A matter of rape…
Rape, what a horrible thing to happen to anyone and how awful it is that it happens as often as it does. Whenever we hear about rape, the reactions are inevitably mixed and depend on where it happens, to whom and whose “side” we are on at the time, as if rape is made better or worse because of which “side” to victim or the perpetrator may be on.
Generally, when we think of “Rape”, we think of a man, sexually attacking a woman and usually, this is how it happens. But rape takes many forms, some such that it is easy to hide behind excuses, but when one looks at the facts, it become clear that it was indeed, rape. The difficult part is not that rape happened, the difficult part is often that society refuses to acknowledge rape happened.
Rape can happen when a child is made to have sex with an adult, it is called statutory rape in the US. Rape can also happen when the man is in a powerful position and the woman is or, feels that she is, in a helpless position and dependent on the man. until recently, Washington state allowed “consensual sex” between prison guards and female prisoners, completely ignoring the fact that if a prisoner refused to have sex with the guard, her life in prison, would become more of a Hell than she could ever imagine; it was rape, but excused and allowed, as “consensual sex” by the guards and by the authorities who were predisposed to support their uniformed brother.
The names in the following story are fictional, but the details are tragically, not. Sadly, the following story is all-too true for people from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Khanum came to the US from Pakistan after she married a Pakistani American, they settled in Seattle and had a baby. The husband (Khan), abandoned her after a while and before Kahanum had acquired her US citizenship papers. Khanum was now destitute and helpless AND in danger of being thrown out of the US with her child, back to Pakistan where an abandoned or divorced woman has very few prospects of making a gainful living; quite often she is also ostracized by relatives because the relatives and immediate family feel they have lost stature in the community. Even in this country, with the constant threat of being kicked out, she could not find a job that would support her and her child.
After some pressure from local Muslims, Khan decided to divorce Khanum who was now completely impoverished.
Gidh, a member of their community, took pity on her and the child and offered a room in his apartment to her, which she gratefully accepted and moved in with Gidh and his child. This accommodation went on for a wile, Khanum would make the meals and try to find a job of any kind while at the same time, fending off the long arm of La Migra…Immigration.
Then one night Gidh forced himself on Khanum, she protested, she tried to get him off, but he was strong. Besides, she was desperate, she was afraid and she knew there was nobody around, who could help her if Gidh decided to kick her out; where would she go with her daughter?
The next day Khanum had nowhere to go, she would bring great shame to herself and her daughter. She was afraid to go to the Police because she might get deported and in any case, she would lose the only place she could find any shelter. Besides, who would believe her? she thought.
Encouraged by her silence Gidh started to force himself on her regularly, each time, Khanum would protest, but Gidh would not back off In her desperation, Khanum put up with it. Not much later, she found a job and a place where she could move to and she did so. Khanum had made a friend in her local Muslim community and eventually, she confided in her friend Shan. Shan was outraged, she could not imagine that a man who was broadly respected in his community, would do such a thing. Khanum did not wish to go to the Police, so Shan took the matter to their local imam for adjiudication. In spite of the fact that Gidh was a major supporter and a personal friend of the imam, it was resolved that Gidh had in fact, taken advantage of Khanum’s helplessness and had in fact, raped her several times. Gidh insisted that it was only consensual sex, but when asked to swear his innocence on the Quran, to his credit, Gidh refused to do so. It was decided that Gidh would be required to move to a distant, city and Gidh agreed.
After a while, Gidh took advantage of his friendship with the imam and started to return to Seattle for short visits which are now becoming longer. Khanum is infuriated, but there appears little that she can do. In the meantime, Gidh had successfully ingratiated himself among the local Muslim folks, telling them that Khanum is maligning him and that she was a loose woman, now seeking some sort of vengeance on him in spite of the kindness he showed her in her time of need.
Khanum is happily married to a man who cares for her and knows of her ordeal with Gidh and he too, is incensed that Gidh is coming back to town after being banished. The local imam is too culturally-bound to take a stand for justice against a friend and the matter is being papered-over.
This story may appear to be about one woman, but reality is that such stories are common among people from South Asia where “saving face” is a matter of great concern. The people of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and neighboring countries are so tied to their concept of “honor” that sometimes, they willingly kill women who have affairs or, who do not marry as directed by the parents or, women who marry outside of the tribal or social connections. Women who are divorced, as scorned by South Asian society and are preyed-upon by men who think they now have a “right” to her body.
Under such social pressures, it is small wonder that women keep silent if and when they are groped or sexually assaulted…which only encourages predatory men.
It is a shame that our South Asian and Middle-Eastern societies have tied their sense of “honor” to the bodies of their womenfolk, where the perpetrators can go scot-free while the women are punished for allowing themselves to be raped. Even in the US, local communities, especially Muslim communities, take their sexual assault cases to their graves and the few who dare to take it to their local community or religious leaders, get nowhere because these “leaders” are more concerned about how “the community” will look, than they are, with justice.
Coupled with this is the attitude of entitlement that boys feel as they grow up; families are so concerned about having a BOY, that even when the boy is the youngest, he lords it over his sisters who catch Hell if they stand up against the boy and are directed to serve him. children grow up seeing their fathers treat their mothers with disrespect and sometimes, with violence, which, the mother bears in silence so of course, the women learn to not have self=respect and the men learn to not respect the women.
Even when the children go to Sunday school, to learn about religion, they are taught that the man is in a superior position and the woman must stay in her place as a woman, and not seek to be treated as an equal.
When these children enter society as adults, they are primed to take advantage of women, to treat them as inferior beings and, for some men, to rape the woman they feel, is in a difficult situation.
Before readers decide to object to what I say, I invite them to go to any mosque and see how the men and women are placed for prayers. Usually, the women’s section is the darkest, dankest, remotest place in the mosque, while the men enjoy the open section of the mosque where the imam gives his sermons. If the women are lucky, they are permitted to have a close-circuit tv or a loud speaker in their section.
While I know these attitudes are endemic to South Asian Muslims, Hindus and Christians, I can most forcefully, speak about Muslims, being one myself.
We need to change our attitudes because there is nothing in the Quran that teaches us to treat women like this. The Quran teaches us to treat everyone with respect and has severe punishments for rapists and people who are violent. Unfortunately, over the centuries, culture has given rise to “scholars” who have found interpretations in their texts, that allow men to mistreat women and that inform women that such mistreatment is the will of God.
This has to stop.
Men need to send out messages across their communities that rapes and violence will not be treated “in-house”, only to be papered-over, but WILL be turned over to the Police immediately. Otherwise, the next time a woman is forced to remain silent after being molested, the next time your daughter is raped or molested, the next time your widow wife is seen as “available” to men, it will be because YOU did nothing about the problem NOW.
Imams need to pay attention to the concerns of the men AND the women and they need to start sending the message that woman have all the rights men do, in society, as well as in the local community…THAT is the Islamic thing to do!