Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Contemporary Problem of Mass Rape by Allison Ruby Reid-Cunningham

Today I am reviewing something a bit different. The Contemporary Problem of Mass Rape is a self-published book by my niece Allison Ruby Reid-Cunningham, a doctoral student in social work at the University of California at Berkeley. I promise to write a fair review.

The topic about which Ruby writes is mostly ignored by the popular press and commercial publishing. Do a search of "mass rape" in Worldcat from OCLC and you find little. There is an article in Maclean's in 2006 and another in New Statesman in 2005. There are a few university press books. Otherwise, the topic is found only in reports from international organizations and articles from academic journals. Reading Ruby's book, I noticed that most of the references are to reports from groups like Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, and various bodies of the United Nations.

What is mass rape? In the context of Ruby's book, mass rape is sexual violence against women as a part of war. Throughout history, as the saying goes, "to the victor go the spoils." Victorious armies have always celebrated by looting their conquered cities and raping the women and girls. As horrible as this is, the topic of this book is even more shocking. Rape is used as a weapon of genocide.

Ruby's book includes discussions of recent or on-going wars in Bosnia- Hercegovina, Rwanda, and Darfur. In these wars, soldiers were (are) often under orders to rape women. In these wars, commanders at the highest level directed their forces to use all means to humiliate and eliminate the ethnic peoples against whom they fought. In these societies, the ethnicity of offspring is thought to come from the father and not the mother, so rape serves to wipe out conquered populations. To accomplish the work, rape camps were set up where women were systematically raped, kept until pregnancies were verified, and sent back to their own communities. Many babies were subsequently abandoned.

What is to be done about these atrocities? Ruby discusses war crimes trials. According to current conventions, mass rape is a war crime, but it is often not one of the charges that is pursued. The problem is under reported because in many cultures being raped is actually considered a crime of adultery. Women reporting their rapes in these societies condemn themselves to expulsion or death.

Being a student of social work, Ruby discusses the need for social workers in the wake of ethnic warfare and the care which they need to provide.

On her website, Ruby discusses her ongoing work, which includes interviewing women from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. I hope she writes a narrative book for mass publication. Readers need to know about this subject. In the meantime, Ruby provides a link to buy her book from Lulu. The paperback is $10 and the download is only $1.25.

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