A man recently felt moved to write to me about my risk assessment and management skills. A man I don’t know. He didn’t comment publicly on the post that had inspired him to write* – presumably he felt his subject was so delicate that it should be addressed privately.
He opened his message with his credentials: he is a fellow cycle tourist, with 7 months previous experience of touring in Colombia. Well and good.
He made sure to compliment my blog and assure me that he didn’t want to patronise me, to reassure me that his intentions are good – which no doubt they are.**
He went on to tell me that, despite being streetwise, during his time in Colombia he had been robbed twice – once in Cartagena and once in Santa Marta. That’s a shame. Bad luck. Can happen to anyone.
But the thing that immediately struck me on reflecting on his experience was that both incidents occurred in areas that are highly frequented by tourists. I haven’t been robbed in two years of constant travel – mostly in Central America in countries where caution is generally advised– and in large part I put this down to the fact I generally avoid touristy areas like the plague.
I was indeed involved in an attempted robbery in Xela, Guatemala, which is another area with a large tourist and expatriate population. You do need to be extremely careful in these places and never let your guard down because a large proportion of the local people make their living from foreigners one way or another and there is clearly a living to be made.
But we haven’t yet got to spark that ignited my rage yet.
The man mentioned, apropos of nothing in particular, that he had arrived at “a seemingly paradisiacal Caribbean village” only two days after a Swedish tourist had been brutally and violently raped. She barely survived her injuries, he relates.
Well… so what is his point? It is not clear. He provides no further context.
Does he think the fact that women are raped is news to me? Really?
Show me the town, the village, the city street, the hospital, the school, the university, the car park, the back lane, the park, the beach, the office building, show me the square foot of earth where an act of sexual violence has not occurred at some point in history and I will build a shrine there in blessed awe at such a rare and holy place.
Comparative statistics on rape and sexual assault are notoriously unreliable due to cultural biases and varying methods of data collection. A quick internet search reveals that the highest incidence of reported rape occurs in the unfortunate victim’s homeland of Sweden. We can assume perhaps that this is due to a broader definition of what constitutes sexual violence there or maybe that there is less social stigma attached to being an acknowledged survivor of rape in Sweden than in more conservative countries. We don’t know, exactly, but let’s just agree that the data is incomplete and unreliable.
However, what is clear from all available data on sexual assault is that the huge majority of women are sexually assaulted by someone they know – at least 80%. So why is it that this well documented fact is constantly obscured by lurid stories of sexual assaults by strangers when that is, in reality, the least common form of rape? Why is it that the focus is not on all the rapes that occur in schools, universities, workplaces, and homes; sexual assaults perpetrated by teachers, tutors, fellow students, co-workers, ‘friends’, relatives, neighbours?
When I ponder on this strange bias – this disconnect between the data and the dominant narrative – I have to wonder what purpose, exactly, does it serve? The prevailing feminist theory of rape is that it is not about sex, it is about power. People who follow such things know that rape is now a recognised*** weapon of war and that its purpose it to terrorise and subjugate.****
This, then, is where the rage starts. What inference was I supposed to draw from this well-meaning man and his anecdote about the unfortunate Swedish tourist? He makes no overt statement but he later reinforces his message subtly – while voicing his opinion that I was wrong in believing that tourists are not specific interest to the various paramilitary groups that remain active in Colombia – by adding in parenthesis, “especially a woman alone”.
Elsewhere in the missive he claims he is not trying to scare me. Well, what in the hell is he trying to do? Isn’t this the real purpose of these stories and, in fact, the very acts themselves? To scare women, to keep them in their place, to curtail their freedom of movement, to increase their dependence on men?
And hang on, there’s a unresolvable problem here, isn’t there? We – women – are supposed to ask for support and protection from the very people who are perpetrating these acts of violence and terror. I think this is called a double bind. I am not supposed to be abroad, alone in the world. Or if I do persist in this insanity then I am clearly inviting whatever misfortune may befall me. But where on earth am I to go where I am safe from this threat when the majority of sexual assault is practiced by known offenders?
I would welcome open discussion on this subject. Shame and secrecy are part of what gives sexual violence its insidious power. Please, feel free to comment.
* See previous post.
** But then we all know about the road to hell, don’t we? Intentions are notoriously slippery and unexamined things.
*** Recognised as a weapon of war which is deemed unacceptable by international human rights accords.
**** So what does that say about our society then that the majority of women are raped by their friends, their neighbours, their doctors, their professors, members of their family?