Warning: This post contains some disturbing stories, with descriptions that might not be easy to take in. All the stories cited here are true!
When I hear ‘genocide’, the first images that come to mind consist of people being killed, decapitated bodies, homeless and hungry children, already suffering women and girls getting raped etc. Yesterday, I came across a certain link on a friend’s Facebook page. I was drawn to it by the title : ”Can You Love a Child of Rape?” The commentary he posted with the link got me even more curious. Mainly on reflex, I clicked on it and God knows I was not the least prepared for what I saw.
Jonathan Torgovnik, a photographer, had done some work on children born out of rape during the Rwandan genocide. Through interviews and photographs, he was able to gather stories from mothers of these children for three years. He also published a book ‘Intended Consequences:Rwanda Children Born Of Rape‘, which was followed by a short film, ‘Intended Consequences‘, on the same issue. Jonathan went ahead to set up Foundation Rwanda, which was created to support these children, especially with education. The link mentioned above led me to his photo essay on the Mother Jones site. He basically took photos of some of the children concerned and added narratives from their mothers. Gruesome details and very heartbreaking stories surfaced and I found myself clicking on the ‘Next’ arrow, tears streaming down my cheek. I thought I could not keep it to myself and needed to share it with as many people as possible. What better avenue than Linguere? Below, I post a few extracts from the stories.
”I must be honest with you; I never loved this child. When I remember what his father did to me, I used to feel that the only revenge would be to kill his son. But I never did that. I forced myself to like him, but he is unlikable. The boy is too stubborn and bad. It’s not because he knows that I don’t love him; it is that blood in him.”
”After they raped me, they called to another two boys; one of them said, “This woman is sweet, you also need to enjoy her.” After that, they said, “This Tutsi woman is not getting satisfied. Let’s get a corn stem and sharpen it to the shape of a penis; that will satisfy her.” So they went to cut that piece and they put my legs apart and then they started pounding that stem of corn into my private parts. After that night, I couldn’t walk.”
”I love my first daughter more because I gave birth to her as a result of love. The second girl is a result of unwanted circumstance. I never loved her father. My love is divided, but slowly, I am beginning to appreciate that the younger daughter is innocent. Before, when she was a baby, I left her crying. I fed the older one more than the younger one, until people in the neighborhood reminded me that was not the proper thing to do. I love her only now that I am beginning to appreciate that she is my daughter, too. We have not revealed everything to the girl—she thinks she is like her sister.”
”Each time I was “saved” by someone, he would rape me and then lead me to another bush where I would be raped again. I was raped by many men. The final man who raped me kept me captive in his house for several days. He would go out to kill during the day and come back at night to do whatever he wanted to do to me. Fortunately, one day when he went out to kill, he never came back. ”
You can click on http://motherjones.com/photoessays/2009/05/rwanda/01 for the rest of the stories. For those interested in seeing the short film, you can watch it on http://mediastorm.com/publication/intended-consequences .
We look at these stories and realise that the only thing that might set them out from other rape cases is that they happened during conflict. This made it easier for the rapists as no one could do anything about it, despite the widespread knowledge that it was happening . Taking a look at relatively peaceful regions, rape has always been swept under the carpet. In Africa and other parts of the world, culture and tradition do not encourage discussions on sex-related matters, even between parents and their offspring. As a result, most victims of rape prefer to keep their stories to themselves, refusing to confide in anyone. They choose to live with the daily trauma and insecurity as reporting their rapists might only draw spiteful remarks towards them. Some of the victims end up getting blamed for what happened to them. Excuses ranging from the revealing clothes women wear to cases of mental issues on the part of the rapists are easily cooked up. The few cases that get to the courts of law end up spewing more disgrace on the victims. I quote one of my teachers in high school who said, ‘By the time lawyers are done with their cross-examination, the victim ends up feeling like she’s being stripped naked and raped all over again. This time, with everybody watching’.
It is important to note that females are not the only victims of rape. There are a lot of boys and men that have been sexually abused but never muster the courage to report their molesters. In a society where even females fear the stigma attached to rape victims, one can easily understand the reluctance on the part of the males. This culture of silence only works in favour of the perpetrators of this heinous crime. With the knowledge that their victims might never disclose their identities, they take advantage of the vulnerable. Some go to the extent of issuing threats, which instill fear in their victims, who are mainly minors, with little or no understanding of what’s happening.
The most prevalent of these cases is rape in the family setting. Fathers raping their own daughters or step-daughters. Brothers molesting their sisters. Cousins and distant relatives having forced carnal knowledge of the young ones they live with. These are all stories we hear about but they are quickly solved within the family, to preserve its honor. This attitude has also contributed to the reluctance of victims to confide even in the closest family member, usually the mother. Some get accused as liars, because the idea of a family member raping another is unfathomable. Others fear that revelation might lead to a disintegration of the family, which might earn them the contempt of the elderly and even the young ones. They then have to keep living in the same compound as their rapist, using the same facilities and even eating from the same bowl. The insecurity that comes with looking at them and conversing in a ‘normal’ way is only understood by these victims. Some garner suicidal feelings, which emanate from the hatred and disgust they feel. Others lose their self-confidence, treating themselves like dirt and thinking nothing good shall ever come from them. In the long run, this ends up affecting the society in general.
The lack of counselling and support facilities for victims of rape makes things a little more difficult. In The Gambia, I’m yet to know of any such facility. Recently I joined a group of young people who decided to form an organisation to support victims of rape and raise awareness on the issue. Gambians Against Rape and Molestation (GARM) is yet to be registered, but a social media campaign is going on, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Various questions and scenarios are raised and people are given the opportunity to share their ideas and devise a way forward. This organisation shall go a long way in changing the current state of affairs in the country. With plans to recruit the services of professionals, GARM seeks to offer victims of rape a platform to express their feelings and report their cases. Counselling shall also help regain their confidence and allow them to be assertive enough to work towards giving a face and putting a stop to this crime. As usual, we would need support from all angles to realise our goals.
You can check out the GARM Facebook page on https://www.facebook.com/GarmMovement. For those on Twitter, please follow @GarmMovement for a range of quotes, statistics and case studies on Rape all over the world. You are also encouraged to partake in the discussions on the Facebook Page and on Balafong.
‘The axe forgets but the tree does not”. There is NO excuse for rape. The act is wrong, barbaric and leaves eternal scars! Help give a voice to victims of rape and sexual molestation. Together, we can make a difference in their lives. Start now!!!