Silence is the Enemy

June 1, 2009

In case you have not read it by now, the Nicholas D. Kristoff Op/Ed in the NYT about the aftermath of civil unrest in Liberia is the trigger. In After Wars, Mass Rapes Persist Kristoff describes an ugly, despicable reality:

Jackie is too young to remember the 14-year civil war in Liberia, from 1989 to 2003, when as many as three-fourths of women were raped. Jackie’s world is one of a bustling, recovering Liberia with a free press and democratically elected leaders.

Yet somehow mass rape survived the end of the war; it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement. So the security guard at Jackie’s school, a man in his 50s, took the little girl to the beach where, she said, he stripped her and raped her. Finally, he ran off as she lay bleeding and sobbing on the sand.
“I couldn’t walk well, so they took me to hospital,” Jackie told me. It was worse than that: She was hemorrhaging, and the hospital couldn’t stop it. So Jackie was rushed in critical condition to Monrovia’s largest hospital, where she spent weeks recovering.

So what can we do?
Sheril Kirshenbaum of The Intersection and Isis the Scientist of On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess have teamed up to launch a blog-based awareness campaign. The Silence is the Enemy campaign starts today with this entry from Sheril Kirshenbaum:

In 2006 I was sexually assaulted. I never expected to blog about it.
One evening in DC, a stranger grabbed me as I walked from the metro stop to my apartment after work. I wish I could say I screamed or fought back, but I was too horrified. Instead I could only stare in disbelief at the jackass holding me down. This can’t be happening. In a desperate scramble I somehow managed to break away before it escalated to rape and ran inside my building. He winked and blew a kiss from behind the glass door, as if to say ‘oh well, next time’. I was the third women in the neighborhood to report a similar story to police in two weeks-also the luckiest. The experience forever shattered a false sense of security, knowing that to monsters like this man, I’m nothing more than conquest, having no identity beyond what I can potentially provide for them. The reward isn’t about sex-but subjugation and power. And I will not be a silent witness to rape.

Please join in.

If you have a blog, please post something about this to inform your readers, even if it is only a link to Sheril’s post. Awareness is the more important step. If you do publish a post please email Sheril with your link (
Join the Facebook group.
Write and/or email your members of Congress (Congressional Directory).
Educate yourself- A list of informational resources has been provided by Jessica Palmer of Bioephemera.
Click for cash: Sheril and Isis and a growing storm of the compensated bloggers will be donating their payout for the month of June to Doctors Without Borders. This organization is doing much of the heavy lifting in Liberia to provide health care for the women and children who have been raped. The DrugMonkey blog will be joining this effort by donating our payout from SMG. Where you come in is by going by your favorite participating blogs as much as you can during the month of June because the payout is based on traffic. So far this list includes Bioephemera, Aetiology, Neurotopia, Adventures in Ethics and Science and The Questionable Authority. I would suggest picking a blog you don’t read that frequently and picking through the archives is a nice easy way to participate.
Don’t forget to write, call and/or email your members of Congress (Congressional Directory). Ask your CongressCritter what s/he is doing about rape in Liberia. What is our government doing about post-conflict abuse of women worldwide?

No Responses Yet to “Silence is the Enemy”

  1. juniorprof Says:

    Juniorprof has blogged it and joined the facebook group and sent invitations to all his friends. If you’re on facebook, do the same. Juniorprof is also a long-standing donor to doctors without borders. If you can afford to donate, please consider doing so.


  2. DuWayne Says:

    Can’t afford to donate, but have already contacted the local library about arranging an event – I’ll talk to the student affairs coordinator about doing the same at school, after class tomorrow. Neither would happen this month, but fuck it – don’t care.
    Also blogged it, facebooked it (and I hate facebook) and emailed most of my address book…


  3. Dave Says:

    Doctors Without Borders is one of the world’s most wonderful organizations. But…
    Can’t you guys just quietly donate your money without the Noble Blogger posing, or asking us to go on a duplicitous click frenzy?
    Seriously, why does support for a cause have to be wrapped up in a blogger advertising stunt? And if treatment of women is the issue then why not support an organization that more directly empowers women (, for example, or for Africa, maybe one of these:
    I hate these sorts of blogger antics. I am not going to go clicking about for this party. Nevertheless, in the spirit of dopey fundraisers, and to provide a charitable outlet for others who also do not feel like clicking around all afternoon, I will personally donate five dollars to Doctors Without Borders for each and every commenter in this thread who calls me an asshat. I will donate seven dollars for every commenter who comes up with a plausible story for how my comments here today or in the past have caused them personal emotional trauma. And I will donate ten dollars for every commenter who writes a minimum 250 word essay explaining how scienceblog comment flamewars affect* global mistreatment of women and/or blacks**.
    * I have not decided yet whether I will give credit to arguments that rely on the ‘Butterfly effect’. Probably not.
    ** I had a little trouble picking this term. ‘African Americans’ obviously doesn’t apply to honest-to-God Africans (many of whom are not actually Black, BTW). And the lately popular ‘Persons of color’ is just stupid.
    *** I will count all comments that appear by Midnight Wednesday July 3. Then it’s over. Calling me an asshat after that won’t earn anything for anybody.


  4. becca Says:

    1) Dave, you are an asshat.
    2) These are stackable, right? Like, if your comments caused me personal emotional trauma *and* I write an essay on the greater impact of flamewars that will result in $22 total (counting item 1 above)?
    3) Although you are an asshat, it did occur to me to wonder briefly if maybe instead of just medical cleaning up *after* sexual assault maybe we should also be looking for an organization that has a plausible strategy for *preventing* it.


  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    maybe we should also be looking for an organization that has a plausible strategy for *preventing* it.
    In my view this is part of the point of calling your CongressCritter and asking what our federal government is doing about these issues. Working the post-conflict treatment of women and children into the international agenda on civil conflicts, wars, etc might have a proactive effect, no? Diplomacy may be slow and boring but making rape and sexual abuse part of the agenda and benchmarking when doing re-building and economic assistance, etc after a major conflict has the chance for sustained effect.


  6. Dave Says:

    Yea, they’re stackable becca. Looking forward to your essay.


  7. Katherine Says:

    Dave, you’re an asshat for making me agree with you. I too was wondering what I can do from New Zealand when my country to the best of my knowledge has not been complicit in any wars or rapes. And why I should donate to a charity that doesn’t seem to help much with the prevention of these rapes. Perhaps I will try to find out who to write to to insist we ensure our troops are well behaved on their peace-keeping missons.
    I don’t think I can quite make it to 250 words and I kinda went off on a tangent 😦
    Also I can’t find Isis’ post on Silence is the Enemy.


  8. DuWayne Says:

    Can’t you guys just quietly donate your money without the Noble Blogger posing, or asking us to go on a duplicitous click frenzy?
    Because you fuckwitted asshat, the money’s not the fucking point. But then what should we expect from someone with the reading comprehension of a turnip?
    Seriously, why does support for a cause have to be wrapped up in a blogger advertising stunt?
    What part of “we get paid per click, we’ll donate everything that our blog brings in for a month” is so incomprehensible to you?
    I hate these sorts of blogger antics.
    No one is holding a gun to your head. Indeed, I know several people personally, who would love to see you disappear completely. Feel free. You know, to disappear…


  9. DrugMonkey Says:

    What part of “we get paid per click, we’ll donate everything that our blog brings in for a month” is so incomprehensible to you?
    I thought Dave was being intentionally ironic and recursive as he issued his challenges designed to do nothing less than drive some repeat traffic around these here parts. You weren’t really being an asshat were you Dave? Or am I giving you more credit than you deserve :-)?
    Back on topic: Orac makes some great points about how rape always accompanies war in his post


  10. Stephen Says:

    Dave, you’re an asshat.


  11. Dave Says:

    You weren’t really being an asshat were you Dave?

    Are you calling me an asshat? Please clarify. It’s potentially worth $5 to Doctors without borders.

    Back on topic: Orac makes some great points about how rape always accompanies war in his post

    How is this on topic? I can think of lots of dreadful things that accompany war. But loose the statistics!
    I don’t know how that relates to war per capita, but Egypt leads the world in death by flatulence:


  12. Charlotte Says:

    Dave, you’re an asshat. But kudos for putting your money where your oversized mouth is. I’m not a big fan of charity fundraising stunts – PETA’s garbage being a particularly egregious example – but this is a community initiative where clicks translate directly to cash, which gives those of us who are completely broke a way to contribute. Hopefully it will also result in a few letters to politicians – trust me, so few people take the time to write that a very few letters can push an issue up the agenda.
    If you’d prefer to donate to someone other than MSF, Jessica at Bioephemera has a list of other charitable organisations, working to prevent rape and help victims through a range of political and medical methods. Dave, I’m pretty sure that if you’d prefer to donate to one of these instead then the DM community won’t hold you to the exact terms of your original claim. So long as the money turns up as promised, and goes somewhere relevant.


  13. stickypaws Says:

    Dave, you are a raging asshat. Now you can put your diarrhea of the typing fingers to a good end. Hop to it.


  14. Kathryn Says:

    Dave, you’re an asshat. Although you do have a good point about trying to prevent rape instead of just treating the associated injuries. Feel free to send the $5 to an organization you think is more appropriate.


  15. jc Says:

    Dave, you are an asshat.


  16. Katkinkate Says:

    Dave you’re an asshat! ;() How much is that now? About $75.00?
    The problem is that once a guy has lost/never learned a respect for women, so that rape is acceptable/normal to him, it is hard to retrain him to reform his ways. The only reliable way to maintain a society with some modicum of safety for women, is to train them from childhood in a culture that enforces an expectation of respect and nonviolence, a culture that assumes that it is bad for good boys to rape. Then get the bad boys off the street and into jail as they get caught. To turn around a whole society of males that take rape as being normal relations with a woman is a very tough prospect.
    I know it’s totally impractical and over the top but here’s some things that might work quicker than waiting for generational change (and coping with the fallout of continual violence and rape) would be:
    1. castrate all rapists (may need to make arrangements to import semen for artificial insemination to produce the next generation or harvest semen before the op);
    2. death penalty for rape leading to death;
    3. teach all females self-defense including how to shoot and where to kick for maximum effect and that it’s OK to fight back, even to the point of hurting the rapist;
    4. set up patrolling neighbourhood watch groups to watch and protect women moving around town, especially at night;
    5. encourage women to travel in groups;
    6. segregate males from females into separate parts of town with only limited and supervised interaction for social and breeding purposes.
    But none of that could ever be done because:
    1. castration has very bad press (I don’t know why, we do it to most male domestic animals to keep them calm and happy);
    2. the changes would entail totally turning society upside down and no-one likes that much change, let alone has the power to enforce that much change;
    3. the girls are too scared of the consequences of being ‘uppity’ (eg. increased violence, inability to attract a husband);
    4. the boys are in charge and they don’t want anyone messin’ with their playground.
    So we are reduced to:
    1. provide medical and psychological support for the victims;
    2. provide education and wait for a generation or 2 of peace to change the dominant culture;
    3. mourn.


  17. Dave Says:

    Thanks for crediting me with something useful, folks. But to be honest I think the sappy blogger fundraising is more annoying than the fact that rape is being used as an excuse to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. It’s kind of like raising money for gun control by showing people pictures of puppies in the pound. Or something.
    In any case, my money will be going to Doctors Without Borders. I have already donated to the Central Asia Institute lately, and I really don’t know squat about all those African organizations listed on the other web page I linked to. Money there could end up in some warlord’s ammo fund for all I know. Everyone here I’m sure knows how wise it is to use and other lists/rankings when donating. My personal experience is that charities with aggressive fundraising tactics (including cold calling and mass mailing) tend to be least efficient. Most of the money they raise, not surprisingly, goes right back into their fundraising efforts (and administrative ‘skim’).
    I have yet to hear about any charity with an effective plan for reducing rape. I think rape is a many tentacled cultural thing, and candlelight vigils and ribbons and crap like that are just stupid. Women get raped because they are not recognized as people that the rapist can identify with, and guys who rape are not really going to stop because of some dopey ‘awareness campaign’. Honestly, I think girly whirly stuff only widens the ‘cultural divide’ between men & women. In which case women become even more like foreign objects to certain men. Except I guess awareness campaigns might be effective for borderline guys, like the ones guilty of date rape. But probably banning alcohol would be more effective in that case. Guys get horny when they’re drunk, and impolite. I think girls do too, but guys don’t usually complain about date rape.
    Have I said enough to earn some asshats? C’mon people, crank it up!


  18. Dave Says:

    Of course, I am talking about rape like what happens in places like the U.S. above. The kind of mass brutal rape rampant in war-torn parts of Africa is another matter. Does anyone really expect humane behavior from groups of guys that go around shooting people and chopping them up? Personally, I think I’d rather be raped than be shot in the eye or have my limbs sawn off. Or is that just me?
    I have read some really interesting arguments lately trying to make the point that massive aid to Africa only makes things worse, in that the flow of money & supplies is an ‘unearned resource’ that fosters dependency and corrupt leadership.
    For example:
    Or just veg out & watch (kind of boring, though. Get a drink):


  19. Zeroth Says:

    You are quite correct Dave. It makes a lot of sense. Instead our aid dollars should go towards things that help build independence, like building new schools, training doctors, starting new small businesses. Rather than giving them the money, the money is spent on local resources, hiring local employees, on training them, on equipment(as local as possible), and so on.


  20. DSKS Says:

    MSF are certainly a worthy organisation to support, but for those advocating a very specific issue relating to the rights of women, it seems a slightly bizarre choice.
    To make my own appeal, piling voices and dollars into countering human trafficking would be more desirable and timely, imho, particularly because this is a problem that can be more appropriately tackled through directly actionable domestic policy (it is a domestic problem which is only now, in a somewhat slow and recalcitrant manner, starting to get some attention). You can call your reps as much as you like, but there is precious little the US can do about this sort of thing in developing countries short term, other than waving a paternal finger or occupying them with a few hundred thousand soldiers. Neither of which has been proven to be very effective in protecting women, incidentally. NGOs are the only short term alleviation in such circumstances, but they can only operate where the local governments allow them to and are mostly restricted to helping victims rather than preventing their becoming victims in the first place.
    That’s not to dismiss these atrocities. It’s just important to understand that rape in Liberia is largely a symptom of that country’s economic woes and the scars of its civil war. In contrast, we have young women being imported and sold in this country right now, and this is not a symptom of economic strife and war, or a result of ignorance and lack of education, but a direct expression of disregard for the dignity of certain human beings. Arguably, it is far more despicable because it is happening in supposedly developed countries (usually to the detriment of the developing countries feeding the monstrous process).


  21. Dave Says:

    In contrast, we have young women being imported and sold in this country right now
    Yea, where? I searched Amazon and got nothing. Well, a bunch of books, but the whole idea of ordering a young woman is so I do not have to spend so much time with books. There were only 8 hits in the ‘beauty department’, and they were all for perfume and stuff.
    Oh, wait. I just found this: Looks kind of pricey, though. And a bit of a hassle.


  22. Callinectes Says:

    Dave, I don’t know you but you’re an asshat.
    Frankly, I am a little saddened that we seem more willing to turn a blind eye to the rape of women, as an everyday run-of-the-mill variety of rape, but when it happens to children suddenly we are outraged beyond compare. Rape is rape, people. No matter the victim, no matter the perpetrator(s). Why should we be less offended that a 30 year-old woman is raped than an 80 year-old or an 8 year-old? We should not. I guess we should be *thankful* that there are child victims in this case?


  23. JustaTech Says:

    Dave, not only are you an ass, and an asshat, but your posts are so obnoxious you’ve given me a headache. (As a side note, what is an asshat? Is it a hat made of the skinned asses of dead people? Because that is beyond serial-killer creepy. Or is a hat made from a dead mule? That would make more sense.)
    I read a series of books once where rape was totally unknown in this (fantasy) country, because the first and most vital of their religious laws (they had real, active gods, which makes these things less stupid) was “Love as thou wilt”. (Kushiel series) To rape was to be dammed for eternity, and worse, so those people had a culture in which it just wasn’t something people thought about. (They also had a lot of sex, some of it very rough, so it wasn’t like anyone was going wanting.) But it would take the active involvement of an entire culture, and possibly actual gods before rape is no longer part of the human experience.


  24. Dave Says:

    Justatech: Yea, ‘asshat’ term was a weirdly picturesque term for me too, but if you dig back on this blog about a year you’ll see that it was applied liberally to me by many, with clear connotation. Take a look. And by picking through the archives looking for my dirty history, you’ll divert even more of DM’s pay to Doctors Without Borders.


  25. Academic Says:

    Dave, you’re an asshat for making your critique of noble blogger turn into a celebration of a noble troll.
    As a stretch for $7, I read the campaign today and was incredibly bothered that I could not participate on my blog in terms of giving financially. I invited over 200 of my friends to the Facebook group and sent an email to a friend better connected to these causes than I am. My blog traffic is tiny tiny tiny, and I think that one click can generate something like 0.2 cents per day. I wasn’t frustrated that I couldn’t find an excuse to increase my blog traffic; my graduate student salary left me distressed as a way to do something meaningful in light of such news.
    As for $10, here we go with 250 words…..
    Taking the time to participate in a flame war requires that people actually care. Many of the comments generate some useful ideas about what can be done, but more serve as an invitation to care. We live in a society that is increasingly paradoxical, interconnected yet isolated. If I do not like what I see around me, then I can turn off the box, distance myself from the computer, and conveniently retreat into a world shaped by assorted iDevices. Living in the world and appreciating it for all that it is (good, bad and ugly) requires a willingness to engage.
    In the case of this particular campaign, silence represents the enemy. Comment flamewars provide but one means to move out of the silence as people get their haunches up and entrench themselves in their position. Currently, Janet over at Ethics in Science has decided to squash a comment war by donating twenty dollars to Medical Students for Choice for every “Yes, it is good to kill doctors who provide abortions” comments that appear in that particular thread. While posited as a threat designed to keep a particular type of troll from commenting, it has generated forty dollars at last investigation for a cause Janet supports. A comment flamewar invites people entrenched in a position to come forth. You have attempted to start a flamewar promising up to twenty-two dollars a comment with rules as to how the comments should be constructed. Obviously, quite a number of people have begun to take you up on this offer, evidence that blogging attracts a sizable number of people from an array of backgrounds. Moreover, comments allow people to enter into a cause in a participatory fashion as opposed to a simple celebrity stunt.
    So have I produced a $22 worthy comment?


  26. Dave Says:

    Well, despite Academic’s last-minute (technically over deadline but I’ll cut her some slack as I never specified time zone) effort, you guys suck. I counted a total of $94 worth of comment. Which I guess is still a reasonable sum of penicillin and maybe a few courses of antimalarial drug, but is still generally sucky. The U.S. spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country in the world. Most of us fork over at least that every month just for insurance we might hardly use. Out of desperation, I rounded up to $100 and doubled it. I hope the click campaign goes better.
    Thank you for your donation.
    Donation Information
    Amount: $200.00
    Designation: Doctors without Borders

    If you missed your chance to insult me, you can still donate directly:
    Donate more than $200 and tell me how much *I* suck. I dare you.


  27. DrugMonkey Says:

    Thanks for donating Dave.


  28. jc Says:

    thanks Dave. I donated $5 for your asshattedness too.


  29. nails Says:

    Katkinkate- the precautions you advise only make sense for stranger attacks, which are the minority of rapes in america (about one quarter). The cultural movement thing is the cure for the majority of the problem in western societies. The ‘don’t walk alone’ type tips have been used to say women bring attacks on themselves when they do not follow them. Victim blame is a tactic in cases even when extreme violence is employed by the rapist(s).
    Encouraging a view where women need to enthusiastically consent in order to have it count is what I think is in order. Now the standard is that women are in a state of constant consent that she has to revoke, I cannot think of any other transaction involving bodily contact that works that way between adults.
    I know most of the awareness raising here is for sexual violence in other countries but there are definite connections between attitudes of men in western countries and the trafficking of women and children for rape. The demand drives the selling of human beings for the purpose of rape, and sex tourists are generally wealthy men. Just talking about this stuff is an important step in the right direction so I am all for the silence is the enemy campaign.


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