Dark, hollow world for sexual violence survivors

Dark, hollow world for sexual violence survivors
Rape victim talking on the phone in the women and girl friendly centre in Aweil where the GBV hotline is manager. [Photo: ARC/Lual Deng]

*Rose* says conflict-related sexual violence is not something you should wish even on your sworn enemy.

I met ‘Rose’ in Juba for this interview, and she was still shuddering from the gory memories of how a group of soldiers or militia descended on them and raped them with reckless abandon. But her case is different: she conceived as a result.

“We were coming back from the market to a UN operated Protection of Civilians Camp (PoC). This was at the height of 2016 war. We had gone to Juba Town to buy food when we thought it was safer. On coming back we encountered a large group of men in military fatigue right outside PoC fence. Before we knew it they descended on us and raped us in turns,” she says.

It would take a hawk-eyed UN security personnel at the sentry box to raise the alarm. But the damage was already done.

“That is when the men who raped us ran away,” she says.

Her story is not an isolated case.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights’ March 2022 report, based on interviews conducted with victims and witnesses over several years, describes a “hellish existence for women and girls”, with widespread rape being perpetrated by all armed groups across South Sudan.

According to the UN Commission, sexual violence has been instrumentalised as a reward and entitlement for youth and men participating in conflict.

‘‘The goal is to inflict maximum disruption of the fabric of communities, including through their constant displacement,’’ the report continues.

Rape is often used as “part of military tactics for which government and military leaders are responsible, either due to their failure to prevent these acts, or for their failure to punish those involved”, the Commission advanced.

 “It is outrageous and completely unacceptable that women’s bodies are systematically used on this scale as the spoils of war,” declared Yasmin Sooka, Chair of the UN Commission when the report was released.

Women of all ages have recounted being raped multiple times while other women were also being raped around them, and a woman raped by six men said she was even forced to tell her assailants that the rape had been “good”, threatening to rape her again if she refused.

But for Rose, what would follow after the rape ordeal is something she is not sure whether to call a blessing or a curse. She conceived, because the word on the rape reached her husband who would not dare touch her. And a bouncing baby boy would be born nine months later.

“He (husband) does not like the child, even if the child plays with the other kids, he beats the child, buys things for other children and does not give to my child.”

Her husband calls the child ‘De Jana haram’, meaning ‘bastard’ in Arabic. Rose says she has managed to ‘let go of some of the past,’ but she is still ‘living with pain inside her heart’. In short, she is yet to heal. 

“I am not happy, what will make me happy is when I see the men who did this to me and other women face full force of the law,” she says.

Jane* is 36 years old and has three children. Her husband left her because she was raped, which he could not come to terms with.

She was raped in 2021, but regarding the identity of the perpetrator of the violence, all she can remember is that her tormentor was dressed in military fatigue.

Jane says that she was rushed to one of the country’s hospitals and that upon arrival and examination, she was told that her uterus had been damaged.

“They removed my uterus,” she says. “I really don’t know what I will do now, I am now stressed.”

“Through our study research, we discovered there are other health issues apart from the physical harm. For example, HIV as a result of rape, fistula repair, but also so many other health issues associated with the violations. For the mothers, it is difficult to accept children born out of rape,” says Marina Goetz, Director, and Rights for Peace, and Opportunities for Reparations.

 NGOs dealing with populations affected by conflict related sexual violence have been pushing for a holistic concept of reparations that supports survivors. What could deter this practice is when the perpetrators, whether national army of militia, can face the law and they be punished for the wrongs they committed.

But in a situation where the perpetrators go scot free, it is not possible to deter the potential offenders.

The UN Commission urges South Sudanese authorities to take the required actions to end sexual assault against women and girls, including addressing impunity and the root causes of war and instability.