I studied the comfort women of World War II as part of my graduate studies at the University of South Carolina. Two years of reading books and journal articles and watching films — all about the rape of women in war — burned indelible images into my brain that I found hard to shake for years. I ended up not finishing my thesis, burned out from man’s brutality and the horrific stories that poured out of archives and documentaries.
Still, you never get inured from any of it. It stays with you, and you often feel helpless and angry at the same time, a volatile combination that often results in, well, nothing. Which only feeds the cycle and allows it to continue.
There’s a moving and ultimately shocking (to say the least) documentary making the rounds of both film festivals and Capitol Hill of late called The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo. Filmmaker Lisa F. Jackson interviewed not just the women themselves who were swept up in the brutal war that’s been raging in the Congo for at least a decade, but also some of their rapists. It’s debuting on television tonight on HBO, but even if you don’t have premium cable you can get a glimpse of its story through this Washington Post article. You will have to register — if you don’t already have an account with them — but it’s easy to do so. (I faked all the info, but you can try BugMeNot, an awesome site that allows you to pick from a number of “fake” usernames and passwords to the most popular online databases.)
There’s also a great article in this English-language Czech paper about the film’s screening in that country. I’m not sure I agree entirely with the title; I’m uncomfortable conflating a woman’s sexual integrity with that of a nation as it sets up the idea of ownership. Why can’t one just say that raping a woman is a crime of violence that needs to be persecuted rather than bringing in all kinds of issues about patriotism and nationalism? Still, the journalist was obviously moved by the film, and rightfully so.
One of the things that frustrates many regarding this issue is the overwhelming nature of it all. Millions of women are raped around the world. How can one even begin to address it? Where does one go for answers, resources that one can use to end this epidemic of violence? Jackson doesn’t give much answers herself — in the Post article, she says that she’s done her part by making a film. Now it’s our turn to decide for ourselves how we can help with the cause. I’m not entirely satisfied with her answer, but she does provide some great links on her Web site to organizations that are tackling the problem head-on. One that I’ve heard tons of good things about is Women for Women International. Most of their work is in Africa, where so much suffering has been shouldered by the continent’s women. Check out the site to learn more about how you can help.