Saturday, August 15, 2009

Understanding violence

This was a week to take note of progress-or-not in the global understanding of sexual violence as a punishable offense -- a crime of war, not a spoil of war, as then-Judge Navanethem Pillay famously said.
Impetus for this accounting was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's call, during her official visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, for "arrests, prosecutions and punishments" of persons responsible for rapes and other sexual and gender-based violence in that wartorn country.
But this week also brought a reminder to keep paying attention to understandings of sexual violence closer to home.
According to Monica Potts, reporter for the Stamford Advocate in Connecticut, attorneys are trying to shortcircuit a lawsuit brought by a rape victim by means of this argument:

[S]he was careless, negligent and 'failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities.'
The phrasing -- in papers filed on behalf of defendants Stamford Marriott Hotel & Spa and various management companies -- begs recall of the "she asked for it" canard that was supposed to be long-gone. And if its revival were not enough, consider the underlying facts.
As reported by Potts, the plaintiff alleges that in October 2006, when she was 40 years old, a 56-year-old man "stuck a handgun in the back of" her "and forced her and her children, then 3 and 5, into their minivan as they left the hotel ...." The man "sexually assaulted the woman for several minutes, pointing the gun at her and her children and threatening to sexually assault one of her children." He fled but later was arrested. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The suggestion of victim negligence boggles.

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