After years living in New York, there wasn’t too much that shocked me. But a recent news story about Hiram Monserrate, my State Senator, had me up in arms. How could someone continue to hold elected office after slashing their girlfriend’s face with a knife and dragging her down the stairs? I was appalled by the lack of public outrage. But worse, I felt helpless. What could I do about it?
At first, I just grumbled to anyone who would listen. But a colleague challenged me to take action. And that’s how I found my way into The Op-Ed Project’s “Write to Change the World” public seminar. Surrounded by emboldened, impassioned women, I found inspiration that’s stuck with me since.
The best way I can describe The Op-Ed Project is that it was like fuel. I had this spark of an idea, to write about how Monserrate should be ousted from office. The Op-Ed Project was the fuel that helped me turn that spark into my first published op-ed.
And it didn’t stop there. Since that time, I’ve used the knowledge I gained to publish six more articles, and now I’m embarking on something much bigger.
My latest project begins with the story a 14-year-old girl, named Hena, who lived outside Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka. One evening Hena was beaten and raped by her 40-year old cousin. The beating was so severe she was left unconscious. Elders in her village convened a “shalish” or local, informal arbitration to assign punishment. There, Hena was essentially put on trial with the perpetrator.
Unlike the formal court system, this village arbitration was presided over by local religious and socio-economic leaders. Although Hena was the victim, the survivor of the crime, she was given a punishment as well – 101 lashes.
She didn’t survive.
Unfortunately, Hena’s story is not dissimilar from other survivors of rape or sexual assault in Bangladesh. Under makeshift, informal village arbitration, these survivors are often punished, although they’re the victims, not the perpetrators.
These incidents continue because this story really hasn’t been reported on any scale. Without bringing this story to a broader audience, it remains silent. And with silence, there’s no change, no justice.
Now, after The Op-Ed Project, I’m well placed to help create change, to improve access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence. It’s this passion and the tools I gained from The Op-Ed Project that inspired me to launch a Kickstarter campaign to share stories like Hena’s.
With this funding, I’ll be able to travel to Bangladesh, live in the villages where these arbitrations occur, and amplify the voices of survivors to advocate for change.
Looking back, I couldn’t have imagined launching an ambitious project like this, one that has the potential to fail if we don’t raise the money to make it happen. But The Op-Ed Project gave me the courage to see it through, to reach out as far as possible, and make my voice heard, make the voices of survivors heard, to not remain silent but take action instead.
To learn more about this Kickstarter campaign click here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crabtree/flawed-justice-village-arbitration-in-bangladesh
Krisy Crabtree took the “Write to Change the World” public seminar in 2009, with The OpEd Project co-founder and seminar leader, Katie Orenstein. To learn more about our public seminars, please look here.