I don’t know if it’s irony, synchronicity, or just a coincidence. Whatever it is, there it was on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times. At the top of the page was the headline: “Votes Secured to Confirm Kavanaugh.” Sure enough, by early Saturday afternoon, the US Senate had narrowly confirmed President Donald Trump’s nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh, giving the Supreme Court a solid conservative majority for the first time in fifty years. God help us all.
As my eye traveled further down the page, it came across a much smaller headline below the fold: “Nobel Peace Prize Is Awarded to Two Who Fight Rape in War.” Sharing the prize this year are a Yazidi woman from Iraq, Nadia Murad, and a Congolese physician, Dr. Denis Mukwege. Ms. Murad and Dr. Mukwege are being honored, in the prize committee’s words, “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”
The Kavanaugh confirmation process has presented one gross indecency after another. There was the nominee himself, a boozy frat boy credibly accused of sexual assault by no fewer than four women. There was the appalling spectacle of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s superannuated White Republicans, no doubt envious of Kavanaugh’s ability to achieve an erection, grilling Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who had courageously stepped forward to identify Kavanaugh as the man who had sexually assaulted her in high school. And there was Gender Judas Susan Collins, Republican senator from Maine, who betrayed every woman in America by voting along with the Senate Republican Boys’ Club to approve Kavanaugh. Rape culture triumphs again.
From the disgusting spectacle of the Kavanaugh hearings, one turns with pleasure to two people who are fighting on behalf of women. The contrast between Brett Kavanaugh and Nadia Murad and Dr. Mukwege could not be greater. Dr. Denis Mukwege, 63, is a gynecological surgeon in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who the New York Timessays: “has treated thousands of women in a country once called the rape capital of the world.”
It is Nadia Murad I intend to concentrate on, however. Nadia Murad lived in the Yazidi village of Kocho in Iraq. In 2014, ISIS captured Ms. Murad’s village. ISIS separated the male and female villagers, killed the males who refused to convert to Islam, including six of Ms. Murad’s brothers, and carried the women away into sexual slavery. Nadia was given to an ISIS judge who subjected her to repeated rape (Senate Republicans would regard this as perfectly acceptable judicial conduct). Nadia’s first escape attempt failed. She was recaptured, and the judge turned her over to by raped by his guards.
She escaped in November 2014. Since her escape, she has traveled the world as a tireless advocate for rape victims. She has addressed the UN Security Council, the US House of Representatives, and the UK House of Commons. Ms. Murad was the UN’s first goodwill ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
“Rape has been used throughout history as a weapon of war,” Nadia Murad writes. We call this “weaponized rape.” This is about destroying souls as well as bodies. Rape constitutes a war crime, but, as with other war crimes, the perpetrators are too seldom punished. Rape is so common a tool of war that we have time for only a couple of illustrations. Researcher Gina Marie Weaver has found that rape of Vietnamese women by US soldiers was “widespread” and an “everyday occurrence” during the American war in Indochina. Professor Weaver adds that male American troops now direct their sexual violence at the women serving with them. In Syria’s civil war, an uncounted number of women have been raped in the prisons and detention centers of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Arab Republic. In time, Assad’s regime would videotape the rapes and send the videos to the rebels.
The elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is a catastrophe for women, workers, gays, Blacks, and Latinos. The Republicans now form a majority of the Court and can achieve their long sought-after goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, thus eliminating women’s right to choose.
Sexual justice will suffer in other ways. The Bill Cosby case is still the exception, rather than the rule. Too many rapists are either never prosecuted or, like Brock Turner, are given no more than a slap on the wrist. Women who kill their abusers are jailed. Putting Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court will do nothing to alter these facts.
Where does this leave women? There is still an enormous gap between how a male-dominated world treats women and girls and the dignity they deserve. Nadia Murad is working to close that gap. As she writes in her 2017 memoir The Last Girl: “I want to be the last girl in the world with a story like mine.”