The idea of weaponizing rape is hardly a new concept–quite possibly the most depressing sentence I have ever written. However, being born in a first-world, fully developed nation that has never had to deal with anything in the way of an authoritarian dictatorship, it would be difficult indeed for anybody to grasp the idea of government-sanctioned systemic sexual assault. While reading Kaplan’s piece about Nieves Ayress’ experiences at the hands of her torturers, I found myself having to reread descriptions of the torture that she suffered because I could not believe what I had just read. Some of the details provided sound like something taken from literature by the Marquis De Sade.
Other than disturbing me greatly–and I do consider myself quite unflappable with regards to horror, whether its fictional or not–this article presented a number of striking points, some of which I had never thought of before. I had never considered the idea that (the threat of) prison rape could be used to disarm men (in this case, fathers, sons) who would resist their captors–“If you continue to resist, we will rape your daughter/you will be forced to rape your daughter.” Placing men, the usual beneficiaries of sexual violence, into states of submission through sex, something which would have been a nearly exclusively female experience, must have been additionally humiliating, given that Chilean society was incredibly patriarchal.
Additionally, the article talks about how being the victim of a rape in Chile would have been the equivalent of being a leper, something which would have been a very public source of shame. This coerced victims into a state of modesty that benefited those who had committed such atrocities. This could not be a more perfect definition of the term “rape culture”, this combination of societal ridicule (victim blaming) and internalized, privatized shame. The power of privatizing and internalizing atrocities like this really cannot be understated. Humans being the introspective creatures that we are, it really does not take much for our overactive minds to turn things that people do to us into happenings for which we see ourselves as responsible for. This shows a horrifying but remarkably deep understanding of human psychology. Regimes of this nature are, most regrettably, not stupid on the topic of fear.