Originally published on Facebook Notes on 18 March 2009
While I'm definitely glad Ms. Mai had the courage to stand up and formally accuse her attackers for their vicious crime, news of her upcoming nuptials leaves me with mixed feelings. Yes, I'm all for breaking the taboo of a raped woman being ineligible for a good marriage in Pakistan. The story even sounds heart-warming in a Lifetime movie kind of way when you find out her suitor, Mr. Gabol, is one of the cops assigned to protect her after her case sparked a worldwide news frenzy. Then you get to the part where he blackmails her to marry him by threatening to kill himself if she refuses. Did I mention he's already married so Ms. Mai will be his second wife? Mr. Gabol's first wife even came to plead with Ms. Mai not to reject the offer. Not to equivocate here, but it seems like she's being victimized all over again by the same cultural expectations of women.
I simply feel like throwing up my hands and exclaiming WTF.
Usually when we think about American Marines, rape, and foreign policy fiascos, the victim at the other end of our embarassment lives in the vicinity of the Ryukyu islands. This case, however, involves a young Filipino woman who has expressed some doubts about her story since emigrating to the United States from the Phillipines. While not a full on retraction as the headline seems to imply, she admits that she "may have been so friendly and intimate" with the accused after drinking, kissing, and dancing at a Subic City bar that when they later went to a van, he proceeded to have sexual relations (in the broadest sense of those words) with her under the assumption that his advances were not unwelcome or unwanted.
Here is what is purported to be a copy of her sworn statement:
As you can plainly read, she does not deny that anything untoward may have happened. In fact, she asserts very little at all, only raises questions and wonders. Of course, if the alleged victim was in fact drunk and/or possibly under the influence of other substances (no accusation implied there), could this not in fact account for her hazy memory of the exact nature of the events which transpired? And what about the shame and guilt she mentions at the end of the statement? A combination of the two seems a heady cocktail for questionable recollection.
My chief complaint here isn't about whether this particular rape did or did not occur but rather how these recent developments will effect our opinion of all previous and future reports of such unlawful acts by American servicemen abroad not only in the Phillipines, but stationed in Japan, South Korea, and all other points across the globe. Will it make it easier for military commanders to sweep such incidents under the rug and transfer the accused out of the country to avoid criminal prosecution in the host country? It seems easier to dismiss future accusations as mere female histrionics that will destroy a young man's military career and wreck his life without a fair airing of the facts. Will it evaporate the pressure of the government of a host country to leverage modifications to Status of Forces Agreements so that American servicemen can be held accountable for their misconduct? Representatives of the Phillipines government are already expressing their displeasure with the alleged victim's recent statements because of the huge consequences pursuing a trial, conviction, and negotiated sentencing have had on foreign policy.
Rape is an ugly thing, no matter where it happens. Unfortunately, when it happens at the intersection of a super-power's global strategic interests, "good liberty" abroad for American servicemen, and the oft-exploited human resources of the host country, things get that much uglier, ambiguous, and political. My only hope is that the truth will set the innocent(s) free in this case, whomever that may be.