Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ignoring it won't change the face of the victims

Melissa highlights the disparity of concern shown for the plight of women around the world enduring, often, systematic violence.

At issue is the horrific case of the rape and confinement of Jamie Leigh Jones, an employee of Halliburton/KBR based in Baghdad. And it is a horrific story. The attention it has received is no less than any story like this one should garner.

And that's the problem.

Back in November Melissa posted on another rape case. The victim was not American; not white; not blonde; and not working for an American company in Iraq. The problem identified in that post was not so much the rape, as outrageously cruel as it was, but the disparate reporting of the story.

The victim in that second story was a 15-year old Brazilian girl who, without being charged, was locked in a police jail at Abaetetuba, in the northeast state of Para, Brazil - with 34 male inmates.

Today, the New York Times reported the details. As terrible as Jamie Leigh Jones ordeal was, and there is no diminishing the revulsion people should feel for what she endured, the case in Brazil is worse in terms of the degree of continuous torture. It just didn't get the mass media treatment it should have gotten because the victim didn't fall into an appropriate enough bracket to trigger a global media swarm.
It was at Abaetetuba, in the northeastern state of Para on the fringes of the Amazon, that a 15-year-old girl arrested on suspicion of petty theft was illegally placed among 34 male inmates in late October. For 26 days they treated her as their plaything, raping and torturing her repeatedly. Sometimes she traded sex for food; other times, she was simply raped, federal investigators here said.

The police in the jail did more than turn their backs on the violence. They shaved her head with a knife to make her look more like a boy, investigators said, and now are blaming her for lying about her age.

What could her age possibly have to do with it? A solitary female was locked up with male prisoners. If she was 25 would it have made some form of difference?

I'll give you a "squeamish" alert right now. The next part of the NYT article is graphic.

Local officials were already familiar with the girl before she was arrested and placed in the Abaetetuba jail on Oct. 21. Growing up in a broken home, she had left school before and frequented an area known for child prostitution, Ms. Soares said. At the time of her arrest, she was shuttling among her parents’ homes and an uncle’s house, and no one seemed to keep careful tabs on her. During the 26 days, no relative came to the jail looking for her.

Within her first two days in jail, a man raped her in the bathroom, the girl told investigators. Inmates rely on visiting relatives to bring food. With no such visits, extreme hunger soon overtook the girl and she began trading sex for food, investigators said. Other men, however, simply raped her when they wanted to, and tortured her for amusement, investigators said. Some placed crumpled papers between her toes as she slept and lighted them, Ms. Soares said, adding that the girl still had burn marks on her feet.

Residents heard the girl’s screams from the road, which is near the jail windows. Yet for weeks no one came to her rescue. It was only after an anonymous note reached the local child protection services agency that she was removed from the jail.
Just one story. A story that should turn the stomach of any human being with a conscience. Yet events like this happen around the world.

And while the story of Jamie Leigh Jones deserves every ounce of attention it is receiving, so too does the case of a fifteen-year old Brazilian girl tortured in a Brazilian jail. So too does the use of gang-rape as a weapon in places like the Congo in 2003 and Darfur today.

On one peacekeeping reconnaissance I was stunned by the words of a worker with an NGO. She told me that the women, the only ones who were struggling to replant crops and rebuild a region shattered by warfare (because the men were gone), had all been violently raped, each by large groups of militiamen. And so had the daughters of the women. Most had passed out before the militiamen finished with them. The women who were working to rebuild were the survivors. There was no reporter there to hear their story.

I know why such stories get such unequal coverage. So do you.

Related: bastard.logic weighs in.

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