By Savvas Sfairopoulos
On Tuesday, Oct. 6, I attended the first Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS) dinner. I was one of the few people, I was told, to have found the dinner informative. As an international student, coming out of this event I can now see what I did not see before: the harsh realities that the women of this nation have to deal with on a quotidian basis.
Nevertheless, a rather interesting question came to mind as I listened to Lecturer of Gender and Freshman Studies Helen Boyd Kramer’s opening remarks. I thought to myself, “Why was I never educated on this matter when I was back in Greece?” To answer this question, I had to consider my country’s attitude towards sexual assault and then investigate the rape rates of the past decade, particularly compared to those of the U.S. The results have been interesting.
As a boy, I was taught, both by my parents and my teachers at school, that I should respect people of all backgrounds and genders. I was told that women, in particular, deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity as mothers are figures of holy status. Religion is an important aspect of Greek culture, and since Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece, the vast majority of the population grow up as followers of Christian dogma. The Greek Orthodox Church considers rape to be one of the greatest sins and preaches strongly against it. These religious teachings play an important role in Greek society and contribute largely to the prevention of rape.
Looking at the rape statistics that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published in 2011, the rape rate per 100,000 Greek individuals was down to 6.3 in 2009. A complicating factor, however, is lack of reporting. The aforementioned rate could be much higher, assuming that many rapes are not reported by the victims. Empirically speaking, this is not proof that Greece has this kind of problem, but the possibility exists nevertheless. According to a report prepared by the Greek Helsinki Monitor and the World Organization Against Torture, relatively few cases of rape are actually reported to the police, and even fewer cases proceed to prosecution.
As with other forms of violence against women, victims of rape in Greece are often unwilling to report the crime, largely due to the possibility of social shaming, social stigma and the lack of confidence in law enforcement’s response to rapes. According to the stereotype, rape is a sudden and violent sexual assault, by a person unknown to the victim, in a public and deserted area, which results in forced intercourse and injury of the victim due to her intense resistance, which can be proved. A rape that does not fit the above description — for example, date- or marital rape — is often not defined as such, even by the victim, who may fear self-recrimination and avoid reporting the crime. Due to this stereotypical image of rape, the social environment and even the official authorities regard the victim degradingly if rape occurred in other circumstances.
Truth be told, I do not know what it means to be a victim of rape or sexual harassment, but that should not prevent me, or anyone else who has not had first-hand experience with the aforementioned atrocities, from providing help and support to the actual victims and striving to educate future generations about this issue. I am personally saddened by the fact that activist groups are not as vocal and do not gain as much publicity back in my country as they do in the U.S. Greece should take the American education system as an example and provide similar lectures on topics such as rape and sexual harassment.
I am happy to see that most, if not all, Lawrentians are willing to sit down and have an open dialogue about these issues to try to come up with viable solutions, instead of just discuss the problem. The scope of this issue is global, and all countries should join in the discussion, no matter how high or low their rape rates are.
There is no need to sharpen our pencils anymore; our pencils are sharp enough. Even the dull ones will make a mark.