I forthrightly admit that neither am I an expert in matters pertaining to the Congo, nor do I know much about preventing or otherwise dealing with cases of rape - in the Congo or elsewhere. Having said that, I'm quite certain that I'm not the only one absolutely baffled (floored is more like it, actually) by Hilary Clinton's announcement yesterday of a $17 million plan to combat the abysmal levels of sexual violence in the Congo, part of which entails "supplying rape victims with video cameras to document the violence." Really? Video cameras? To rape victims? Hmm.....
Texas in Africa and the ladies at Wronging Rights have virtually summed up my thoughts on the matter quite well, raising among other matters questions pertaining to who, exactly, will be receiving said camcorders; where the footage will be sent (do bear in mind that both the Congolese government and military hierarchy are quite generally unwilling to prosecute rape perpetrators); and indeed how the camcorders will be charged given that the country lacks a power grid on which to charge portable electronic devices (a most astute observation). Might I also add that it is most, most improbable that a rapist will cease his evil actions upon being confronted with a recording device. Again, while claiming absolutely no expertise on the matter, intuition leads me to believe that he might indeed become more violent in his actions.
Given all of these considerations and quandries, what on earth would lead someone to believe that video cameras are part and parcel of the solution to combatting rape in the Congo? Having brought my initial frustrations over the matter under control, I began to ponder the logic by which one could possibly arrive at such a conclusion. A cursory glance through my Google history is enough to frighten just about anyone, with phrases like "rape victim, video"; "rape, congo"; "rape, video, persecution" floating about - evidence of my feeble attempt at discovering existing cases (in the developing world) where video cameras effectively served as preventative measures or lead to the prosecution of the perpetrators; or otherwise research suggesting that the distribution of such devices may indeed be the way forward. Presumably Clinton's statement is premised on some research that someone must have conducted at some point in time, right?
Maybe I'm not a very diligent Googler (though this is highly doubtful; of the countless skills one acquires whilst writing a Master's dissertation and subsequently tackling a PhD, Googling ranks quite high among them), but the results of my several hours of searching are indeed just as laughable as the proposition in question. Among my findings/musings:
- Video footage of rape acts has in some cases lead to the persecution and conviction of the perpetrators (see here, here, here and here, for instance), but in all such cases the acts were documented by either the perpetrators themselves or their cronies, or otherwise a passerby who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time - or indeed the right place at the right time, depending on your perspective. I wasn't able to find a single case in which a rape act was prevented or otherwise persecuted in which the victim was the one pressing the 'record' button. Perhaps Secretary Clinton has a CCTV-style system in mind, but then where would you install the cameras?
- According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, a significant percentage of rapes in the Congo are committed by senior army officials, over whom the government and donors have little leverage. This ties into the earlier point regarding where footage would be sent and how it would be handled upon receipt. It moreover leads one to conclude that the focus should be on combatting the overall culture of corruption, rather than the supplying of video cameras. Alas.
- Suggesting video cameras as a means by which rape victims can "document the violence" operates on the assumption that the victims will bring such videos forward as evidence (though we still haven't established to whom). The problem with this, though, is that rape victims in the Congo - and elsewhere in Africa - are often grossly stigmatized, and in some cases jailed. Given such a reality, documenting the act (especially by the victim) may prove quite counterproductive.
- If the surrounding culture is one laden with corruption and embodying "entrenched notions of gender hierarchy and the sexual entitlement of men" (to quote Prof. Rachel Jewkes of the Medical Research Council speaking on South Africa's culture of sexual violence), video footage isn't going to assist victims in any significant way. Such measures will only be effective if the external environment is one in which such acts are outrightly condemned, of which the Congo isn't (yet) one.
I really could go on, but would nevertheless fail to understand how the camcorder proposition makes sense - or indeed discover any research suggesting its merits in the developing world. The effective use of camcorders for such means in the Western context is a moot point in my opinion, precisely because the surrounding culture is one in which acts of sexual violence are not only regarded with contempt, but are severely punished. While I'm sure Clinton's suggestion is well-intentioned and put forward with all the right motives, I cringe at such cases of "headless hearts" - arguably my favorite of Paul Collier's phrases - who fail to properly understand the realities of the countries they are somehow hoping to save. Inevitably, the law of unintended consequences always prevails. And while I certainly am no expert on the Congo, even I can make out the blatant flaws implicit in such a proposition. One would hope that the U.S. government could, too.
But then again, I'm no expert. Will someone please kindly inform me: what did I miss? ....
Update: For a different perspective on the issue of "Camcorders for the Congo," see Shshank Bengali's post. I'm not sure that it lends any credibility to the proposition, but it does well to suggest that this isn't the craziest U.S. initiative for Africa. I'm sure it ranks up there, though...