Irony of Safety: The Rise of Rape Culture Among Female Refugees
There is no easy way to portray the violence millions of female refugees face. To write about this issue in simpler terms is to disregard the reality that women face on the road to freedom and opportunity. I urge readers to understand that this piece solely focuses on violence inflicted on females due to not only the world’s neglect of gender-based violence, but also due to the failure of international law to provide explicit guidelines for punishable gender-based violence. Yes, male refugees face great dangers as well. Refugees fleeing from any conflict face risks. Their experiences should not be categorized by their race or gender. They are all human beings facing dangers as a result of displacement and unforeseeable circumstances. But female refugees have stories of their own that have not been sufficiently shared. Let us lend our ears and hear their voices.
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Women’s bodies, throughout history, have been conditioned to be commodified. This historically-implemented societal phenomenon has manifested itself through prostitution, sex trafficking, rape, and more. Men face their share of sexual exploitation, but women are far more victimized to practices that objectify their gender.
A war is waged on gender worldwide, and women face the bulk of it. According to the United Nations, violence against women still continues even after the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women was introduced in 1993. The same site states that one in every three women will face “physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner.” There is also cyber-harassments performed on one in every ten women, as the UN continues to point out, which include sexually explicit messages.
A term pops up in the midst of this realization: femicides. Sources describe it as motivated violence inflicted on women. There is no real rationality or reason behind this act of violence other than the insidious knowledge that legal and societal systems were constructed to make females “easier” targets and that the justice system will not be as diligent on solving cases regarding female deaths.
For female refugees, signs of gender-motivated violence are fear factors, which make their journey even more daunting. Not only do they have to consider their own safeties but also that of their children, who often times travel with them. The constant instability and danger of being uprooted adds to the never-ending anxiety of being targets of human rights violations. Such instances of danger leading to rape and sexual harassment from refugees have been shared in western media countless times.
According to the Daily Mail, sexual assault and rape occur frequently, but often go unreported. In the case of the German refugee camp featured in the Daily Mail article, women and children are often left unprotected from assault. Although the number of rape cases is yet to be confirmed, Giessen City Counselor Astrid Eibelshaeuser does acknowledge the presence of rape in these camps.
Women’s rights organizations, such as Women for Refugee Women, have made efforts to raise awareness of rape and sexual assault of refugee women. Letters have been written, such as the one featured in the Daily Mail article, stating the rise of a “culture of rape and violence” in refugee camps. The article has a short excerpt of the letter that reads: “[The refugee] situation is opportune to those men who already regard women as their inferior and treat unaccompanied women as “fair game”. As a consequence, there are reports of numerous rapes, sexual assaults and increasingly forced prostitution. These are not isolated incidents.”
In Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp is going through a similar situation of growing presence of rape and sexual assault of women. One solution for families is to marry off their daughters, some of whom are be as young as thirteen-years old. Because there is no concrete international law that protects refugees from traumatic encounters including sexual violence, there is little they can do to seek justice. The only solution nearest to these refugees’ is at their own hands.
The lives of women and, especially young girls who are fleeing warzones for a better life, have shortened lives not only due to geopolitical circumstances, but also through assaults that occur to their own bodies and their own livelihoods. Marriage is a mature subject, as Ruwaida, a bride-dresser in the Zaatari refugee camp, states. These young girls who have no choice but to use marriage as protection are not able to live freely as other girls are; they are forced to grow up faster and adjust to the injustices that are directly affecting how they view the world.
Due to the recent terror attack on Paris initiating further controversy regarding the Syrian refugee crisis, the overall refugee conflict, especially that in the Mediterranean, will be prolonged with debates on whether or not nations should accept more refugees. The House of Representatives already passed a bill that will potentially screen refugees on more rigorous terms. President Obama has stated he will veto the bill.
The underlying problem of this latest conflict on the refugee crisis is that women will continue to live in fear of their bodies being used without their consent. To disregard the growing presence of rape and sexual assault of these women is to disrespect their value as human beings, and is an ethical failure on our part. To say that eliminating rape overseas is not our responsibility is never the right answer. One of the least confronted issues of human rights violations is rape. The international community and international law must face this problem together and come up with a concrete solution that will protect women all over the world. It is never the time to nod and agree; it is always the time to confront and act.
Consolation is not the solution, but justice is.
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Female refugees’ stories will continue as long as displacement exists. We cannot fully promise safety and protection on behalf of those who are living through real fear every single day. But we can promise to be their voices when they lose theirs.
Let us tell the world something: She was not raped. She was not sexually assaulted. She was not forced into prostitution.