Despite steps toward reform in Burma in 2012, the Burmese army continues to employ rape as a tactic of war in the ethnic states. According to a June 2012 report by the Kachin Women’s Association, “Ongoing Impunity,” a male porter witnessed the repeated gang-rape of two young women who were also conscripted to be porters:
On the third night, the senior officers started to rape the two girls. They were raped for the whole night and were passed on from place to place among them. I saw they could hardly walk the next morning: one girl cried and came out from the army barracks and another girl looked very weak and leaned over the tree.
We had to stay together with the soldiers, not very close to where the officers were staying, but I could see everything clearly.
On the next morning, the captain took one of the girls and forced her to take bath with him. I know he was from a Meiktila-based battalion because of his insignia. All the porters were asked to collect water for his shower. He bathed naked, and forced the girl to clean his whole body. She also had to rub him with a towel. After this, he forced the girl to take a shower naked, threatening that he would kill her if she didn’t. She had to bathe in the open space where everyone could see.
On another morning I saw the other girl rush out from an army officer’s hut. While she was crying and saying her prayers on her knees, she was slapped on the head and told "Don’t pray! It won’t help you. Where is your God? You think he can do anything. So where is he now?" Then he slapped her on her face again and I saw she had lost one of her teeth and her face was swollen.
During lunchtime, when we (porters) could have time together, the girls told us that the officers took methamphetamines and raped them like animals.
In “School for Rape,” a Karen woman describes her rape by a government soldier:
One night last November … more than 60 government soldiers from 99 Division came through our village. I heard many soldiers pass my house … then one soldier came straight into my house, and he put out the light right away so I couldn't see his face. … He said, "Lay down, mother." I refused, so he pushed me and I fell on my children. They started crying, and the soldier jumped on me and started to wrestle with me. Then he put his rifle barrel against my face; it felt so cold and made me so afraid I can't tell you. He put the barrel against my chest and pushed me down again. He grabbed my throat and said "If you scream, I'll choke you!" and tried to slap me but I turned my face away. So he took his gun and held it against one side of my face and pulled out his knife and held it against the other side, and said, "If you fight or cry or shout, I'll kill you!" My sarong had already come apart while we were fighting. He raped me and I couldn’t even scream.
Also in “School for Rape,” a Karen woman recalls being gang raped while being kept as a porter:
I was kept as a porter in October. They said it would only be for four days, but they kept me for one month and four days. … At night I couldn't sleep because I often saw guards come and take the youngest girls away. … Two times I had to carry separately from the rest of the group, and ended up alone in the forest with the soldiers at night. Both times the soldiers came to me and beat me, showed me their guns to keep me quiet, and then raped me. The first time I was raped by six soldiers, and the second night this happened I was raped by four soldiers.
In “License to Rape,” a Shan woman describes harsh treatment by her family following a rape:
I lived in a small hut in the jungle with my husband and two children. There, we looked after our buffaloes and cows. One day, my husband took our two children into the jungle to hunt birds and left me alone in the hut. An SPDC soldier from LIB 333 base in Murng Sart came into our yard to steal our bananas. Although I can’t speak Burmese that well, I tried to talk to him and to take our bananas back. I called out to my husband, but he was so far away at that time, he didn’t hear me. The soldier grabbed me and kicked my legs until I fell to the ground. Then he grabbed my legs. I tried to escape, but he was stronger than I am. He raped me for an hour and a half.
When my husband came home (after the rape), I told him what had happened. He was furious at me and beat me. The relationship between me and my husband suffered tremendously as a result of the rape. Every day, my husband and children would say, "Prostitute! If you want to sell sex, we will build you a small hut in the jungle. You can sell sex there." I felt very hurt by these words, until finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I divorced my husband. When I went to see my children, they said: "Whore, you are not our mother, don’t come see us any more," and drove me away. My husband said: "You didn’t control yourself. You had sex with another man. You are no longer my wife. Leave our house right now." Eventually I decided to come to Thailand.
Human Rights Advisor to the Delegation of the European Commission to India, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka, Parul Sharma, documents a Chin woman’s experience with military authorities:
The army soldiers used to come and stay at our house and behave as they liked us. Sometimes, the Chin National Army soldiers also came to our village. On 5th January 2003, the CAN soldiers came to our village and the Burmese army heard about this so they entered our village on 9th January 2003. The Burmese soldiers came to our house and accused us of supporting and helping the CAN. They came and said, "Why do you support CAN and why did you cook for the CAN people?" They beat me and my husband. They took my husband to Falam town and put him in prison. He never returned. They told me that they wanted to take me to prison too but my child was only six months old. They told me to sign a piece of paper which said "I do not support the CAN people." I had to agree to whatever they said. I went to Falam town to sign on 30th January 2003. I left my baby with my mother at a village. When I got to the military camp, two officers asked me to go inside the room. There was one officer inside the room. As soon as I got there, he threatened me because he knew that I could not speak Burmese very well. I fought back but he pointed a pistol at my forehead. He tore my top and all my underwear. He hit my thighs hard so that my legs could not move anymore. Then, he brutally raped me. He told me that if I told anyone he would kill me. There were guards outside the room but they did not bother to help me.
Again at the end of February, I had to go to the army camp at Falam town. I was so afraid that I took one girl along with me hoping this would protect me. But they did not let her go inside the house with me. The same army officer was in the room. As soon as I got inside the room, he raped me again. I decided to flee because I knew that I would have to go again and again and get raped. I fled to India on 15th March 2003. ... Here, I live in Delhi and have got status from UNHCR. In order to eat, we need to collect curry which the local people threw away at the market. This is how we live.
A 26-year-old Rohingha woman seeking refuge in Bangladesh described her rape:
A man from NaSaKa [Burma’s border security force] came to my house. He kicked the door and told me I had to go and work as a sentry instead of my husband. I had to go immediately with my young child and without food. Later in the evening while I was at my post someone else from NaSaKa came. He told me "your husband is not there, I will stay with you; I want to live with you." That night the man raped me in the shed in front of my boy.
We [women] feel at peace in Bangladesh. There is no food and some problems, but there is no rape, we have peace.
Margarita Martinez, a human rights defender from the southern state of Chiapas, told her story in Spanish to a room full of international activists and journalists that included a representative from WMC’s Women Under Siege in Mexico City in January. Crying as she spoke, Martinez described her rape and persecution by the police and her subsequent quest for justice:
My home was searched by 18 to 20 armed police, who beat us, tortured us, and separated our children from me and my husband because of the work we do. Afterward, we went to the prosecutor’s office to ask what the charges against us were. He didn’t provide any information because of the search—there was excessive police force during the search. It wasn’t a search, but sheer intimidation. We submitted a complaint to the specialized office for torture and were then intimidated with telephone threats. We were told to drop the case or our children will pay the price.
We had to move to San Cristóbal [de las Casas] with the children. Attacks ranged from psychological aggression to physical aggression. I was arrested, tortured, and raped in jail. My case was brought to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights. My crime: to work as a health promoter with indigenous people. It is actually the government’s responsibility to do that. On March 5, the government was ordered to implement preventative measures and investigate. ... It’s been two years and we still don’t have a response; even the prosecutor’s office does nothing. … The state has denied us our right to justice. Human rights defenders are the victims today. The government of Chiapas has refused to investigate because the perpetrators are high officials.
I have no work. My children are isolated. We are stigmatized because we are always followed by police. The state is responsible if anything happens to me on the way back to Chiapas. I’m sorry for my tears.
In their book, Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Américas, UC Santa Cruz’s Fregoso and New Mexico State University’s Cynthia Bejarano provide the testimony of Eva Arce, mother of Silvia Arce, who disappeared in March of 1998. (The authors do not say where she was living when she vanished.) Arce speaks about the threats and intimidation she faced from government security forces and officials while seeking justice for her daughter:
In 2003, they beat me and surrounded my house. They have followed me and called me on the phone to threaten me. They’ve tried to pick me up, too. Once they left me a message to go to the Hotel Lucerna to identify the body of my daughter, Silvia, but I didn’t go. They wanted to put one over on me, and I thought: I’m not going; they’ll disappear me, just like they did my daughter, Silvia. I went to ask for help with the investigations to a news reporter from the United States who ended up making fun of me.
The mother of Yahaira Guadalupe, who was taken from her home in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca, by an armed group on April 13, 2011, tells the Caravan for Peace what she knows about her daughter’s abduction. Catholic poet Javier Sicilia leads the caravan, a group traveling from Mexico north through the United States as part of his Mexican Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, which Sicilia created after his son was killed in crossfire in Cuernavaca in March 2011.
I heard the statements of some of the criminals involved in my daughter’s disappearance. They gave all the details about how they had forced my daughter out of her house with the support of civilian and military authorities, and how they tortured, raped and decapitated her, even when they knew she was only an innocent young 19-year-old girl. For them, her only crime was that she was from the state of Michoacan.
A recently updated report by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea describes one former detainee’s testimony of painful forced abortions for women detained and thought to be carrying “impure” fetuses:
[A] drug that in diluted form is used to treat skin wounds was injected into pregnant women’s wombs, inducing labor within hours. As there had not been the normal widening of the hipbones during the advance stages of pregnancy to enlarge the birth canal, the labor pains were the same as when delivering a fully grown baby. When the women moaned or cried out in pain as they lay on wooden and cement cell floors, they were hit with wooden stoves and cursed as "bitches who got Chinese sperm and brought this on themselves."
Afterward, the women were not allowed to bathe, nor given so much as a tissue or towel to clean themselves. Their babies, the former detainee recalls, were “wrapped in newspaper and put in a bucket to die.”
The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea also reports the testimony of Bang Mi-sun, who was captured after having fled over the border and suffered through several trafficked “marriages.” What she recalls is not only ethnic cleansing through forced abortions, but the forcing of prisoners to attack their peers:
Mrs. Bang Mi-sun observed ten pregnant women in early 2002 taken to a hospital from the Musan An-jeon-bu detention facility for the purpose of aborting their "half-Chinese babies." Another seven-month pregnant woman adamantly refused to go to the hospital and guards compelled male prisoners to jump on her stomach until the woman aborted on the floor. The woman was then taken to the hospital where she died.
Bang Mi-sun was herself reportedly subjected to sexualized violence. After fleeing over the border, she was trafficked a total of three times. Horrifying as that may be, the last “husband” she was forced to be with before she was repatriated committed an additional form of torture:
Shortly thereafter, while her "husband" was out in the field, she was kidnapped by another gang of traffickers and sold a second time. She ran away but was again apprehended by traffickers who sold her "like livestock" she says for a third time to a 34-year-old bachelor who was still living with his parents. He demanded that Mrs. Bang, then 48 years old, bear him a child, a prospect she thought preposterous to begin with. She told her third "husband" that she had received an intrauterine contraceptive device in North Korea following the birth of her third child. Her "husband" and his friends held her, spread-eagled on the floor, while a "doctor" of some sort "rolled up his sleeves" and manually removed the "ring." Bleeding profusely she became infected, and could not walk or stand up. She spent a month on the floor recovering, mostly in tears, she relates, at the "cruelty and shamefulness" that enveloped her.
In Stephanie Nolen’s 2005 Ms. article, "Not Women Anymore...," she quotes a gynecologist named Dr. Denis Mukwege who is one of two doctors in the eastern Congo who performed vaginal reconstructive surgeries at the time:
They rape a woman, five or six of them at a time—but that is not enough. Then they shoot a gun into her vagina. In all my years here, I never saw anything like it... [T]o see so many raped, that shocks me, but what shocks me more is the way they are raped.
An an Oxfam/Harvard report report tells of one ordeal in which family members were forced not only to watch each other be attacked, but to attack their own kin—or be killed:
My husband and I were sleeping in our house. The children were sleeping in the house next door. The soldiers arrived and brought my daughter to our house where they raped her in the presence of my husband and me. Afterwards they demanded that my husband rape my daughter but he refused so they shot him. Then they went into the other house where they found my three sons. They killed all three of my boys. After killing them, two soldiers raped me one after the other.
One woman interviewed by the BBC relayed her rapists’ wish to violently terminate her pregnancy:
Four men took me. They all raped me. At that time, I was nine months’ pregnant. They gang-raped me and pushed sticks up my vagina—that's when my baby died—they said it was better than killing me.
Libyan law student Iman al-Obeidi burst into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli in March, saying she had been held for two days and gang-raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers. In an interview with CNN, al-Obeidi said:
“Everything they said about me is a lie… I am well-educated unlike the way the Libyan TV portrayed me. I come from a good family, regardless of what they said. I am also not mentally challenged, like they said. Just because I raised my voice and talked to the media, they blamed me and questioned my sanity. Nonetheless, I want my rights, even without the media."
She said she was tied up, beaten, and raped by 15 soldiers.
"People have blamed me for showing my body," she said. "I was depressed and there was no way to show people how I was tortured. I was brutally tortured to the point of them entering weapons inside me. They would also pour alcohol in my eyes."
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also collected accounts of sexual assault and rape from several Libyan civilians and physicians. Here is one such account from Mohamed, a resident of Tomina, a village on the outskirts of Misrata:
[Mohamed] reported to PHR that Qaddafi forces from Tawergha transformed a Tomina elementary school into a detention site where they reportedly raped women and girls as young as 14 years old. Mohamed remained in and around his village while his family fled to Misrata for safety. He reported that as of mid-March he served as a rebel fighter. He wore a green armband to visibly identify himself as a Qaddafi supporter, which enabled him to fight regularly on the front line without being detained or captured.
Mohamed regularly passed Alwadi Alahdar elementary school on one of Tomina’s rural roads en route to the front line. Mohamed reported that he heard the cries of women and girls on several occasions while passing the school. He reported seeing tanks and other military vehicles at this school in April 2011. On one occasion, in the quiet of the night, he heard drunken laughter through the open windows of the school building. He heard women cry out in pain and a man yell, "Shut up, you dogs!"
Mohamed is convinced that Qaddafi troops forcibly detained these women and girls and gang raped them. He said he heard directly from five separate male heads of nearby households and close friends that some of their daughters and wives had been raped by Qaddafi forces. One father confided in Mohamed that his three daughters aged 15, 17, and 18 had gone missing after Qaddafi troops arrived in Tomina. They returned to the family in late April and told their father that they had been raped in the Alwadi Alahdar elementary school for three consecutive days. In what is known as an "honor killing," Mohamed related to PHR investigators, this father slit each of his daughters’ throats with a knife that day and killed them.
The PHR account of this family and village continues:
Another long-time Tomina resident and mother of three corroborated these "honor killings" and estimated that Qaddafi forces had raped at least 50 women and girls from the small village of Tomina. She told PHR investigators that military wearing green uniforms "took men and women away and did bad things to them." One of her neighbors reported that while her husband was away fighting on the front line, she was alone with her 15-year-old daughter. A group of military in green uniforms forcibly moved in to her home and made her cook for them. They took her daughter into the front room of the house and repeatedly raped her for days. When rebel forces took control of Tomina on 12 May 2011, the daughter was found mute and nearly dead. The mother reported that she suffered recurrent nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks. She exhibited pressured speech and hypervigilance while recounting these recent events.
On March 9, 20-year-old Salwa Hosseini was arrested for protesting in Tahrir Square:
She told Amnesty International that “after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window. During the strip search, Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women. The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that 'those not found to be virgins' would be charged with prostitution.”
Journalist Mona Eltahawy described her beating and sexual assault to Human Rights Watch:
They were beating me with their sticks. I lifted my left arm to protect myself but they hit that too, which is when they broke it. While they were hitting me, they were grabbing my breasts and my genital area, putting their hands into my trousers. I kept saying, "Stop it! Stop it!" All this time they were insulting me, saying "You whore, you daughter of…" They then pulled me by my hair toward the Ministry of Interior, still groping me whenever they could. They were like a pack of wild animals.
Sanaa Youssef was arrested during a demonstration in November:
According to her blog, she “was in the midst of around 25 or 30 officers in CSF uniforms and plain clothes. One officer lifted his hand and said, ‘Don’t touch her.’ It was as if this was a secret code to say, ‘Do whatever you want with her.’ One of them hit me on the face and another kicked me while a third pulled me by my hair so that I couldn’t move my head to the right or left, and this helped keep my head still so that they could slap me. I wish it had stopped there, but unfortunately with great pain I have to confess that their hands did not have mercy on my body and they harassed me with all their filth and brutality and lack of conscience. What made it worse is that two of them grabbed the two ends of my scarf around my neck and pulled them in opposite directions. I felt like I was choking and tried to pull the scarf away from my throat while they were continuing to harass me.”
First-person testimonies are hard to obtain in communities still threatened by rape and ethnic-political violence. Human Rights Watch has published what is likely the most comprehensive set of testimonies to date, though they state that the testimonies are limited to stories of rape in detention, as opposed to those within villages, battlefields, and other settings.
A 27-year-old woman whom HRW calls DV told researchers that army personnel abducted her from her home after she had lodged a complaint about the illegal detention of her husband several days earlier. She described the slur they used as well as the sexualized violence:
The officials who came for me behaved indecently. They abused me and called me a "Tamil bitch" in Sinhala. They pushed me into a van. I was held face down in the van. They drove me for an hour, then stopped and took me out. I was taken to a small, dark room where they recorded my details. I later came to know that they took me to Panagoda army camp.
They started questioning me. They asked me about my husband’s involvement with the LTTE. They beat me with sticks and wires. Always, the questions were followed by beating. They sexually harassed me during the questioning. They touched me indecently and told me I was beautiful. There were always two or three people who questioned me and tortured me. They showed me some photographs and asked me to identify the LTTE members. The officials who questioned me were in Sri Lankan army uniform.
At night, I was left alone in the room. On the first night, two officials came to my room and dragged me to another room that looked like the duty officer's room. There was a bed in the room. The two officials raped me one after the other on the floor.
DV told Human Rights Watch her uncle had to pay a bribe to a brigadier at the Panagoda army camp in order to get her released. Even so, she was released on “reporting conditions,” meaning that she was required to make regular visits to the police station following her ordeal.
A 25-year-old woman called UM recounted how security forces raped her repeatedly. UM had first fled Mullivaikal in April 2009, in the last weeks of the war, and was then detained at Arunachalam camp. In 2009, she told HRW, army personnel took her to another camp:
They questioned me about my links with the LTTE and asked about my activities. I said I was forced to work for LTTE and didn’t know anything. They didn’t believe me. They beat me, pulled my hair, and banged my head on a wall. They beat me with their hands and kicked me with their boots. One of the soldiers said, "We will teach you a lesson." I lost consciousness that day and when I came to, I realized I had been raped. Then more soldiers came and raped me. This went on for many days. I can’t remember how many times and how many soldiers raped me.
Rapes have continued since the war’s end. A 29-year-old Tamil man told HRW how officials raped him after arresting him in April 2012—three years after the war was officially declared “over”:
The police officials accused me of being an LTTE member and returning to Sri Lanka from abroad to revive the LTTE. They blindfolded me and pushed me into a jeep. They kept asking me the same questions, about which other LTTE members I worked with, my activities abroad. I kept refusing to answer. I was beaten up with several objects, burned with cigarettes, suspended from the ceiling, sexually abused, and raped. I was raped by different people for three nights—it was dark so I couldn’t tell their faces.
Rape victims must withstand threats of violence from their own families, as seen in this testimony from a May 2009 Physicians for Human Rights report called "Nowhere to Turn”:
When I got back to my brother’s house, I told him what had happened. My brother said to me, "If you stay in my house, I’m going to shoot you (to kill you)." After that, I was afraid and I came to Farchana. My mother doesn’t speak to me.
The violence of rape can force a pregnant woman’s body to abort her baby. At the time of an attack on one woman, which was reported by Physicians for Human Rights, the woman was eight months pregnant. From the same report:
I was raped vaginally by three men in front of my children. The children were forced to witness the rape.… One of the Janjaweed pushed me to the ground. He forced my clothes off and raped me. When they shot my father, they saw I was a little girl. I did not have any energy or force against them. They used me. I started bleeding. It was so painful. I could not stand up.
I was really suffering. The next day I gave birth to a dead baby.
This testimony of a Sudanese man in Darfur was recounted in a 2006 United Nations Population Fund briefing paper:
In February 2004, I abandoned my house because of the conflict. I met six Arabs in the bush. I wanted to take my spear and defend my family, but they threatened me with a weapon and I had to stop. The six men raped my daughter, who is 25 years old, in front of me, my wife, and young children.
One woman from Darfur told Amnesty International in 2004:
I was with another woman, Aziza, aged 18, who had her stomach slit on the night we were abducted. She was pregnant and was killed and they said, "It is the child of an enemy."
In a report called “Shattered Lives: Sexual violence during Rwandan genocide and the aftermath,” Binaifer Nowrojee, executive director of the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, published very graphic testimonies of rape. The report contains testimonies from 25 women who experienced some form of sexualized violence or were raped during the genocide. Their testimonies are categorized into: rape by militia (7 accounts), rape by military (5 accounts), collective sexual slavery (2 accounts), individual sexual slavery or forced marriages (5 accounts), mutilation (2 accounts), and rape of Hutu women (4 accounts).
Here is one excerpt about Elizabeth, who was 29 years old and living in Kigali with her husband when the killing began. The militia came to their house while they were eating dinner with a group of people. She said:
About 10 of them came. They picked two of the women in the group: a 25-year-old and a 30-year-old and then gang-raped them. When they finished, they cut them with knives all over while the other Interahamwe watched. Then they took the food from the table and stuffed it into their vaginas. The women died. They were left dead with their legs spread apart. My husband tried to put their legs together before we were told to get out of the house and to leave the children behind. They killed two of our children. My husband begged them not to kill us, saying that he did not have any money on him, but that he had shoes and secondhand clothes that he sells at the market. He gave them all the clothes. Then, one Interahamwe said, "You Tutsi women are very sweet, so we have to kill the man and take you."
Elizabeth's husband was killed and the head of the militia took her to his house, where she was raped. Ultimately, she managed to escape.
One survivor, who was gang-raped and beaten unconscious, “woke up only to witness the killing of people all around her.” With the pain of what happened to her still affecting her daily life and ability to work, 10 years later, she told London-based NGO African Rights:
I regret that I didn’t die that day. Those men and women who died are now at peace whereas I am still here to suffer even more. I’m handicapped in the true sense of the word. I don’t know how to explain it. I regret that I’m alive because I’ve lost my lust for life. We survivors are broken-hearted. We live in a situation which overwhelms us. Our wounds become deeper every day. We are constantly in mourning.
Mirsada, aged 17, spoke to a women’s group of her extreme abuse in a rape camp. Her story was printed in a 1993 Los Angeles Times article:
The White Eagles would come to get us every night. They would bring us back in the morning. There were nights when more than 20 of them came. That seemed to be some kind of honor. They did all kinds of things to us. It cannot be described, and I don't want to remember. We had to cook for them, and serve them, naked. They raped and slaughtered some girls right in front of us. Those who resisted had their breasts cut.
There were women from various towns and villages. There were more than 1,000 of us. I spent more than four months in that camp. It is a nightmare that cannot be talked about, or described, or understood.
One night, our Serbian neighbor's brother helped 12 of us escape. They caught two of us. We spent days hiding in the forest, in improvised underground shelters, and we managed to get away. If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have survived. I would have killed myself, because death is not as horrible as the treatment I suffered. I cannot talk about that.
Sometimes I think that I will go crazy and that the nightmare will never end. Every night in my dreams I see the face of Stojan, the camp guard. He was the most ruthless among them. He even raped 10-year-old girls, as a delicacy. Most of those girls didn't survive. They murdered many girls, slaughtered them like cattle.
I want to forget everything. I cannot live with these memories. I will go insane.
Witness 50, a teenage survivor from Foča, testified at the ICTY in 2000 about how war crimes convict Zoran Vuković raped her. She was raped repeatedly by a host of different men in various buildings around town. One of the first times she was attacked was in her own high school:
Shortly after the first time she was raped, Witness 50 stated that she was taken to the Foča High School, where she had been a student in 1992. The day after she arrived, a group of soldiers came into the classroom and picked out about eight girls, including her. One of these soldiers took Witness 50 to a room and ordered her to lie down and take off her trousers. He raped her vaginally. Witness 50 stated in her testimony that she did not remember exactly what he said to her, but that he and all of the men who would later rape her said the same things: "You Muslim women, you Bule [derogatory term], we’ll show you." When asked in court how she felt, Witness 50 stated: "There are no words in this world that could describe my feelings. It is the worst thing that was happening to me."
Later, she was taken to a sports venue and was held captive with about 60 others, many of whom were repeatedly sought out by Serbs, taken elsewhere, and raped, before being returned to the sports hall:
Witness 50 told the court how a man called Gica took her out of the Partizan Sports Hall to an apartment in the neighborhood of Brod, which she thinks was his own. On the second day she was there, an acquaintance of Witness 50’s raped her. Witness 50 stated that he knew her very well. They took the same bus every day: he to go to work and she to go to school. Witness 50 stated that he was certainly 30 years older than her, and was a married man. She said that he laughed while he was raping her. "I had the feeling that he was doing this precisely because he knew me, to inflict even more evil on me."
CNN interviewed a survivor named Jasmina in 2008. She was 19 when the war broke out, and was raped and tortured in her own home alongside family members:
"Every day we were raped. … The men from my family were beaten up the first day. ... My mother just disappeared. I never found out what happened. Then they started torturing me. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was totally naked and covered in blood, and my sister-in-law was also naked and covered in blood. ... I knew I had been raped, and my sister-in-law, too.” In a corner, she saw her mother-in-law, holding her children and crying.
“That same day we were locked in our house. That was the worst, the worst period of my whole life. That's when it started.
“Every day we were raped. Not only in the house—they would also take us to the front line for the soldiers to torture us. Then again in the house, in front of the children.
“I was in such a bad condition that sometimes I couldn't even recognize my own children. Even though I was in a very bad physical condition they had no mercy at all. They raped me every day. They took me to the soldiers and back to that house.
“The only conversation we had was when I was begging them to kill me. That's when they laughed. Their response was ‘we don't need you dead.’
“It lasted for a year. Every day. ... Not all the women survived.”
CNN reported that Jasmina was “rescued by a family friend who bought her as a prostitute with the secret intention of setting her free.”
In a study by Denov and Maclure, girls who had survived the war report the pain they endured. One interviewee describes the physical consequences of being raped at a young age:
“The more senior men had the power to say ‘this [girl] is mine, this one is mine.’ After they captured women, they would rape them. I was raped the moment they captured me at 12 years old … and I bled and bled. … I could not walk. The man who raped me later carried me on his back.”
Another interviewee in the same study gives a snapshot of how frequent the rapes were:
“We were used as sex slaves. Whenever they wanted to have sexual intercourse with us, they took us away forcefully and brought us back when they finished with us. Sometimes, other officers took us up as soon as we were being finished with and subsequent ones were particularly very painful. … I don’t even know who might have been the father of my child.”
Human Rights Watch reports the testimony of the testimony of R.T., who was about 16 when she was raped by 10 RUF rebels in the forest in January 1997:
“I was hiding in the bush with my parents and two older women when the RUF found our hiding place. I was the only young woman and the RUF accused me of having an SLA husband. I was still a virgin. I had only just started my periods and recently gone through secret society. There were ten rebels, including four child soldiers, armed with two RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and AK-47s. The rebels did not use their real names and wore ski masks so only their eyes were visible. The rebels said that they wanted to take me away. My mother pleaded with them, saying that I was her only child and to leave me with her. The rebels said that ‘If we do not take your daughter, we will either rape or kill her.’ The rebels ordered my parents and the two other women to move away. Then they told me to undress. I was raped by the ten rebels, one after the other. They lined up, waiting for their turn and watched while I was being raped vaginally and in my anus. One of the child combatants was about twelve years. The three other child soldiers were about fifteen. The rebels threatened to kill me if I cried.
My parents, who could hear what was happening, cried but could do nothing to protect me. I was bleeding a lot from my vagina and anus and was in so much pain. My mother washed me in warm water and salt but I bled for three days. I can no longer control my bladder or bowels as I was torn below… I had an operation in 2000 but it did not work. Before I got a catheter in 2001, I had no friends, as I smelled too bad. I am still in pain and have a problem with vaginal discharge. I also have nightmares and feel discouraged.”
Witness testimonies to the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, both in the diaspora and in Liberia, gave harrowing accounts of sexualized violence. Rape as a form of torture and often done in concert with other extreme abuses was common in the civil war.
A woman told the commission:
In 2003, I was living in Caldwell with my husband. On June 1, Taylor’s boys (NPFL) took over. … Rebels wanted our car and took it. They accused me of lying about my husband being Grebo. They stabbed me in the breast and dragged my husband outside and began to cut him. They forced me to carry his private parts and then they cut off his arms. They caught me and four of them raped me. I was three months pregnant and am still having pain from the rapes.
The report found that young girls also experienced rape at the hands of militias:
I was 8 years old when the war came in July 1990. My mother, brother, and sister were in Grand Gedeh visiting a friend. Rebels knocked on the door and my father went out and was killed. A rebel boy came into the house and raped me. I have had problems ever since.
Militias used rape to violate social taboos, which included violating older woman, or raping women in front of family members, the report found:
In March 1990 … [an NPFL rebel] came to my house and said that I should bring the gold I have. I told him please, sir, I don’t have any more gold. When I told him this, he said I should take off my clothes so his boys can have sex with me. As old as I was, his boys (three of them) had sex with me. My husband could not stand it and so he rushed to them and that’s how he was shot dead.
The report showed that pregnant women were also targeted for torture:
The woman was at the end of her pregnancy when a group of rebels came to her house and demanded their car. The woman’s husband told the rebels that they could not have the car because the woman was about to go into labor any time now and he needed it to take her to the hospital to deliver her baby. The rebels then took the woman, cut her open from the breast bone down to her pelvic bone while she was still alive, bet on the sex of the baby, and then cut the baby out of her uterus. The rebels then proceeded to cut the baby into three pieces and discarded the remains to the side. They then shot her and her husband to death.
One woman, without identifying her assailants, told the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in 2001:
“A group of armed men broke down the door of our home while we were sleeping; they knocked over the furniture and broke everything. They tied my father to a chair. They opened my legs and tied one leg to the wardrobe and the other to the bed. They insulted and threatened us. They raped my sister and me. Later we realized the same had happened to our neighbors and a young girl from the village was taken to hospital for her injuries.”
In the same report, another survivor shared her testimony:
“Paramilitaries wore balaclavas. They forced women to cook for them. They only raped the young girls. Their party went on for four days. The bodies were already beginning to rot in the streets. Some of the bodies were burnt so they couldn’t be identified.”
A 2009 Oxfam briefing paper on sexualized violence in Colombia quoted one woman from Bogotá:
“It was nighttime. Two men with guns and wearing camouflage military uniforms came. … They took my husband outside, pointing the gun at him the whole time. … I was able to calm our little girl, and I sang to her until she fell asleep. Then one of the men took me from the room to the hallway to interrogate me. He threatened to kill me if I resisted. He took off my clothes, he covered my mouth and he forced himself on me. He raped me. Afterward he told me to get dressed and then he said: ‘Nothing happened here. That, after all, is what women are for.’”
A displaced woman, interviewed by Amnesty International in 2003, described hearing a nearby attack:
“A stick was pushed into the private parts of an 18-year-old pregnant girl and it appeared through [the abdomen]. She was torn apart. They [army-backed paramilitaries] stripped the women and made them dance in front of their husbands. Several were raped. You could hear the screams coming from a ranch near El Salado."
Saleha Begum, interviewed for a September 2011 story in Women’s eNews, was part of a group of women that was repeatedly gang raped, and later shot. She described being rescued from a pile of dead bodies by a Bangladeshi “freedom fighter,” only to then endure abuse as a rape survivor:
Begum said her captors—Pakistani Army soldiers known as the “Khans”—had bound the women to green banana trees, and “burned our faces and bodies with cigarettes. My body was swollen, I could barely move," she said. Between being raped, she was given some bread or a few fried vegetables, she said.
Another survivor tells of how the rejection from her community was so strong that she and other captives preferred to stay with their rapists after being rescued, rather than face being shamed:
"We went with them voluntarily because when we were being pulled out from the bunkers by the Indian soldiers, some of us half-clad, others half-dead, the hatred and deceit I saw in the eyes of our countrymen standing by, I could not raise my eyes a second time. They were throwing various dirty words at us ... I did not imagine that we would be subjected to so much hatred from our countrymen."
This testimony from survivor Sara M. comes from the USC Shoah Foundation (interview 29016). Sara M. was raped at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. A woman took her from her barracks, gave her candy, and left her in a room:
"There were two men there and there were some other people in the room, I think. I was put on a table. From what I remember, [it was] a table or it could have been a high table. I was very little so it seemed like it was very high up from where I was, and I was very violently sexually abused. And I remember being hit, I remember crying and I wanted to get out of there. And I was calling people and screaming and I remember one thing that stands out in my mind, that one of them told me that they would stand me up on my head and cut me right in half. And they wanted me to stop screaming, and I've had nightmares about that most of my life."
Much of the sexualized violence during the Holocaust was committed outside the camps. The following is a testimony from survivor Golda Wasserman, who witnessed girls being raped and sent back to the Tulchin ghetto in the Ukraine, in 1942, from Holocaust in the Ukraine, edited by Boris Zabarko:
"About 15 kilometers from the ghetto, there were Italian and Hungarian reserve divisions. As demanded by the commissariat-officers of these divisions, the Romanian gendarme who was the Kommandant of Tulchin selected healthy young girls from the ghetto and sent them away, under the official pretense of working in the kitchen and bakery of those divisions. The girls returned from there having been raped, ill with venereal diseases. Many committed suicide back in the barracks while some of them were killed while revisiting or attempting to flee. Then the Kommandant selected new girls for 'work.'
"Selection was carried out every 15 to 20 days. It is impossible to describe what was happening in the ghetto—the desperate screams of the girls, the pleas of their parents. Some girls tried to run away along the road. The Fascists shot them in the back. Only a few managed to hide in the villages, pretending to be locals, or were saved by the partisans after long wanderings in the forests. I belonged to the latter group. Among 25 other girls, I was picked to be sent to 'work.'"