More: I noted that, too, and it made me wonder how they can switch off. How they can do these incredibly hard jobs.
LFJ: They’re incredible lawyers, and like lawyers they see each case as a tremendous puzzle. They are so brilliant at taking complicated narratives, telling them through many witnesses, and building a case so compellingly. In one of the cases we show in Sex Crimes Unit, the complainant was a prostitute. The prosecutors were aware of every prejudice that juries bring to a case, they worked with that and built around it. Where their dedication comes from, I don’t know. But they’re incredibly cohesive as a unit, in terms of sharing details, sharing skills. It’s just a wonderful, collegial atmosphere.
More: Considering the overwhelming defense of Strauss-Kahn in France, do you think the U.S. is ahead of the curve in prosecuting alleged rapists?
LFJ: Absolutely. That’s why I wanted to make this film so badly. After directing The Greatest Silence, about rape in the Congo, I was extremely committed to showing the flip side of the war against women half way across the world.
More: The situation in the Congo is so extreme, so evil. What do you think caused that? How did it get to this point?
LFJ: I think it can be traced to women’s access to justice. They pillage and rape in a culture where their crimes have no consequences. Army rape, civilian rape—and civilian rape there has spiked in recent years. Little boys are not born rapists, but they see it all around them. If a man is taken away from his family for 20 years, that sends a powerful message to other men and boys. It’s a pretty strong deterrent. In my film, there’s a one-woman special victims unit; only one woman in charge of sex crimes. I brought her here and they gave her a rape kit. When I visited her in the Congo, it was in her office as a kind of talisman, a kind of justice she couldn’t imagine for her country.
More: You’re working on a third documentary on this subject.
LFJ: Yes, Three Women: The Hidden Face of Colombia’s War. It’s about three displaced women, two of them rape victims. One was raped by paramilitaries at 11, the other while working in a whorehouse, but what happened to her was just horrific
Colombia has a very progressive court system. There are 30,000 demobilized paramilitaries in the country. They just passed a law, the Law of Justice and Peace, to encourage victims to come forward and say, I was attacked, my property seized, my village massacred. If the paramilitaries confess to any of these crimes, they will spend a maximum of seven years in jail. It’s a way to encourage victims to come forward and to encourage the paramilitaries to own up to what they have done.
Yet, of the many victims, only 82 have claimed to have been raped, because they have sort of a pre-1972 U.S manner of deaing with sexual violence. The burden of proof is on the victims. They have to go through endless psychological testing, lie detector tests. The investigations have gone on for three years and nothing has moved. Both these women, the women in my film, have decided to drop out. The younger victim—she’s 15 now—her mother says, “They treat her like she’s a parrot.” She’s had to tell her story over and over and over.
More: The rape of women by soldiers goes back through history.
LFJ: Women historically are the plunder of war. The idea of women as property, something you take. In the Congo, the unbelievable atrocities are in a perverse way an acknowledgement of the power of women. When, three years ago, the U.N. passed a resolution that the use of rape in conflict is not a humanitarian crisis, but a security crisis, they were acknowledging that when women are raped and mutilated, it destabilizes the family, the village, the country. So they need a security response. Soldiers need to be brought in to make them stop.