I read a chilling article in the New York Times this morning (by Jeffrey Gettelman, published in August 4, 2009 New York Times) about the increasing number of male rape victims in the Congo. It’s an experience of absolute destruction for these men and boys. Some do in fact die shortly after the rapes, others live as if dead.
The horror for the men does not end with the particular violence. Their culture frequently does not extend empathy, but confronts them with derision. Which is what they also feel for themselves. They seem to be derisive of themselves not because they somehow attracted the fate they suffered, but simply because they experienced it.
The article points out that, of course, there are many more women rape victims than men, and that many of their lives are destroyed as well. But I’m not writing here to compare the levels of destruction of the two sexes—destroyed is destroyed.
I don’t really like to read these types of articles. Sometimes I just don’t.
But skipping over the articles feels almost worse than reading them. Not that I do anything when I read them. (I sometimes, but I have to confess, rarely, give to charities working in war zones.) I tell myself when I do read an article like this that I am trying to make myself aware. At least I am learning about the suffering, somehow bearing witness to the horror.
But does that actually mean anything? Isn’t it pathetic in every sense of the world? Why don’t I do more?
Is it because I am basically so comfortable in my life that I can’t identify with this suffering? Or is it because I am so bothered by my relatively minor discomforts that I refuse to identify?
Or am I just lazy? Miserly? Self-aggrandizing?
Maybe. I don’t know.
For me the articles raise another question too. (Not how can people be so cruel to each other? Though that’s a pretty good one.) Simply why is life so unfair?
Why are some people made to suffer so horribly? How is it that they can be snatched out of their lives and destroyed? How come nobody (nobody else) stops it?
I understand that these questions reflect my rather luxurious expectation that life should be fair. That good should triumph at least by the last minute. That every cloud should have a silver lining. That all should ultimately turn out to be for the best.
I know it’s crazy, immature. But I grew up watching Hollywood movies, reading great and not great novels, going to church, believing in the U.S. of A., being given many many advantages.
In the world of my youth, nothing was supposed in vain. No accident was completely senseless, without at least a teaching. Certainly, there were events deemed unfortunate, even tragic–bad marriages, irrecoverable accidents– but one tried to not talk of such events too much. And if one did speak of them, to emphasize what came out of them that could be called good.
In this belief system, one tries to hope that maybe the increase in male rape will somehow bring attention to these issues, will focus the world’s mind more than all the female rape, will make people act in the Congo, will bring some kind of peace.
Even I, a child of the West, a lover of storybook endings, cannot swallow that. Not for these particular men anyway, these men who each stare away from the camera in the Times.
So what should I do?