World Pulse

The Viral Rage Against Rape

Jensine Larsen
Posted March 7, 2013 from United States

Women are beginning to use the web to curb the epidemic of sexual violence – and to defy simplistic hype.

"It is time to turn up the volume on the women and men who are speaking solutions."

I was fielding a request from People magazine to interview a Congolese woman activist, when they asked the inevitable question: Is she a survivor of rape? The question hung in the air with the unspoken understanding that if she herself was not a survivor of sexual violence, the story would not be nearly as compelling.

They never did run her story. But the response rumbling from the heart of the Congo was a better one.

“I am not ‘a survivor,’ but a liberator,” wrote back peace activist Neema Namadamu in email, and later across the blogosphere. “This ultimatum is the same as forcing me to bend over if I want a remote chance for our cause to be promoted.

“In Congo we don't use the word "rape"; we call it "violence." For as women we are raped a hundred ways every day; our very personhood denied from the earliest age without any consequence. Surely this reporter understands that the greatest defilement of one's person is not what is done to the body – it is what is done to the mind.

I hope that the dialog begun here can become another "Occupy" worldwide. It's up to all of us sisters. We only have to decide enough is enough!”

Neema is one of millions building new online and offline movements to loudly “Occupy” spaces of silence and shame. They are using digital media in new ways to re-center the conversation about ending sexual violence, putting the experiences of women embroiled in rape cultures at the heart of it.

Neema launched an Internet café for women, which ignited a movement of hundreds of self-proclaimed Maman Shujaa, or “Hero Women.” They are speaking out with their agenda for a New Congo free from sexual violence—in their own words. Within months, their messages reached the White House National Security Council, after garnering 100,000 signatures on a petition.

This International Women’s Day, other movements are reaching a fever pitch, at last pushing the urgency of ending rape and sexual violence to the center of the stage. From mass protests against rape in India and South Africa, to Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising campaign, to the Nobel Women rallying with 600 coalition partners in their International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, to the One Million Men. One Million Promises Campaign, to Women Under Siege cataloging cases of sexual violence in Syria, Afghanistan, and more—women’s groups, along with male allies, are shifting attitudes, norms, and cultures for generations to come.

For the past six months, World Pulse, the organization I founded, crowd-sourced women’s solutions for ending violence against women in a Digital Action Campaign. Women logged on from conflict-affected regions such as Darfur, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and joined participants from North America and Europe. They broke the silence on issues that are often taboo or hidden in their families and communities, overcoming pain and fear to courageously share their stories. They did this because they knew their voices can make a difference. Their solutions are myriad—they ARE the solutions. They write about the importance of education and training, protecting and empowering youth, economic empowerment, maternal and reproductive healthcare, and men’s partnership to prevent violence.

Just look to Olutosin in Nigeria, who after leaving her abusive marriage, is now raising her daughters and mentoring 70 girls in her community to value themselves and break cycles of violence. “If I refuse to be the voice, my daughters would remain voiceless,” she says.

Look to Nabila, who was abused at the hands of her imam, but then became a nurse and a chaperone so she could protect other children. She also published a book about her experience. “I will continue to speak out until these changes are made and my voice is heard,” she says. “It is all I can do to help others.”

Courageous men joined the chorus. Look to Ali Shahidy, who was once an abuser himself but has escaped the paradigm he was raised in. “Together, men and women will stand hand-in-hand, raise their voices, and challenge the dominant and parochial beliefs of our culture. Together we will end violence against women,” he says. Now he is leading workshops to help men own their responsibility for violence and become allies for their sisters, mothers, and female friends.

All of these voices are needed now. And it’s not just the voices of survivors we need to listen to, but everyone affected by cultures steeped in violence. The matter is urgent: Surveys show that in South Africa, which has one of the highest incidents of rape per capita in the world, a quarter of men admit to having raped, and a woman is more likely to be raped than go to school. In Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a third of men admit to having raped, 75% think it is OK, and a woman is 134 times more likely to be raped than in the US.

Holistic, sustainable solutions exist. It is time to turn up the volume on the women and men who are speaking them. Let’s not debase her as solely a simplistic, sensationalist survivor of rape—but lift her up as a dynamic change agent and outspoken liberator of our future.

Comments 7

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Chinyere Okoh
Mar 09, 2013
Mar 09, 2013

This is so wonderful showing the extent that the effect of our voice can be heard. I love you, not because you are my sister but the mere fact that ÿ̲̣̣̣̥ợ̣̣̝̇̇̇U̶̲̥̅̊ were born to do this. Thank you

Chinyere Okoh
Mar 09, 2013
Mar 09, 2013

This is so wonderful showing the extent that the effect of our voice can be heard. I love you sister. Thank you

Carrie Lee
Mar 12, 2013
Mar 12, 2013

Jensine, Thanks for your article, it speaks to that energy that we see rising every where.

And as always I am thankful to have World Pulse as a structure for this is energy to emerge.

Love, Carrie

EVIA Woman
Apr 23, 2013
Apr 23, 2013

In Nigeria, the victim is normally blamed, and blamed in often cases, by women and its so heart breaking.

The silence on violence is even 'louder' within marriages... sadly there have been reported cases where this ends in death of the victim. Thank you for running this, I hope that we never keep quiet about it, if one suffers we all do.


VB William-Eguegu

Noreen Donohue
May 02, 2013
May 02, 2013

I am not an expert on the subject or a survivor of rape, but it seems to me that in the United States little attention is given to the victims, usually women, whilemore media coverage is given to"the poor young men. Their lives are ruined" Within the last couple of years, for instance, several high school rape victims committed suicide and were given practically no coverage. And what about the perpetrators? No accuser, no crime. (I think they should be charged with murder.).

I I think there are many reasons for this. Some of them may be: First, we are still living in a patriarchal society (helped by Christian Fundalmentalism and Conservatism.). Second, it is still wildly held that the woman had something to do with bring on the violation (inapropriate dress, flirting, etc) and she deserved what she got. Thirdly, there is a lack of real social values in this country.

For me, one woman, I can continue rising against violence of all kinds to all women everywhere (Was One Billion Rising just a cute song aand dance?) and speaking out to make people more aware of the problem.

Phionah Musumba
May 02, 2013
May 02, 2013

Such an empowering piece you have here. I hope many women read and pass the word, not to shut up to violence, around. All the best.

Yvette Warren
Sep 07, 2013
Sep 07, 2013

Women are Giving their Wombs for Tombs Today is a day of prayer for peace in Syria for the Roman Catholics of my country and the world. Educating myself and my friends on the emotions felt by my sisters in similar war-torn countries is my form of prayer-in-action. I have turned to WorldPulse to hear of the horrors of war from the perspective of women -- sisters, wives, mothers, grandmothers. This is my call to action, the wailing of those who are first-person witnesses, not those like me who sit in the comfort of my home and watch the silent screams in magazines. I found a poem called "Syria- Rent the sky in every land" written by Kenyaby philo Ikonya Gacheri of Kenya on March 13, 2012 at 8:30 PM. This was a year and a half ago, and still the people of Syria are living in increasing terror. How is this possible in human society? "Women are giving their wombs for tombs." This is a phrase from the poem that particularly strikes me, as I often ask my sisters why we women continue bearing children with abusive beasts calling themselves humans. Is it time for women, the world over to close their wombs in protest? Would this stop war? It is not the men who are the best war correspondents, but their pictures and words seem to be most heeded. I salute the brave women telling these war stories from their wombs. I am old. My hips are weak from work and child bearing. My old husband needs my care at home. What more can I do in this effort?