Stopping the torturers - The editorial

2017-10-02 L’Osservatore Romano

At last the world’s attention and conscience is beginning to focus on the phenomenon of the continuous and systematic rape to which women and children migrants are subjected – both on the long and dangerous passage through Africa and in the camps from which they are waiting to leave, as well as on the terrible voyages in ramshackle boats, and even sometimes in the lands which ought to welcome and protect them but where instead these women are enslaved and forced to prostitute themselves. However, this attention is still too insubstantial; neither legal nor medical provisions have been made to cope with systematic rape. 

Especially in the face of such a serious, far-reaching phenomenon there is a need for legal instruments which take into account the nature of rape – not occasional but structural – and thus make it possible to put an end to it and to punish it on as wide a scale as possible. There are numerous references in recent international legal documents to the analogies in these situations between rape and torture, and between rape and crimes against humanity. These are starting points that are worth taking up and examining in depth. Indeed, to equate legally the systematic rape perpetrated on migrant women (and children) with torture would enable the problem to be tackled at an international and not solely at a national level, with far greater possibilities for intervention and hence for providing ad hoc rehabilitation protocols. Above all, it would enable us to grasp the criminal nature of rape, which is all too often seen as an act of which the victim rather than the oppressor should be ashamed, with the result that it is underestimated and often not even reported.

In this issue we have asked the opinion of two lawyers, as well as of a forensic doctor and clinical criminologist, Maria Stella D’Andrea, who is an expert in the provision of medical assistance to women victims of these terrible forms of violence. We have compared the lucid and courageous testimonies of two African women, both victims of sexual violence who now live in a sheltered environment. But compassion and empathy are not enough. The torturers must be stopped and the first step to take is to find the legal instruments to do so in the quickest and most effective way. (anna foa)