Sunday, October 22, 2006

Bride Kidnapping Again

October 22, 2006

Yesterday, seated with a group of local colleagues, I read an article about bride kidnapping in the local English-language newspaper. Human Rights Watch recently released a report condemning Kyrgyzstan’s inaction on bride kidnapping and domestic violence.

The article related the story of a 17-year-old, Feruza, who was kidnapped by a stranger on the night she was supposed to wed someone else.

“He forced me to have sex with him the first night,” she is quoted in the article. “A woman came to say that they’d prepared my bed; I thought I’d be alone. I lay down to sleep, then he came in and he forced himself on me and raped me. I was saying no and he still did it. I cried and screamed…There were other times, too, when he raped me. I didn’t ever want to go to sleep.”

I commented to two of my co-workers on the article. “How awful,” I said, “someone was kidnapped on her wedding night.” I couldn’t imagine all of the preparations and thoughts of a voluntary life together suddenly replaced by a life with a stranger, a stranger willing to use force and violence.

“That happens all the time,” Aizhana, a 33-year-old single mother said with a smile. “When a guy realizes he’s about to lose her to someone else, he reacts quickly.”

Nasikat, an unmarried woman in her twenties also laughed.

“That probably happened in the south,” Aizhana said.

“It happens here too,” Nasikat said. “In the villages around Bishkek. I have a friend who was stolen and taken back two times.”

They both giggled as I remained silent, but shocked at their light treatment of the matter.

A little later, while walking down the street with Aizhana, I told her that the article continued to bother me. One of the first cases of forced kidnapping I came across in Osh, a case I’ve written about in this blog, took place when the man made arrangements with a taxi driver to help him kidnap her. Being taken hostage in a taxi or car seems to occur relatively frequently.

“After my experience in Nicaragua,” I told Aizhana, “I know what it feels like to suddenly be a prisoner in a car. It’s a shocking and traumatic experience. And for me, it was just one day. But for them, it’s the rest of their lives.”

“I know,” said Aizhana, with uncharacteristic gravity. “I think it’s because it happens all the time here that we just get used to it and treat it so lightly.”

At the same time, when I tell staff about what happened in Nicaragua, they look at me in disbelief.

“Is it such a dangerous place?” one woman in her early 20s asked me. “That would never happen here.”

And she’s right. I’ve heard of some cases of taxi drivers being victims – killed for their cars. But I’ve never heard of a driver himself being involved in harming his passengers.

I’ve been more cautious when taking taxis here, less willing to argue over price as long as I get to my destination safely. When I take a marshrutka, the public mini-buses, I’m amazed that I don’t need to worry about knife-bearing teenagers who could stick me up in public, while the rest of the bus would sit passively. That happens in Nicaragua, but not here.

Of course, this is a sign the society somehow functions better here – perhaps the closeness of the family is responsible. At the same time, violence against women is not uncommon. And women under the age of 25 are at constant risk of kidnapping, rape, and an entire life with someone they may not love.

Just because I’m not in the risk group, I feel safe here. But I wonder, does the localization of violence within the family unit, does the targeting of a rather helpless group (women aged 15-25), thus reduce the incidence of randomized violence? Do the young women in Kyrgyzstan bear the brunt for the rest of us? Is that why so many of them would like to get out?

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