In Iraq's Red Zone, there is an apartment with no listed address. The two small bedrooms house six women and their children, who comprise a temporary, but closely bound, family. Of the six women, four have been raped. The curtains are drawn tightly against the outside world, but that is not their only defense. One of the women raises her handbag to show that, in case of the worst, she carries a gun. "FRONTLINE/World
" on PBS has produced a piece on the rapid rise in rapes in Iraq
, which takes us inside this women's shelter in the middle of the Red Zone. It is one of very few in existence and forced to operate covertly in the face of threats and danger. Before the war began in Iraq, rape was not a frequently reported crime and when it did occur the legal recourse was clear. Today, though the exact figures are unknown, estimates of rape are in the thousands. On the question of who takes responsibility to prevent and punish rape in Iraq, the short answer seems to be no one.
The rapes are committed by warring religious factions, they are committed by Iraqi security forces, they are committed by foreign soldiers sent there to serve, they are committed by contractors sent there for hire, they are committed by former friends and neighbors, they are committed by strangers. Even knowing who to report a rape to is difficult and dangerous.
In 2006, Steven Green, then a soldier stationed in the middle of an Iraqi combat zone, left the base in the middle of the night with a group of three soldiers. The group headed to the home of 14 year-old girl, where they shot and killed her parents and sister, before gang-raping her and shooting her dead.
Just last week, Green's trial in a US civilian court, resulted in a sentence of life imprisonment. The defense never denied that Green committed the crimes, nor did they deny that it was premeditated or that Green was the ringleader. The strange and distasteful defense they brought was that the context of the Iraq war and living with the daily stress of combat brought Green to it.
What they didn't mention was the growing culture of rape in Iraq -- ignoring it when it happens, blaming the victims, punishing or even killing the victims. Though Green was tried and convicted, the majority of rapes in Iraq are not punished. They're often not even reported.