By Linda Harris
By Linda Harris
Barcelona – I was busy grading mid-term papers in my office at a large American university when a young woman came into my office. She closed the door and sat down, visibly uncomfortable in the chair. I recognized her as one of my students. “I want to ask you if I can finish the semester from my home”, she said. “I don’t want to come to campus anymore but I don’t want to lose all my credits for this class. I want to complete the course.” Never one to turn away students, I asked her why.
As it turned out, she was raped two weeks earlier, in the campus parking lot by two unknown assailants, as she was walking to her car on her way home from an evening class. “I can’t sit in class”, she explained. During the rape, she had suffered deep lacerations to her vaginal and rectal areas, which had not healed well and made it painful for her to sit for longer periods of time. “But the real problem is that everyone knows”, she went on. “Now I am ‘the girl from the parking lot’ and no one talks to me at all”, she said. “I would like to just move home where no one knows me and I can get my reconstructive surgery.” I understood and told her not to come back for class. I would grade her early and dismissed her for the semester.
A year later, I saw her again. I didn’t recognize her, but she came up to me and reminded me of whom she was. Her look had changed entirely. Her long hair was cut short and she had altered the color. She was bigger, very sporty and muscular, and wearing a military uniform. “I am feeling so much better”, she said. “I have changed my life. I am not a young girl anymore. I am a soldier now. I decided not to let everyone take away my whole life. I decided not to let everyone on campus make me feel ashamed. I have returned to get my degree and once I am done, I want to go to graduate school just like you. I am going to change the world for women and make it a better place. You will see”, she said and smiled and waved as she walked on. I had no question that she would reach her goals.
The reason I remember her so vividly is because she was the exception, not the rule. She is not the first rape victim who has come to me for help, and she won’t be the last. In America 1 in 4 women are raped in their life time. But, unlike this student, in most cases, rape victims don’t do well for many years after an assault, and many are not able to return to school or the community they were part of before the rape. They report serious trouble with concentration, self-esteem, PTSD, anxiety, aggression, substance abuse, and even promiscuity. When someone is raped, she often ends up dropping out from her program, job or assignments, and in a great number of cases, she drops, not because she cannot ‘get over’ the rape, but because her community can’t. The victims suffer name calling, shaming and are generally ostracized by their peers. The constant reminders and the loss of social status and acceptance make it impossible to recover from the assault.
In America, despite progressive reforms and years of work on behalf of victims, rape, as in Morocco, remains a notoriously under-reported crime. If reported, it is rare to see any conviction. The national average rape conviction rate is only around 6%. Victims are often under intense pressure to drop charges; they endure intense shaming, and are often ridiculed and viciously questioned by police. “Rape in this country is surprisingly easy to get away with. The arrest rate last year was just 25 percent – a fraction of the rate for murder – 79 percent, and aggravated assault – 51 percent. ‘When we have talked to victims, they very much so doubt that it was worth it for them to go to the police,’ said Sarah Tofte, US Program Researcher for Human Rights Watch. ‘They’re incredibly disillusioned with the criminal justice system, and that sends a terrible message.’”
Victims know that a public trial will include significant humiliations. If a woman was drunk, had previously had intercourse, was dressed in sexy clothing, or in any other way was considered ‘cheap’ or ‘easy’ then most choose not to go through a trial or even report the attack.
Many in Morocco, in the aftermath of the recent suicide of a young alleged rape victim, has spoken out and signed petitions calling for a reform of an archaic legal system that, in effect, fails to adequately protect rape victims and instead cover up for perpetrators. But legal reform is not the best way to end the Moroccan culture of rape. Neither are harsher penalties. If anything, we can derive from the American example that a stronger penal code and more victim savvy courts still fail to scare rapist, nor does it alter the tendency to victim-blame and thus protect the victim.
The plight of a Moroccan woman after rape is a well-known phenomenon. Commonly, after being raped, a Moroccan woman is ostracized by her family, her community, and her society. Often she becomes homeless and is left to beg on the streets or enter into prostitution to survive. This is a best case scenario. Many women become pregnant after rape and, with no access to abortion, is forced to carry their rape baby to term. This, in a country where single motherhood is the ultimate taboo.
Every year, hundreds of babies are abandoned in Moroccan hospitals by mothers who were impregnated as a result of rape. Other women keep their baby, only to suffer discrimination and ridicule from everyone in their community, and live a life of poverty for the rest of their days. Although Morocco has seen a lot of progress in terms of women’s rights in the latter years, the social and moral code has developed slowly and reformed very little. To a great extent, Morocco is still a country where virginity, in the eyes of public opinion, is held as sacred and valuable, and any loss of the same, for any reason, is a render to immorality.
What is archaic in Morocco is the law. The statues of the law has not caught up with modernity in such a way that it properly protects women, and in such a way that it appropriately makes clear to the court, the participants, law enforcement, and the public who is the criminal and who is the victim. According to Moroccan law, in effect, the raped woman is judged to be somehow implicit to her own condition. The law is set up to blame the most vulnerable, the one who was attacked. In Morocco, as in America, the victim is the one who goes to trial. Her ethics and morals are questioned on the stand, her whereabouts are clarified, her clothing and demeanor is investigated as sexual turn-ons, and actions and display of unwillingness during the rape are analyzed. We look to the victim for answers to a crime committed by another person and we do this, to a great extent, because we often don’t understand how and why rape happens and how it ought to be defined.
It is a mistake to think that men rape because they crave sexual gratification. Rapists are motivated by intimidation and domination. They want to humiliate their victim. Assaults are not about sex but about power and violence. Men who rape do it because they are sexually turned on by power and control. They seek out victims who are vulnerable and put them in a situation where they control the victim. They remove any perceived personal power from their victims, and they control them by violating their most private parts. Rapist don’t target sexual women, promiscuous women or women who wear hyper-sexualized clothing. For the rapist, here is no difference between the rape of a sexual woman and the rape of a chaste woman. Rapists simply target women who are vulnerable.
But after the rape becomes public, the victim faces the ugly task of navigating both the actualities of court (if she dares to seek justice), and the court of public opinion; the latter being the harsher one. And suddenly, it matters if she is sexual or chaste. If she is a more sexual person, we are less likely to blame the man who raped her. We, society, are all implicit in victim blaming. Time and time again, victims are ridiculed and ostracized, which keep them from prosecuting their assault. Thus, more than reforming the courts, it is within ourselves that change is truly needed.
By shaming the victims and protecting the rapists, we implicate ourselves in the suffering of others. By humiliating the women who are victimized, by not helping them with their pregnancies, medical and emotional needs, and by taking away their chances at full and flourishing future, we actively participate in the rapists’ deed. We take away her power, her equality, her standing in society, her family and her community. Our shaming dominates her life and keeps her submissive to us. In a sense, women in shaming cultures are raped twice. Once by their attacker, and again, for life, by us, society as a whole.
Knowing that rapes go under-reported, that rapists more often than not get away with the crime, that courts tend to blame the victim rather than the rapist, that conviction rates are low, and that victims won’t come forward for fear of ridicule, what then can be done to end a rape culture? The answer is simple – begin at home.
In patriarchies such as America and Morocco, there is often the notion that men are sexual beings who rape simply because they cannot control themselves. They are easily tempted by mini-skirts and red lipstick, we say. They become sexually aroused, unable to restrain themselves, and next thing you know, rape happens. They are innocent, in a sense – the temptation of a woman was too strong for his natural drives to fight against it.
But this idea is wrong. Temptation is not the cause of rape. Further, I object to this demeaning and condescending understanding of males and the male psyche as sexual predators. Men are more than simple instinct. They are not beasts who at the whiff of a woman or the sight of a leg loose all sense of morals and mind. Mentally healthy men, as in all matters of life, are well able to judge the difference between right and wrong. And adult life involves daily decisions about how one navigates between the rights and the wrongs.
Most people, in both Morocco and the USA have relatively easy access to alcohol, drugs, and prostitutes. If one chooses not to use these vices, one makes a conscious moral choice for oneself. In that same way, men have easy access to rape women, and not to rape a woman is a decision about what kind of man one desires to be.
Not being a rapist has to do with individual responsibility. A person makes a commitment to himself that he will not commit sexual assault or rape. Such a person acknowledges that he is a person who has free choice, and in this regard, he chooses not to be a man who rapes.
It is frightfully easy to forget such individual considerations when men live and are socialized within a patriarchal society. In particular, a country like Morocco where a great lack of equality and simple women’s rights have left the country slanting heavily towards first and foremost embracing traditional male values. The ‘ideal’ in Morocco, as it is in America, is still that men are invulnerable and dominant. Rather than idealizing partnership and equality, men are raised to exert power over their family and home, including the inferior women who live in it. Men are raised to be more aggressive and pridefilled and less likely to conform to the needs of those around them. These patriarchal values are also the early foundation of what drives a rapist to rape. If men are raised to crave power and dominance, they are far more likely to seek it. In that sense, living in a strong patriarchal society also implies living in a culture of rape.
To that end, if we desire to end rape forever; the task before us is a matter of several steps, outside of legal reform. We need to educate general society to understand that rape is a crime of power and control, not sexual gratification. We need everyone to understand that rape is not caused by the victim, it is caused by the perpetrator and him alone. We need to raise our sons to embrace values of equal rights and learn to enjoy healthy non-dominant male to female partnerships. And we need to educate all men to understand the ethics of individual responsibility.
Rape reform begins at home, with ourselves, and develops through education. To end rape may, therefore, be little more than simple words; the words of promise. We can start by teaching ourselves and our sons to say these words: I, a person of full moral integrity and awareness of my individual responsibilities, hereby solemnly swear that I will not sexually assault or rape anyone in my lifetime. It is a simple beginning, but it is the most fundamental one – the commitment to personally be, for the benefit of all, a better person.
Linda Harris was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. After completing high-school, Ms Harris emigrated to the United States where she has lived since and continues to have a home. She has a BA in Psychology with minors in Religion and Philosophy, Magna cum Laude, from the University of North Florida. She also holds a MA in Practical Philosophy and Applied Ethics from the University of North Florida. Ms. Harris has worked as an Instructor and has taught Philosophy to students at Daytona State College, Florida for 3 years, as well as International Relations Theory at the University of Florida. She is currently working on her PhD in Philosophy, which involves data collection and research in Morocco. Her research includes ethics of gender, religion, and cultural identity in Morocco and in Moroccan immigrant communities. She currently resides in Spain. She is Morocco World News correspondent in Spain.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.
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