By Lindsay Woods, George Washington University STAND
Gender based violence, human trafficking, rape as a weapon of war… All of these terms are internationally recognized euphemisms that belie the horrible situations they represent.
Gender based violence is a term commonly associated with the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A mineral rich region, with a wealth of natural resources that are used in our technology, the DRC has been mired in conflict amongst various factions since 1996 when an influx of rebel forces from neighboring countries began waging what some call Africa’s World War, especially coming from Rwanda in the eastern region following the 1994 genocide. In the midst of the fighting, rebel forces and army groups have been known to violate human rights of local communities, and shocking numbers of civilian women have been raped by militants or taken as sex slaves for militia groups. Rape is used as a means of inducing fear and control, and women who are raped are often stigmatized and blamed for their attack.
A little closer to home, another group of stigmatized individuals feels the effects of what is so pristinely termed “gender based violence.” Domestic sex trafficking, one component of human trafficking, involves the manipulation of individuals into forced prostitution. In order to be considered trafficking there must be evidence of force, fraud or coercion or the victim must be under that age of 18. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the United States legislation which focuses on human trafficking allows access to services for foreign victims, but does not help domestic victims who are seen as already having access to the system. Survivors of domestic sex trafficking are often charged for prostitution and few lawyers want to take their cases in court, as survivors are often scared to provide evidence against their traffickers due to trauma and threats of harm to family members or others. There is a lack of statistical information regarding the number of domestic victims of trafficking, and there are extremely low prosecution rates. Debates about prostitution and cultural conceptions which blame the victim, rather than buyers and pimps, continue to detract from greater responses and awareness of the manipulation and trauma involved in these cases.
Whether continents away in the DRC, or here on American soil, these individuals are often subjected to repeated sexual abuse. It may be multiple armed militia members, or it may be repeated rape used to break a girl who is then forced to have sex with men every day to meet an ever-increasing quota. Are we willing to live in a world that allows these abuses to continue?
This Valentine’s Day, as we are bombarded with imagery of happy couples buying jewelry, flowers, and chocolate we should all take a moment to reflect on these survivors of gender based violence. Various activist organizations, paired with the One Billion Rising campaign are all working to raise awareness of the issue of gender based violence across the globe. The campaign states that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime, to combat this statistic they would like to have one billion women rise up this Valentine’s Day and work to raise awareness about the issue through an unexpected medium- dance. They would like to see us all go out and transform public spaces into a dance party or host events to raise awareness.
Whether we all go out to dance in solidarity or not, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the issue of gender based violence in order to combat the stigma, apathy and everyday forgetting which prevent system-wide change to take place. Rather than letting ourselves be caught up in euphemisms and distancing ourselves from the issue, let us take a moment to realize that we are all connected and we can all play a part in promoting change.