Thursday, June 10, 2004

It’s a modern Ethiopian love story

Boy & friends hack down front door with machete, abduct the 13 year old object of his obsession, named Woineshet - rape & beat her for two days. Police show up, girl escapes covered in blood, badly bruised. Attacker is arrested. Girl must wait 2 days for bus to clinic. Nurse wonders why the wounds are “old” and notes "She is no longer a virgin. Not sure of date of penetration, could be recently. Many bruises and scratches around vagina."

Woineshet's family comes from the Oromo tribe, Ethiopia's largest ethnic group “In the green hills of southern Ethiopia, the tribe's men hold a firm upper hand in society and women are often treated as servants. Marriage by abduction, a common practice, occurs when a man and his friends kidnap a woman or girl he has been watching, rapes her and then pressures her to sign a marriage contract…Ethiopian law absolves abductors of their crime if they marry their victims.”

Story continues: Girl goes home, judge who thinks "I don't think she was abducted or raped. The health report did not specify that she was a fresh virgin. No one wants to rape anyone who is not a virgin. Maybe they were just in love. This case has no evidence” despite many witnesses, lets her attacker go on bail. Even her state-appointed lawyer says "I think Woineshet was like, 'Please rape me.' Maybe he couldn't afford the dowry and they wanted to be together without a formal marriage," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Culturally, no one rapes a non-virgin.”
Days later, Boy abducts girl again. This time raping and beating her for 15 days at brother’s house. She escaped again running bruised and bloody through the village and farms. Family of her attacker track her down and beat her until she signs a marriage contract. This time, kindly police officer takes her in to protect her. So she ends up in a jail cell at her own request. Case goes to trial. Attacker is somehow found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in jail, despite the bias of the judge (same as above) , who asked Woineshet, “He wants to marry you. Why are you refusing?” and remarked to the courtroom that “After 13 years, after 15 years, the lady she can be happy. She can be okay.” One month later, same judge just lets attacker out of jail, saying there were not enough witnesses and that Woineshet was most likely in love with Negussie and ready for marriage. "This family is only out for revenge," Ukie said in an interview. "Maybe they don't want her to marry him. So they accuse him of rape." Later, when he was asked about a health report showing severe abuse during the second abduction, Ukie said: "Look, a marriage contract had been signed, and I think we should find it. If she wanted to marry him, then if there was a rape that makes it legally okay."

How does this logic make any sense? If she had *wanted* to marry him, if she'd loved him, he wouldn't have had to abduct, beat and RAPE her.

Moral of the story: Kidnapping, Rape and Assault of women are all hunky dory so long as the woman is enslaved by a marriage contract after the fact. Oh, and non-virgins cannot be raped.

I used to be somewhat of a cultural relativist. I respected the culture & traditions of other cultures, and felt it would be arrogant beyond measure to impose my imperialist morals on other people. But when a culture internalizes violence against women and rejects respect for basic human rights to this extent I'm sorry, but I just can't respect it and let it go. It's not marriage, it's trafficking in sex slaves, pure & simple and really needs to be recognized by the international community on that basis. They'll boycott South Africa for denying huge segments of their population basic human rights based on race, but we do NOTHING to pressure countries that deny HALF their population basic human rights based on GENDER.

In fact, Shrub would deny these women any aid at all on the pathetic grounds that the people providing that aid might, just might talk about or god-forbid actually PROVIDE birth control or abortion. These girls are being raped with the tacit approval of their own communities and forced into abusive marriages, forced to LIVE WITH THEIR ATTACKER, be his servant, bear his children for the rest of their lives. But they call this brutal custom 'marriage' so Bush feels it's his God-given responsibility to PROTECT this institution.


And to most Americans, unbelievable. This kind of institutionalized violence, like the Rwandan genocide and Nick Berg murder is so totally alien to us that when we hear these stories, we think it MUST be an aberration. They look like normal people on TV - how could they not only allow, but tacitly encourage this kind of brutality?? So we shut it out - ignore it and go about our vanilla, safe little suburban lives where in the rare event a child is abducted by a raping stalker, there's an Amber Alert issued and the entire community moves heaven and earth to find them before it's "too late". Failing that, we move heaven and earth to track down the son of Satan that did it and make 'em fry for it. It's simply beyond mainstream America's comprehension that in other parts of the world, the opposite is true.

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