21st-century gender terrorism 

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Reading the news over the past two weeks, I couldn't get out of my head the horrible images of young school girls shackled, punished, their lives destroyed by the actions of angry men. The rapes and murders of the girls in Colorado and Pennsylvania are testaments to the evil among us.

You don't need to venture into al Qaeda hideouts; we have terrorists living right here in our own neighborhoods. Gender terrorists, or individuals who torture and threaten the lives of others based solely on their gender, substantially outnumber those of the "evil regime" of Osama bin Laden. The idea of a "terrorist" assumes willful, planned violence directed at a group of individuals for a particular purpose. Isn't that what pedophiles, rapists, partner/wife killers and others who target females are engaged in? Where is the national outcry against these terrorists?

Instead, the media reports on these numerous family killings, rapes and mass murders of girls and women as school shootings, domestic disputes or random acts of crazy folks. The murderer in Colorado was characterized as "a bearded drifter." The gender terrorist in Pennsylvania was characterized as a "school shooter."

But what most media outlets, and members of our society, fail to acknowledge is the very gendered nature of these killings. These rapists and killers specifically targeted females. CNN and the New York Times continue to cover these murders in terms of school shootings. Only the Christian Science Monitor identified the "disturbing feature" of "girls as targets."

Let's be clear about what is happening here: These are hate crimes. They are not simply "madmen" who snapped and lashed out at the closest individual; they conceptualized, planned and crafted attacks on girls and women because they were girls and women. We have special laws on the books in this country treating hate crimes as "exceptional," warranting special prosecution and punishment. But no such law exists for those responsible for hate crimes based on gender.

The concept of gender terrorism is nothing new. Witch burnings in the 16th and 17th centuries, the rapes and murders of slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, forced sterilization in the 19th and 20th centuries; these are all examples of the violence women have faced because they are females.

The staggering numbers of rape and domestic abuses cases also reflect this terrorism. In 2004, almost 210,000 people over the age of 12 were victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. And the overwhelming majority of those people 90 percent were female. Currently in the United States, 1 in 6 females over the age of 12 has either been raped or suffered attempted rape.

As a culture, we must acknowledge that what we are dealing with in the face of these mass murders and rapes is not an aberration; it is an extreme form of the violence that women and girls are threatened with in their everyday lives that often goes unreported, under-prosecuted and under-punished.

When a rapist serves, on average, a 65-month sentence, and a person found guilty of federal marijuana charges serves an average 42-month sentence, it communicates something about the value of a woman's life in this society. And that 65-month average applies, of course, only if the defendant is actually found guilty of rape; only 58 percent of rapes are prosecuted successfully as a felony. And among those 58 percent, there's only a 69 percent chance that the rapist will spend time in jail.

When are we going to stop fooling ourselves and our own sense of security by believing that these men are outside the norm, and start recognizing that these killers are hidden in plain sight in our churches, schools and neighborhoods? When do we start demanding that the media transforms its coverage to reflect that the rape and killing of girls and women is a national gender terrorism emergency? When do we call on our communities to develop more stringent prosecutions and sentences so that gender terrorists are fought as vigorously as international terrorists? When do we get a Gitmo for the men who are stalking, raping, abusing and murdering our daughters, sisters, girlfriends, wives and mothers?

Dr. Tonja Olive is a professor at Colorado College in the Feminist and Gender Studies Program. She teaches courses that examine power, gender and communication.


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