Sunday, March 18, 2007

Rape in time of war and other woes

Sunday's New York Times has an article called the Woman's War; it's a disturbing account of the traumas the 165000 women in our armed forces are facing as a result of their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many say they are raped or harassed by the men who command them. About 300o such incidents were reported last year; many women say they don't bother to report such crimes because it only leads to more abuse, and because the army doesn't take action against the offenders. Women who complain are often given the most dangerous assignments and are further demeaned. 16 percent of our women soldiers are suffering from PTSD, compared to 8 percent of men.

The article made me think about the lives of women in prison, which I investigated when I was working on a novel called Hard Time. Powerless women, often the victims of assault by the guards, can't report the assault because it makes them more vulnerable to further assault.

Women who join the military are more likely to have been sexually abused as children than the average for the population (although, since 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused in this country it's kind of hard to find a low number of sexually abused women in any cohort.) The same is true of women in prison.

Women who've been sexually abused as children are more likely to be prostitutes as well. They are used to having no sense of boundaries, and no rights to their own bodies. Women on the streets in turn suffer a lot of violence and often turn to drugs as a coping mechanism, which leads them more vulnerable to arrest and to disease.

When I read all these things, I have to wonder why crime fiction and film so often depict women as hookers, and treat them either as throwaway objects--such as Tatjana Petitz's character in Rising Sun--or the contented animal who has an easy camaraderie with men through her body. The Spanish government recently banned a D & G ad that showed a women being assaulted by one man while another man looked on contemptuously. Is this an example of the kind of PC thinking that we on this blog so often rail against? Or is it an unusual demand that women be treated with respect?

Sara Paretsky

15 comments:

Sandra Ruttan said...

Those are tough questions. If banning such an ad is PC, this is one of those times I'll support being politically correct. However, the issues here are huge and complex. Things have changed dramatically for women. In some ways I forget this, because of my age.

The truth is, there is a considerable population that still looks upon prostitutes as throwaways. An excellent example is the ongoing trial of Robert Pickton in New Westminster. Here's a man believed to have murdered 49 women, and the reason he killed so many before being caught? They weren't "important" members of society. The minute you kill a white woman in one of Burnaby's affluent areas heaven and earth will be moved to find the perp, but you grab a hooker from East Hastings and nobody cares.

In northern BC they actually have what's known as the Highway of Tears, a strip of highway from which numerous women have disappeared, without a trace. The problem is, most are native, and it seems to be pretty hard to motivate people to care.

Perhaps the problem is, it's all too realistic to see sex trade workers treated as throwaways in the real world and that carries over to crime fiction.

I think there's still something to the notion of women being more critical of other women (and men of men). We see this in mother-daughter and father-son relationships. And this is where I'll stop, because I'm not delving into the personal on this, but it's impossible for me to separate that from my thoughts on the whole topic. We women are tough on each other, though, and I think we contribute more to the issues than we'd like to admit.

And it's absolutely tragic what's happening to these soldiers. Boy, I have issues with affirmative action, but it's time to start promoting a healthy number of female officers to protect women in the military.

Maryann Mercer said...

There's PC and just plain C. I've always thought PC was coined to define a way to express an opinion without actually offending anyone. Correct just means right, or make right. Given that, I don't think it's an unusual demand (or even a demand at all) to desire equality for any human being. Women have had to do 'men's work' for centuries while their counterparts trotted off to war or trade or simply indulge in a bit of extramarital endeavors. I don't believe this was ever as obvious to society as during WWII, when women were drafted into the work force in droves. Rosie the Riveter may be looked on as a symbol today, but she was definitely real.
To say women have(or even needed) to earn the right to equality seems asinine but somehow the concept needs proving over and over again.
That said, the stigma of heritage, profession, and even age precludes even common sense when it comes to justice for those in 'less desirable' circumstances. Human beings are just that. Human. And no human should be considered less of a member of the family than any other human.
Just my two cents worth on this Tuesday morning :o)

Barbara D'Amato said...

Absolutely. Women in the military need their rights stated, reatated if people don't get it, and upheld in courts. And earlier, in the military academies, where they often suffer career-wise, or leave, because they are blamed for the actions of males.

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