I have two modest proposals: 1) peacekeeping troops should not rape children, and 2) if peacekeepers do rape children, the media should go ahead and call that a "child rape scandal," not a "sex-for-food scandal."
Seems reasonable enough, right? After all, there are no "peacekeeper" or "food" exceptions to the moral and legal rule that children cannot consent. Adults having sex with children is rape. That is terrible enough under any circumstances, but it is particularly appalling to think of peacekeepers taking advantage of the desperate people they are supposed to be protecting.
And yet, as my friend Kate Cronin-Furman points out in a post on Wronging Rights, that turns out to be a tall order. An internal UN report that recently leaked has accused French soldiers in the Central African Republic of forcing "hungry, homeless young boys to perform sex acts on them in return for small amounts of food, water and sometimes some cash."
For some reason, much of the international media has apparently decided to report that story as a "sex-for-food" scandal:
The idea seems to be that when peacekeepers rape children who are desperate for food, for some reason it does not actually count as rape, but rather is an exchange of food for sex. Worse, the wording suggests that by dispensing food to their victims, the rapists were merely causing a "scandal," not committing a crime.
And this isn't the first time this has happened. Cronin-Furman rounds up other examples of peacekeepers sexually abusing children that were also covered as "sex-for-food" stories in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2011.
This needs to stop. When child rape occurs, the media should call it what it is. Describing such incidents as "sex for food" minimizes the gravity of the crimes, by implying that the soldiers were compensating locals for transactional sex, rather than acknowledging what they were truly doing to vulnerable children. It's not "sex." It's rape.