A Lack of Empathy

Jacob's reaction to Dinah's rape is puzzling and disturbing.

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Sexual Violence Today

This deeply upsetting apathy is a challenge that still faces humanity today, enabling the prevalent sexual violence we observe in the modern world. The number of worldwide victims of sexual violence is incredibly high. In South Africa, a recent study suggests that in some provinces, 25 percent of men admit to rape. In Sudan, an estimated hundreds of women face sexual violence each day. Playwright and activist Eve Ensler writes that “the women of eastern Congo are enduring their 12th year of sexual terrorism.

The girl children born of rape are now being raped.” According to the UN, 200,000 women, from very little girls to old women, have been raped during the ongoing violence there, and often without consequences. A fifteen-year-old girl who was kidnapped and raped for a month in the Congo describes that "No one came for me... No one from my family looked for me." And rape is not a crisis only in the Global South. Nearly 100,000 women in the United States are raped each year. Per capita, more than double that number are raped annually in Canada.

Like Jacob, many of us remain, at least relatively, silent. Yet there are individuals who have broken Jacob’s age-old silence by devoting their lives and careers to addressing sexual violence. For a generation, Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, has been a leader in treating women who have been raped at the Panzi hospital in the eastern DRC. Eric Reeve, a professor of English literature at Smith College, has spent the last decade researching the violence in Sudan and has been a passionate national and international advocate for women there.

Finding our own empathy is a tremendous challenge. The world is a very big place, and it is hard to feel a personal bond and responsibility for every contemporary Dinah around the globe. But our indignation at Jacob’s silence should be instructive, urging us to speak out in the face of the sexual violence in our time. It is an accident of birth that one of these girls is not personally beloved to us. Let us work to ensure they stay safe.  

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Aviva Presser Aiden

Aviva Presser Aiden is a student at Harvard Medical School. She co-founded Bears Without Borders, an organization fostering economic opportunities among developing-world artisans, and is co-founder and CTO of Lebone, a social enterprise developing microbial fuel cells as an off-grid energy and lighting solution for Africa.