From the Left



When Is Rape Not Real Rape?

Susan Estrich on

It's a question I've been writing about for more than 40 years, since I found myself in the back of a police car explaining what happened to me when a Black man held an ice pick to my throat and threatened to kill me. I was, I learned that night, a lucky victim, lucky to be alive and lucky that racism meant that mine was considered a "real rape," the title of my first book. How much more horrifying, I have long thought, to be a "not real" rape victim.

In a thoughtful and deeply troubling piece in The New York Times, Bret Stephens writes of the new rape "denialism," which we are seeing in real time, in the refusal to credit the overwhelming evidence of what Hamas did to Israeli girls and women on Oct. 7, and to Israeli hostages in the days since. "Lies and slanders against the Palestinians and their resistance" is what Hamas calls the evidence collected from the video cameras carried by Hamas fighters and captured by Israeli forces. But Israelis are not the only source of the damning evidence of girls being raped, dismembered, stabbed in their genitals, breasts cut off and tossed back and forth. A new U.N. report, released on Monday, confirmed what the Israelis have been saying, and proving, all along: a pattern of unspeakable sexual violence, so horrible that the only real question is who could possibly ignore it.

And the answer, as Stephens and others have detailed, is not just Hamas. There is, after all, nothing really shocking about the fact that those who would massacre babies and children, Holocaust survivors and whole families, would turn a blind eye to the weaponization of sexual violence and equate rape with legitimate resistance. What do you expect from haters?

The U.N., hardly a pro-Israel institution, chronicled in its recent report, "at least two incidents of rape of corpses of women," "bodies found naked and/or tied, and in one case gagged," and "clear and convincing information that sexual violence, including rape, sexualized torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment occurred against some women and children" held hostage in Gaza. This was confirmed by former hostages. There is reason to believe it is continuing.

Will that be enough to convince the rest of the doubters, who nitpick the reports because too many of the victims are not survivors -- they are dead at the hands of the rapists, who stop at nothing. The U.N. experts said they had found "reasonable grounds" to believe that that rape and gang rape took place in at least three locations: the Nova music festival site and the area around it, as well as Road 232 and Kibbutz Re'im. "In most of these incidents, victims first subjected to rape were then killed." The U.N. report said that its experts could not verify the reports of sexual violence in Kibbutz Kfar Aza or Kibbutz Be'eri, but that circumstantial evidence "notably the recurring pattern of female victims found undressed, bound, and shot," indicated that "potential sexualized torture" may have occurred. "Sexualized torture" is real rape. Will that stop the apologists, who bemoan the fact that too many Palestinians are dead -- and too many are dead -- but choose to ignore the reason why?


Those who deny the reality of mass rape negate the evil that is the cause of this war. Why is Israel fighting Hamas? It is fighting for those women and girls, fighting for their rights to survive against those who would deny their humanity. What did Hamas expect would happen? The apologists who would equate "sexualized torture" with legitimate resistance and deny the evil that is the basis for this war only needlessly prolong the carnage and invite more.


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