On Tuesday, Sept. 20, the Women’s Center hosted “Rape as a Weapon of War,” the first installation of this year’s B.E. S.A.F.E. focus program.
The B.E. S.A.F.E. program was designed to highlight the dangers threatening women regarding rape, sexual assault, stalking and other risks of their safety.
The goal is to raise awareness and understanding for those who have been victims and are in need of support.
The format of the program, held at the Curris Center, was a film and discussion. The evening began with “Rape: as a Weapon of War” being shown, followed by a Women’s Center panel discussion.
The three speakers, Jane Etheridge, Maj. Paul Denson and Jeff Wylie shared their personal knowledge and experience on the topic.
“After reading and not being able to distance myself any longer from the topic of rape and war, I decided that other people need to know about this,” Etheridge said.
For many centuries women have been considered the “spoils” of war, she said. The film shown focused on a brief history of rape in the context of war starting with the early 1930s when 200,000 women who were so-called “comfort women” were forced into sexual slavery.
In 2008, the UN Security Council passed a resolution formally denouncing rape and other forms of sexual violence war crimes and crimes against humanity.
When rape first was used as a method of war it was used as an intimidation tactic and was considered as a strike against a town and its people.
Today it is used as an actual weapon through an attempt to destroy cultures and tear apart families.
Denson spoke of his 23 years of experience in the military and his close encounters with rape as a weapon of war.
He said women are now lured into homes and raped and then given two choices: they are condemned to hell or they must become a martyr for the cause in order to redeem their souls.
These women know they can not return home with this disgrace on their shoulders and they know their only option for redemption is to become suicide bombers to return into the graces of their god, he said.
“I felt honored to come and share my experiences that I have seen,” Denson said. “I am doing what I need to be doing, educating others, and I might influence one person to do something about it.”
Denson said he has viewed firsthand the way Iraqi women are viewed and treated. The minute young girls start their menstrual cycle they are no longer girls but women, and they are expected to act accordingly, he said.
“I have a mother, sister, wife and daughter, this (topic) is personal to me,” he said.
Wylie, senior lecturer in social work, also talked on the issue. He said rape is viewed as an effective tool of war from the perspective that it leaves the effected culture with nothing but pain and no future.
Wylie said he was a little familiar with the topic and he read the book, “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
“I have two daughters and I know if we lived in another culture, we wouldn’t stand by and allow this to happen,” he said.
The next event in the B.E. S.A.F.E. program is the annual performance of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” held at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Alexander Hall Auditorium.