January 19, 2009

Innocence and Innocence Lost

This weekend, I went to a free screening of Until the Violence Stops, a documentary of sorts on the creation and purpose of V-Day (Eve Ensler’s movement to raise awareness of violence against women.) I went because I’m writing an article on the Vagina Monologues, her play that is put on in many countries around the world to raise money for this movement. It is the 10th anniversary of the London V-Day this year.

It was a difficult film to watch, though funny in parts as well (and the seats in the Belsize Park Everyman theatre are comfortable reclining couches). I remembered the first time I saw the Vagina Monologues, the moment I sat in a crowd of people where the women who were abused in the past were asked to stand; among them, many of my own friends. And then the people who know women who were abused stand and after that, everyone who promises never to let a woman be abused again. It’s a powerful play.

The documentary we watched included interviews with Japanese “comfort women” who served the sexual needs of soldiers during the war. One of them spoke of how she was shunned by her family for the shame of revealing her story and seeking justice. In the film, they spoke to a community of Native American women where there is a long history of domestic abuse. It showed Eve Ensler visiting Kenya where a centre for education on female circumcision was set up. They explained the different types of female circumcision, one of them cutting everything away, sewing up the girl with only a tiny hole for urine and menstrual blood. When the girl is married, her husband will sometimes use a goat’s horn to force through the wound.

On top of that, I’ve just started a book called The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam. It’s her memoir of growing up in Cambodia abused and sold into prostitution at the age of 16 where she was treated horribly. She felt dead inside. Her story is an amazing tale of survival and she is now an advocate for sex trafficking, working with young women rescued from brothels in Cambodia where she lives with her three children.

There is so much violence and anger in this world.

Here’s a short excerpt from Somaly’s book. Page 63-64:

My punishment was harsh, but the way they punish prostitutes today is far worse than anything I ever had to suffer. When I was with Aunt Peuve, except for that one time with electricity, the punishment was mainly beatings and our own fear - things like snakes. Now, I see girls in brothels with nails hammered into their skulls. That sounds unbelievable, but we have photos. Girls are chained and beaten with electric cables. They go mad. We've rescued several children from brothels who have completely lost their minds..Recently, some dead girls were found in the sewer of a brothel: they had drowned. Another time, after a fire, the police found several girl's bodies, still chained up. They know who owned that brothel - everybody does, but he isn't picked up and nothing is done about it. He has too many connections and the girls are nobodies. .The cuts and weals we see on escaped prostitutes these days are unbelievable. The clients do it, or the pimps. Maybe it's the influence of Chinese films; the pimps watch them avidly, like a lot of other men. They're full of scenes of torture. .Nowadays, the girls are much younger, too. This is because men in Cambodia will pay thousands of dollars to rape a virgin for a week - it's always a week, for a virgin. Sex with a virgin is supposed to give strength. It lengthens a man's lifespan and even lightens his skin..To make it clear they offer true bona fide virgins, the brothels today sell children. Often, they are very young girls, five or six years old. After the week is over, they sew the girl inside - without an anaesthetic - and quickly sell her again. A virgin is supposed to scream and bleed, and this way the girl will scream and bleed again and again. They do it maybe three or four times.

Tell me, can you read that without sadness and anger?

These are the reasons we need V-Day and what makes it important. It is not a male-bashing event, as some people find it. It’s supported, in fact, by many men who understand what it is about. It’s about empowerment of women, to help them feel comfortable with their bodies, to help them understand that their bodies are their own. To cast a blanket over dark pasts, to help those who aren’t strong enough to help themselves, to bring women together in compassion for one another. For peace.


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J said...

Until the Violence Stops always brings me to tears. It's so powerful. I have so much respect for V-Day and for Eve Ensler and for the difficult, important work they do everyday.

I performed in the Vagina Monologues my Freshman year of college. It was simply amazing.

A Cuban In London said...

I programmed this film a couple of years ago when I still worked at an arts centre. I got together a panel of specialists in domestic and sexual violence. I cannot stress enough what an impact it had locally. A conference was organised on the back of it and another screening was arranged.

I loved your post today even though it was a mix of pleasure and pain. Many thanks.