I’ve been reading “‘My Heart is Cut’: Sexual Violence by Rebels and Pro-Government Forces in Côte d’Ivoire,” a report released by Human Rights Watch in August of 2007. It chronicles a truly abject failure to protect women from sexual violence, prosecute perpetrators, or provide support services to victims. HRW reports on conflict zones are usually chock full of atrocity, and after a certain point you kind of get used to all the hacking off of limbs, slaughtering of babies, and forced rape of family members. For me, though, there’s always something in each report that finally makes me say to myself: “Really, what would be so bad about a nuclear holocaust and the destruction of the entire human race?” In this one, it was the fact that the Ivoirian police and court system will not pursue rape claims without a doctor’s certification that rape occurred. Here’s the thing, though: A doctor’s certificate costs approximately $60. Cote d’Ivoire is a country where: (a) the average annual income is well under $1000; (b) rape victims are stigmatized; and (c) most women are financially dependent on male relatives. You do the math.
One more comment on this one. I’d like to nominate for Goofiest Footnote of 2007 the following: “There is an ongoing debate over the use of the terms “victim” and “survivor.” Some suggest that the term “victim” should be avoided because it implies passivity, weakness and inherent vulnerability and fails to recognize the reality of women’s resilience and agency. For others the term “survivor” is problematic because it denies the sense of victimization experienced by women who have been the target of violent crime. This report uses both terms.” Am I to understand that HRW can’t choose between denying women’s victimization and failing to recognize their resilience and agency? No? Not what they’re going for with that?