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Silence On Abuse In Wartime

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Even in times of war, rape is followed by physical traumas and devastating emotional and psychological consequences for the victims. The consequences of sexual violence are traumatic. There are no times and ways of overcoming the trauma that can be applied to all, as there are no equal reactions for all to the violence suffered. On the psychological level there is a state of self-guilt, compromised emotional-relational balance, confusion, strong need for rationalization, annihilation and anxiety, apathy, anger, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-injurious behavior. Nightmares, amenorrhea, continual illnesses, phobia of physical contact or frigidity are the most common symptoms of such moral suffering. Few countries have succeeded in forming centers where women can talk about what has happened to them. For women to be able to speak means to point out the culprit and thus free themselves from that feeling of shame and guilt. Very often the victims of violence do not want to, or cannot talk about it, it happens in different times and places. In Yugoslavia, between 1990 and 1995, with the dissolution of the League of Communists, there were political and nationalist conflicts that resulted in a civil war, leading to the death of thousands of civilians and 2 million refugees. Also on this occasion there was an imposing number of rapes and even in this case it was not easy for the victims to talk about it. Rape is therefore a violence that becomes unspeakable. Even during the trials, the victims struggle to speak, as it happened during the First World War, in front of the Commissions established to reconstruct the violence committed by German soldiers in Belgium and France, women often used phrases such as: ‘There is no need to say more, what happens next, you can well imagine’ .

Women often feel guilty and not victims, because they have often been accused of provoking the rapists, of not having defended themselves. This attitude is present in those processes where the victims become rather the accused. What all these women have in common was not only the violence of men of the other religion, as it happened in India, or in Guatemala where women were raped because of their Mayan ethnicity; women also had to face violence from their own family and community. In particular, among the Sikhs in India, women were killed by men of their own family and many of them offered themselves in sacrifice. This was because they were convinced that death was preferable to the loss of honor, it was in fact the woman who had the task of protecting the honor of the community, of men and therefore of the nation.Women victims of sexual violence, particularly in rural communities, are stigmatized and excluded both from the family and the community. Their supportive social networks are broken and converted into spaces of guilt and rejection. This pushes women to silence their violence and not to share their pain.In these families there is the desire to forget, to hide what has happened. It is as if, becoming victims of rape have somehow dishonored themselves and families and therefore should neither be mentioned nor remembered.In short, the old family archetype and the traditional female figure were brought back together with the image of the woman as an emblem of the honor of the family and of the nation. According to this understanding of honor, the violated female body does not belong to the woman, but to her family and her country and the suffering experienced is not of the woman but of her family and her country.

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Talking about rapes meant talking about the disgrace of the family and the country and, therefore, in that context the women remained silent and many stories were not handed down to us. Revealing the trauma requires that there is someone who is willing to listen. The family then did not want to hear or listen, society and politicians even less and the women’s movement was too weak to overcome this gap.

Without doubt, rape is an act of death. Rape is linked to reducing women to pure objects of male desire, to mere goods to be used and thrown away at will. And it goes further, because in addition to the objectification, there is the total contempt of the female, and the pleasure deriving from her destruction. Rape is an act of annihilation.

What does rape mean if not the destruction of the woman’s identity, stripped of all her expectations of full existence? Rape, in fact, establishes the nonexistence of the woman as an individual who freely disposes of her own body as well as her own mind and heart, and establishes her non-involvement to the human race or her participation in a subspecies of the human race.When faced with descriptions that kill morally and socially those women who have already been annihilated by rape, those theories that reject any description of extreme violence seem to be confirmed. Can the narration not generate a second death? A further brutalization and dehumanization of the victims?

These are not trivial questions, as we all know, like they have already been raised, for instance, for the Holocaust, or in many other occasions throughout history. Silences, euphemisms, pornographic allusions: at the end of the twentieth century these three systems of conveying violence against women were challenged by women themselves, who brought out rape as a weapon of war against the female gender. And they found other words to express that horror.

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