Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The invisibility of rape in war

Trigger Warning for this post for rape & violence.

I found the three paragraphs below absolutely chilling when I read them last week.  So much is left unsaid, and yet to me the implications are clear.

Excerpt from Ask That Mountain:  The story of Parihaka, by Dick Scott - first published 1975, this is from the 2006 reprint:
The night raids were stepped up to find which houses to destroy and the women were frequently victims of drunken and diseased troopers.  Once the officers got their wires crossed and a unit raided where it was not expected.  The sequel, as the Auckland Herald delicately reported, was the discovery of 'a gentleman who has taken a very prominent part in the recent proceedings under circumstances that recall the earnest terms in which the West Coast Commission deplore the existence of semi-connubial relations between officials and natives.'

The reality behind the indulgent amusement was that syphilis was brought into the town once given a clean bill of health by Taranaki's medical officer, Dr. O'Carroll, and congenital cases, a direct result of the invasion, were reported through the province for years aftewarrds.*

*  Dr EP Ellison, of Manaia, told the writer:  'There was looting and debauchery.  Perhaps I speak too strongly but the truth must be told.  In my work as a young man I saw cases of congenital syphilis in Taranaki that were the result of the occupation of Parihaka.' Not all excesses were condoned.  At one stage of the Taranaki campaign some of the armed constabulary were court-martialled for copulating with dogs...
Even in 1975, and in more recent reprints, it seems that it was not acceptable to call terrible things by their true names.  This was rape.  It was repeated rape, systematic and used to demoralise and exercise power in a shameful exhibition of a piece with the unfair confiscation of the land.  There is mention of the syphilis that affected the population of Parihaka after these rapes, but no mention of the other effects that violence would have had - not only the physical and mental impact but also no doubt pregnancies and possibly children who resulted from these "semi-connubial" encounters, and then the potential shattering of adult relationships too.  Does the "semi" indicate the only the men consented?  

One of the things I find true about the way that George RR Martin portrays war in his A Song Of Ice And Fire series is how he doesn't make rape invisible.  He doesn't make it prurient either, or paint it as titillating - it is more told than shown, if that makes sense - but he acknowledges it as another form of the violence of war.

It's only by naming it, by acknowledging it, that we can fully recognise that rape is there, it is real, and it must be stopped. 


LudditeJourno said...

Thank you Julie.
I think this is a particularly interesting aspect of New Zealand's idea of ourselves as a place where colonisation was less awful for Maori than for indigenous peoples elsewhere. The fact that widespread and strategic rape was part of colonisation, and particularly part of conflict between the Crown and Maori. This is not something that is widely known or talked about, not even when you've worked in sexual violence a long time. It's shameful - and has you say, the long term impacts on whanau must be huge.

anthea said...

Julie - I don't have anything to add, but this was on my mind all yesterday. Thank you for writing.

Julie said...

Thanks for the affirmations. I'm still thinking about it, a week after I read it.

katy said...

I would like to know more about the "semi-connubial" (marriage-like) relationships between Pakeha officials and locals. Marriage-like I guess would refer to the domestic and ongoing nature of them and clearly they were subversive in terms of the occupation.

anarkaytie said...

Once, nearly a decade ago now, I left a wreath at the Cenotaph in Wellington on the Evening of Anzac Day, during a weekend-long Peace Embassy camp near Parliament.

I dedicated my wreath to all of the women and children sexually violated in all the wars that were commemorated at the Cenotaph.

It did not surprise me in the least, when viewing other wreaths laid the next day after the ceremonies, to discover my wreath crushed with very identifiable army bootprints all over it.
It angered me, but it did not surprise me. We'd already heard of many atrocities that were officially described as 'collateral damage', and I expect that this is just another category.

I don't hate easily, but this experience hardened my attitude to rapists in general, and military rapists in particular.