Yesterday I read and left a comment to a post on Facebook about a woman being assaulted (touched without consent) in the Romanian subway and nobody intervening, but an old lady. Everybody else watched and did nothing. Today, I am reading an excellent opinion article on the same kind of topic: how rape is a hate crime against women.
(photo: Shutterstock, via http://www.rawstory.com/)
Over the last month or so the Romanian Facebook caught on fire with #violulecrima, a hashtag initiated after a central newspaper uncovered and thoroughly reported on a case of rape by seven young men in a Romanian Eastern village (Valeni), against a High School girl (18 years old). They raped her for three hours, on a field, last November. They walked out of court first, and were only sentenced to “house arrest”, a joke, not a real consequence for sexual assault. The seven perpetrators’ families are well off, and the boys themselves are quite popular amongst the locals (four of them are football players in the village team). But all these do not explain or serve as excuses for the heavy support they got from the locals, who considered them victims and the girl just a slutty young female.
Apparently, as the case was uncovered and gained increasingly more media coverage, as well as wide support for the girl and more and more voices in society asking for the rapists to be sent to prison, the sympathy the seven of them gained became increasingly embarrassing. For the perpetrators, for their village, for that part of society which still cannot see the harm in such abuse against women.
According to reports in Adevarul newspaper and Realitatea TV, villagers in Valeni were saying things like:
– “Why should they go to prison for 5 years, for only 5 minutes of pleasure? This girl is ruining seven good families in our village, good people”
– “She did it on herself. She had it coming, why did she get in the car with seven young men? Had she been a good girl, nothing would have happened to her.”
She didn’t, according to media reports, she was picked up from the bus stop in the nearby city by one of the boys, whom she knew and who offered to give her a lift. On the way, he said he needed to pick up another friend. And then she was taken to this field, where others were waiting, was raped for three hours, sprinkled with alcohol when she fainted and threatened she’d be badly beaten up if she faked it again.
– The girl was not raped, but treated to a session of “surprise sex”.
After one month of Romania media roaring with information on this rape case, and after even the Romanian Prime Minister asked the Supreme Court to treat it with extreme seriousness, this Monday, the 17th of August, the seven young men, aged between 18 and 24, were finally sentenced to good years in prison, from 5 years and 5 month the shortest sentence, to 8 years the longest. They also have to pay the victim the equivalent of about £10000 moral damages, in Romanian currency.
On the day of the final trail session, expecting for the judge to reach the verdict, about 300 people gathered in front of the Court House in the city of Vaslui. Also, more than 400000 people have signed an online petition over the last month which asked for the seven to be re-trailed and condemned.
However, the court decision in not final this time either. The young men can still appeal for the case to be brought again to court. The first two judges decided, earlier this year, that, as the perpetrators partly admitted to the assault, they could be left to walk away and be “arrested” at home (meaning they could not freely walk around, but who would inforce this in a village with so many supporting them?).
As previously mentioned, the parents of these boys are mostly well off. The mother of one of them has, apparently, told other locals she had spent a lot of money to keep the boy out of prison. Probably, due to the media coverage being so high that the Prime Minister (himself actually on trial, but this is of no importance to the subject) felt he had to take action over the case, no matter what money their families would want to push as a bribe from now, it won’t work.
This outrageous story, with many dirty hands involved in it, reminds in a way of the Indian girl killed after being gruesomely attacked in 2012, in a bus, after going to an evening screening of Life of Pi. Similarities? The perpetrators “excuses”: a good girl would not be in that situation, and she should cooperate, not “ruin” the aggressors’ lives. To be honest, I clinched my fist after typing this.
Both stories got wide media coverage, as well as becoming the source of social protests. I must admit, however, that while the Romanian case was unfolding, I started to feel more outraged of the lack of serious civil action other than furious posting on Facebook. I sighed in relief when the petition and a few protests were announced. There are still so many cases of rape and women being abused in Romania that more civil action, ranging from peaceful protests to sustained long-term campaigns, are needed in order to start to make a difference.
To get back to where I started, today I come across that excellent piece of journalism exposing evidence from well-known cases, as well as personal experience of how women are still abused even as they are the victims or just rejecting men hitting on them. With all the social progress and the laws set to protect and deter perpetrators, this world still does not seem, many times, as a very happy place for women to be in.
Some women though find their way out of abuse and set an example even in remote and economically disadvantaged places. A touching and motivating example, the story of the ladies living in the village of Umoja, Kenya, where men are banned, shines through all the grim pieces of news which can overwhelm you. These African women have all escaped either forced marriage, abuse in mariage or being raped by British soldiers and then beaten up by their own husbands, who considered them to blame. The village came to exist about 25 years ago, and the women here still meet men, have children (there are about 200 kids around), but live in an exclusive female community. They say they could never share their life again with a man. They support and empower each other, and life in Umoja can be easily described in a few sentences:
Mary shows me a handful of dried beans that she will be cooking soon for dinner. “We don’t have much, but in Umoja I have everything I need.”
So is women empowerment and independence, as well as good education all we need to change the most rotten strains of this society we live in? Does it all start with raising awareness?
I personally believe so, as I believe in what media can do in this respect. Looking at the Valeni rape case in Romania, as well as the Indian girl killed three years ago, I can say media reports played an important role. The facts could not be buried, there was no excuse for the rapists, for the criminals. And there is still a lot to know, to bring to attention, to act upon, until more people acknowledge that yes, rape is a hate crime.