Can shame stop rape in Congo?

Goma, Congo, Aug. 11, 2009 | ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images   Yesterday I highlighted a phrase used by Secretary Clinton on Monday: “mark of shame.” She used that phrase when discussing the use of rape as a weapon of war in eastern Congo, saying of sexual violence: It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in ...

582309_090812_CongoShadow2.jpg
582309_090812_CongoShadow2.jpg

 

Yesterday I highlighted a phrase used by Secretary Clinton on Monday: "mark of shame." She used that phrase when discussing the use of rape as a weapon of war in eastern Congo, saying of sexual violence:

It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in any country. I hope that that will become a real cause here in Kinshasa that will sweep across the country."

Goma, Congo, Aug. 11, 2009 | ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Goma, Congo, Aug. 11, 2009 | ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
 

Yesterday I highlighted a phrase used by Secretary Clinton on Monday: “mark of shame.” She used that phrase when discussing the use of rape as a weapon of war in eastern Congo, saying of sexual violence:

It should be a mark of shame anywhere, in any country. I hope that that will become a real cause here in Kinshasa that will sweep across the country.”

The phrase caught my attention because shame is often the emotion that rape victims feel, even though it’s the perpetrators who ought to be ashamed. John Boonstra over at U.N. Dispatch noticed the reversal of meaning, too. He did write, however, that it would be difficult to use shame as an emotion to “galvanize” a movement to reform the country’s policies and change cultural attitudes that stigmatize rape victims.

To feel shame, you have to feel like you’ve lost the respect of someone who’s opinion you value. In the case of sexual violence in Congo, Congolese would have to feel ashamed in front of the international community or their own local communities. International condemnation doesn’t seen to have shamed the Congolese government into eradicating the problem. And how do you change local communities so it’s the perpetrators who are stigmatized, not the victims and their families?

My hunch is that — just as in Western countries — it’s going to take the collective action of women speaking out, a free press that names (and thereby shames) rapists, and other grass-roots efforts to shift shame from victims to perpetrators. And to get all this, you need, among other things, women’s education, women’s rights, and women who reach high-profile positions in politics, business, academia, religion, and other spheres of society.

Photo: ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

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