Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not All Rape Victims Are Created Equal

... at least not in the eyes of the media it would appear.

Have you ever heard the name LaVena Johnson?

On July 19, 2005, Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson was found dead in Balad, Iraq. It has been reported that when her body was discovered in a tent belonging to a private military contractor her remains displayed a black eye, broken nose, burned hands, loose teeth, acid burns on her genitals and a bullet hole in the head. The military ruled her death as a suicide.

If you watch DemocracyNow, read AlterNet or are a regular reader of this blog you know Pfc Johnson's story.  However, my guess is that if your sole sources for news are corporately owned broadcast networks you may have never heard of Pfc Johnson. 

On the other hand, if you live anywhere in Europe, the US or Australia,  by now you have undoubtedly  heard more than you ever wanted to know about the sexual exploits of Julian Assange and the charges being brought against him in Sweden.  Sadly, thanks to the over zealous, you may also know the names of the two women who have filed the complaints against Mr. Assange.  In fact, over the past few weeks, you may have hardly been able to turn on a news broadcast, corporately of independently sponsored,  without hearing about "the rape charges" against Wikleaks founder, Julian Assange.   And to add to the controversy there now seems to be a rift between the defenders of Julian Assange and members of the feminist community who want him drawn and quartered, now. 

Of course, I have my opinions on the subject.  But I've watched these stories play out over the years and learned two things:  most people have already made up their minds; and, for them, evidence be damned.    So, I will handle the Julian Assange sex scandal in the same manner that I did the stories of  Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson, Eddie Long and other sensational cases.  I wait for the courts to hear the evidence, weigh the merits of the case and render their verdict.  And, I will do my best to keep my humble opinion to myself, for now

However, what I will comment on now is the general handling of  stories involving sexual crimes by the media.. 

Would the US media have given so much airtime to an alleged sexual assault case in Sweden if the accused wasn't the founder of Wikileaks?  My guess is, no.  I suspect that the US media and much of the world would have all but ignored this case or treated it as filler on a slow news day.   In fact, I'll go one step further and say that if this story had broken before Wikileaks had ever released the Iraq documents. the media response to the sex crime allegations would have been minimal. 

The constant focus on the sexual aspects of the Julian Assange / Wiklieaks story is pure sensationalism.  And when you contrast the airtime given to the charges against Assange with the airtime, or lack thereof, given to the brutal rapes of women in the Congo. the so called "corrective rapes" in South Africa and the sexual abuses suffered by women and men in the US military,  you are left with the impression that in today's society, not all rape victims are created equal.

Ironically, just yesterday in his article, "Rape Rampant in the US Military".  Dahr Jamail reported the following:

"Military sexual trauma (MST) survivor Susan Avila-Smith is director of the veteran's advocacy group Women Organizing Women. She has been serving female and scores of male clients in various stages of recovery from MST for 15 years and knows of its devastating effects up close.

"People cannot conceive how badly wounded these people are," she told Al Jazeera, "Of the 3,000 I've worked with, only one is employed. Combat trauma is bad enough, but with MST it's not the enemy, it's our guys who are doing it. You're fighting your friends, your peers, people you've been told have your back. That betrayal, then the betrayal from the command is, they say, worse than the sexual assault itself."

On December 13, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking Pentagon records in order to get the real facts about the incidence of sexual assault in the ranks.

The Pentagon has consistently refused to release records that fully document the problem and how it is handled. Sexual assaults on women in the US military have claimed some degree of visibility, but about male victims there is absolute silence.

Pack Parachute, a non-profit in Seattle, assists veterans who are sexual assault survivors. Its founder Kira Mountjoy-Pepka, was raped as a cadet at the Air Force Academy. In July 2003 she was member of a team of female cadets handpicked by Donald Rumsfeld, at the time the secretary of defense, to tell their stories of having been sexually assaulted. The ensuing media coverage and a Pentagon investigation forced the academy to make the aforementioned major policy changes"

Just imagine what would happen if the media focused as much attention on these victims as they have on the Julian Assange case.   


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