Silence is the Enemy

Marine biologist Sheril Kirshenbaum is, along with Chris Mooney, a co-blogger at The Intersection, a blog on science and public policy whose RSS feed should be in your reader, and if it isn’t, you should go, right now, and rectify the situation.

Done? Good. Now let’s talk about the epidemic of rape facing young women around the world.

Sorry to shift gears without depressing the clutch, but I do so for a reason: to draw attention to an effort launched by Kirshenbaum to attack a problem that is horrifying in its scope:

Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why?  Because they are our sisters and children–the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help.  We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we’re able to speak for them.  I’m asking all of you–bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens–to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rapeand abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.

In regions where fighting has formally ended, rape continues to be used as a weapon. As Nicholas Kristofrecently wrote from West Africa, ‘it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement.’ The war has shattered norms, training some men to think that ‘when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.’ An International Rescue Committee survey suggests 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way over the previous 18 months.  Further, of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12. That’s 61% age 12 or under.  We read about their plight and see the figures, but it’s so easy to feel helpless to act in isolation. But these are not statistics, they are girls.  Together we can do more.  Mass rape persists because of inertia so let’s create momentum.


Silence Is The Enemy was born–so named because we will not be. All through June, I’ll continue posting information, details, benchmarks, and let everyone know about progress made, new initiatives, and stories from the region. I encourage others to do so as possible.  The IntersectionOn Becoming A Laboratory And Domestic GoddessAetiologyBioephemeraNeurotopiaThe Questionable AuthorityDrugMonkey, andAdventure In Ethics And Science will be donating all revenue this month to Doctors Without Borders. The goal is two-fold:  Raising funds and–arguably more importantly–awareness. Since blogging revenue increases with traffic, we hope to get people to keep coming back for more information about what’s going on and thinking about how to make a difference. Do not feel obligated to donate, but it’s one idea. There are many ways to contribute:  Write and email Members of Congress (Congressional Directory here), speak at community meetings, encourage others to get involved, or donate to our chosen charity (Doctors Without Borders). Help us maximize our donations by visiting IsisJessicaTaraNeurotopiaMikeDrugMonkeyJanet and returning here often because every click will help raise money. Spread the word.  We want to make sure elected officials at multiple levels realize this is a global issue that matters to a large voting constituency!

I will be donating to Médecins Sans Frontières this month, and I encourage others to do the same. But whether you can donate money, or simply can donate your effort spreading the word that rape is not acceptable, and that you support efforts to end it, your efforts matter. It is incumbent on all of us to say that we will not be silent in the face of these attacks, and that the safety and well-being of the women and girls of Africa matters every bit as much as the safety of Americans.

This entry posted in Africa, International issues, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

11 Responses to Silence is the Enemy

  1. 1
    Beth T says:

    Thanks for the tip on Intersection, it’s definitely in the RSS now. But that makes me need to ask a stupid question: does that cut the advertising revenue since I usually don’t see adds in Reader? I’m too damn broke to donate real money, but I want to at least donate my pageviews.

  2. 2
    MomTFH says:

    Doctors Without Borders is a great foundation, and I hope to work with them one day, when I’m a real doctor and my kids are grown up.

    Another great group that works directly with rape victims in Africa, especially in the Congo, is Eve Ensler’s V Day organization. You can give directly to the group, or attend a Vagina Monologues performance, or organize one of your own. If you’re of the male persuasion, there are even MENding Monologues now. (Of course, anyone can go see the Vagina Monologues, regardless of gender, and there are trans friendly pieces in the performance.)

  3. 3
    RonF says:

    of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12.

    Shocking. Just … shocking. And yes, I’ve heard this kind of thing before. But, even so, it’s shocking.

    It reminds me of a billboard I saw last week when I was in Las Vegas (long story). It said that the average age that young women get involved in prostitution is 13. I was surprised. Can anyone shed light on that? Please forgive me if that’s a threadjack, but it came to mind while reading this and I figured this would be a good place to ask.

  4. 4
    PG says:


    A friend of mine who worked in the sex crimes department for the Brooklyn DA had a similar statistic for that borough. The rape of the pre-pubescents seems so much worse though — at least a 13 year old generally looks like the beginning of what an adult hetero male would find attractive, and in theory might have developed early and could be made up to look older such that the customer might convince himself that he’s getting an 18 year old. Maybe.

  5. 5
    Emily says:

    I’m not particularly educated on the issue RonF brings up but I would suggest that one factor may be that 13 year olds (and younger tweens) who are for whatever reason not being taken care of by adults can’t get a real job. They are even more vulnerable to prostitution than older teens because if they are in a position where they have to support themselves, legal jobs, even low paying ones, are out of reach. Most kids that age who do other types of work do it only through their social network – mowing the neighbors’ lawns, etc. They are jobs you have to have a relatively stable home life to get, and be thought of as a generally good kid by your neighbors/parents’ friends, etc. Kids that are adrift and left to fend for themselves are left with mainly stealing or prostitution or perhaps selling drugs as ways to support themselves.

  6. 6
    PG says:


    My understanding is that emancipated minors can get real, legal jobs. If a minor isn’t emancipated but isn’t being cared for by her custodians, then she should be in a foster home or state institution, not fending for herself. Dropping the child labor laws does not strike me as the best way to stop child prostitution (especially given that even when we, the UK and several other Western nations lacked child labor laws, there still was widespread child prostitution). Prostitution generally pays better than a minimum wage job bagging groceries, or baby-sitting and lawn-mowing.

  7. 7
    Wonder says:

    Sorry to shift gears without depressing the clutch

    You know, it’s really not okay to do that. Most feminist bloggers put up trigger warnings when they blog about rape for a reason: discussions of rape and sexual abuse often trigger PSTD in survivors. When you casually speak of rape, or use it for shock value as you did in this piece and have done as others (I can’t remember which post it was, but I remember recently feeling awful for hours after you used a random metaphor about you hypothetically raping a woman to make a point about something that had nothing to do with rape), you’re hurting the very people that you’re trying to help. When you do things like this, it’s really, really not okay.

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