address – men need to stop engaging in sexual relationships with young girls!

Sexual Assault in the Media

Content note: this post contains multiple references to sexual assault

There continues to be a normalization of sexual violence in media and popular culture. The current culture around sexual assault tends to place blame on the victim and trivializes the idea of rape, and this train of thought stems from factors such as how news stations report acts of sexual violence and how sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and popular music.

There are several trends in the way sexual crimes are depicted in news reports that help contribute to the culture that has pervaded society. News stations will often report that a rapist “had sex with” a victim instead of outright saying that a victim was “raped”. This phrasing downplays the severity of what the victim had to go through and implies that consent was given.

News reports will often focus on the clothes the victim was wearing and how much the victim had to drink. A New York Times article published in 2011 is the perfect example of this. It quotes people familiar with the victim saying that “[the victim] dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s [and] she would hang out with teenage boys at a playground.” By drawing attention to these details, the report does not hold the rapist accountable for his actions and places blame on the victim instead, ultimately suggesting that the choices of the victim led to her rape.

News stations also tend to empathize with the perpetrator instead of the victim. This was especially true in the Steubenville rape trial, when CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow stated that it was incredibly emotional and even incredibly difficult for her to see two young men who were star football players and very good students with such promising futures watch their lives fall apart. In contrast, she didn’t mention any sympathy for the victim whom they raped, who will likely hold on to this trauma for the rest of her life.

The way sexual violence is portrayed in television shows and music also has an influence on rape culture. Jokes about rape will often appear on television, which causes viewers to fail to take sexual violence seriously. Rape jokes are especially prevalent in the show Two Broke Girls, where Kat Denning’s character, Max, constantly trivializes rape  and the long-lasting effects it has on the victim. In one episode, she mocks a victim of date rape and whines while saying “Somebody date-raped me and I didn’t think I’d live through it, but I did, but now I am stronger, and I’m still needy.

The videos and lyrics in popular music can promote rape culture by making sexual violence seem ‘sexy’. In Robin Thicke’s infamous song “Blurred Lines,” he contributes to this culture by singing about how the lines around sexual consent are blurred and asserting that it’s up to men to interpret what women want.

Sexual violence has become normalized in media and popular culture. I believe that the way news stations report cases of sexual assault, and the way it is portrayed in television shows and popular music, play a large role in rape culture. This culture blames the victim for rape as well as trivializes rape and the effects it has on its victims. It is clear that something must change in the media to attack rape culture.

Enjoy Sexual Assault for it to be a Crime

Absurd though it may sound, for a sexual assault to be charged as such the perpetrator of the crime must gain sexual pleasure from the victim by doing so. Or so was the logic behind Judge Anuar Gonzales who, on March 28th, exonerated Diego Cruz for the crime of pederasty and, as understood in the sentence, even sexual assault.

Cruz is one of the five men labeled by Mexican society and media as “Los Porkys,” who, on January 2015 in the state of Veracruz, sexually assaulted Daphne Fernández. She was a minor at the time.

Seeing that the criminal system was getting nowhere with the case, Javier Fernández, Daphne’s father, approached these men and recorded their confession. In the tape, they acknowledge their crime and asked for  forgiveness, promising they would not do it again. But, to the Mexican judiciary, the confession was not evidence enough.

Over a year later, Judge González Hemadi acquitted Cruz in a writ of Amparo. In the latter, he stated that “there was not enough evidence on [Cruz’] participation in the crime of pederasty” even when Daphne testified that Cruz, as well as the other men, touched her against her will.

The Judge added that “touching or incidental rubbing, be it in a public or private place, would be considered a sexual act if the element of intent was to satisfy a sexual desire at the expense of the passive subject”. He also added that she was not “helpless,” as she had the opportunity to sit in the front seat of the car of her attackers.

Long story short, if he touched Daphne against her will, but he got no pleasure from it, he would not be guilty.

Cases of rape and sexual assault are always shocking. But that perpetrators would be spared from their actions due to how much economic or social power they possess makes it twice as infuriating.

And as much I would love to say that Mexican authorities started working on the case because it is their duty to do so, it had more to do with exposure to both national and international media. With other people starting to question the flawed Mexican criminal system for favoring power over justice.

It’s no wonder that in Mexico over 90% of sexual assault victims will not report their cases to the authorities, right?

But this slow and flawed justice  system, accompanied by victim-blaming, is not exclusive to Veracruz. We saw it when Andrea Noel’s underwear was pulled down in the middle of the neighborhood of “La Condesa” in Mexico City and had to leave the country after death threats that resulted from tweeting the video of the assault. The culprit is yet to be found.

Even if the contexts of the three cases are completely different, some similarities are shocking. They prove that, even with enough social pressure via mainstream media, justice will be obstructed in the name of powerful males or an inefficient judiciary.

This needs to be stopped.

Today we stand with Daphne against an unfair criminal law and judiciary. We acknowledge her bravery, and we suffer with her the devastating possibility that three (maybe four) of her rapists are likely to be free. But we also fight for the one in every three women in the world who will face physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Weeks ago Mexico failed us all. Let’s not let this happen again.