A global look at where women can turn after rape
For women, the world might feel like it’s slowly becoming worse. Earlier this month, the UN announced that four peacekeepers in the Central African Republic have been accused of raping two women and an underage girl, as well as a 12-year-old girl in a separate account, according to news reports. Last month in Mexico, four women were raped and killed in an apartment in Mexico City. Their bodies were found along with that of a journalist. And then, of course, there’s Syria, where reports keep emerging of how Islamic State militants justify raping women and children. One 12-year-old girl told The New York Times: “He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God.”
At least 35 percent of women around the world have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner or non-partner sexualized violence, according to a 2015 report by UN Women. “Conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence remains a serious concern, including the continuing occurrence of rape, harassment, sexual slavery and forced marriage,” the report said. Further, “sexual violence remains underreported because of the fear and trauma faced by survivors and witnesses, including severe stigmatization and the limited availability of services.”
But some organizations are working to alleviate the pain caused by so much violence.
Local rape centers have sprouted in conflict-wracked regions all over the world. In Egypt, for instance, the Cairo-based El Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation provides counseling for survivors of sexualized violence in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Another organization, War Against Rape, which was founded by a group of women in Karachi in response to a high incidence of rapes and gang-rapes in the city, provides crisis intervention and counseling as well as free legal aid. In Mexico, the Ciudad Juárez-based Casa Amiga works to provide care, counseling, and legal support to survivors of sexualized violence.
The centers provide support—whether of the medical, physical, legal, or emotional kind—to survivors of sexual assault in their area. By implementing 24-hour hotlines or setting up workshops for survivors to deal with trauma or helping in legal support, the staff members of these centers—local men and women—are on the frontlines of change.
Here’s a closer look at three centers and how they do what they do:
An image from a poster produced by La Strada shows the breakdown of the calls the center has received in the first six months of 2015. (La Strada)
The Ukrainian nongovernmental organization La Strada Ukraine advocates against domestic violence, human trafficking, and gender discrimination. In 1997, when the organization first opened its doors, it acted only as a hotline for trafficked women and children. But as the years passed, the Kiev-based organization began working to improve state policy and legislation, collaborating with the media to increase awareness about sexualized violence, and assisting survivors with medical, legal, social, and psychological help.
Months of conflict in eastern Ukraine have taken a heavy toll on the country’s population. According to local NGOs and psychologists working in the region, there is mounting evidence that both separatists and forces loyal to Kiev are perpetrating rape and sexualized violence in the rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.
Since 2014, when the crisis began in eastern Ukraine, the organization has started to work with internally displaced persons. “Eighty percent of all [interally displaced person] calls are from women who have left their homes,” Alona Zubchenko, a spokeswoman for the organization, said.
La Strada has about 20 staff members and more than 60 volunteers, including lawyers, social workers, and teachers, Zubchenko said. The center offers legal support, conducts trainings in gender-based violence, and raises awareness about sexualized violence. Survivors can call the hotline to get informational, legal, and psychological consultations by experts.
In all of 2014, Zubchenko said, the center received 27,073 calls from children and 7,725 calls from adults, all of whom were seeking help. But already in the first six months of this year, they have received 18.830 calls from children and 5,717 from adults. Of those 5,717 calls, she said, 45 percent were calling about domestic violence.
One of the biggest hurdles the center faces, Zubchenko said, is the lack of criminal responsibility for offenders. In Ukraine today, men face about 15 days of arrest or 30 hours of remedial work if they are found guilty of abusing women, she said. “That’s not enough.”
“Of course we have criminal responsibility for serious injuries or beatings, but usually police don’t even react to the domestic violence,” Zubchenko continued. “Shelters are also a big problem, because we have one or two shelters for abused women in each region.” Two to three million people live in each region, she said, “and one shelter holds about 30 to 35 women.”
Click here to read stories by some of the survivors who have been helped by La Strada Ukraine.
The staff of Rape Crisis seeks to assist “women to achieve their right to live free from violence.” (Rape Crisis/Alexa Sedgwick)
Recent statistics released by the South African government show that the reported rates of sexual crimes in the country have stayed virtually the same. And no one is immune—a 15-year-old girl was raped earlier this month in a suburb of Johannesburg. The man accused of the crime is none other than a grandson of Nelson Mandela.
But there’s an organization working to change the reputation of this country, which has one of the highest rates of sexualized violence in the world.
Rape Crisis, which was established in 1976, seeks to assist “women to achieve their right to live free from violence” and offers counseling for survivors and their families, court support, workshops and training, and support groups. All of its services are free.
“In actual fact, there has been a downturn in the number of women seeking our services,” Kathleen Dey, the director of Rape Crisis, said. “It has been a steady decline over the last couple of years, but this year the numbers have dropped significantly.”
But, Dey added, “We certainly do not believe that the number of rapes has decreased, but rather that survivors are reporting less and are less likely to access the services they need, from medical attention to counseling.”
A 2012 police study in South Africa found that not even 3 percent of rapes are reported, according to the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation, while the intergovernmental organization Interpol estimated that less than 1 percent of the cases are reported to police.
According to Dey, the main reasons for silence around rape in South Africa are as follows: “stigma associated with rape in communities across the country, the lack of faith in our criminal justice system to deliver justice, [and] insensitive treatment of rape survivors on the part of some officials, which greatly adds to the trauma of the rape itself.”
Dey said that women in South Africa still face huge amounts of discrimination and oppression and need support in reporting rape. “Services like those offered by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust are available to offer this kind of support. Our helpline number is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the year on 021-447-9762.”
To read about some of the programs launched by Rape Crisis, click here.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The City of Joy, seen here, works to empower survivors of sexualized violence. (City of Joy/Paula Allen for V-Day)
City of Joy
Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo
In the violence-wrought city of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of Congo lies a center that brings together survivors of sexualized violence for an immersive kind of rehabilitation.
The City of Joy, which opened in 2011, is made up of a staff of 37 Congolese men and women, and hosts two sessions each year, each of which is attended by up to 90 survivors of gender-based violence, according to Christine Schuler Deschryver, director of the center. The women attend therapy and workshops intended to teach them to be leaders in their communities. Some of the center’s programs include literacy, gender rights, civic and political education, culinary arts, self-defense, and computer literacy, Deschryver said.
Sexualized violence in the country has been rampant following an armed civil conflict that has lasted for years. In 2008, the Guardian reported that 45,000 people—half of them children under the age of five—were being killed each month in fighting. Earlier this year, Reuters said that fighting in the country had displaced a total of 2.7 million. Throughout, rape as a weapon of war has been commonplace—in 2013, UN agencies estimated that at least 200,000 women had been raped in the country since 1998.
While the City of Joy’s work has received some criticism for its more “Western” approach to care and self-empowerment, the center’s reach continues to grow. According to Deschryver, there has been an increase in the number of survivors seeking help at City of Joy. When the center first opened, she said, it recruited women from North and South Kivu provinces, then the staff began recruiting women from other provinces.
“Many associations which fight violence against women contact us and propose if we can go in partnership," Deschryver. said. This way, she said, “We may empower and heal women who have suffered gender violence.”
While there are very few resources in the country for the thousands and thousands of women being raped, one, called SOFEPADI, is doing comprehensive psychological care and reintegration work for survivors; here are three women SOFEPADI has helped. (And, of course, there is Bukavu’s Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Denis Mukwege and his colleagues are performing endless operations on women who’ve been violated. Mukwege, who, with American activist Eve Ensler and Deschryver, is also one of the founders of City of Joy.)
“When armed groups confront one another, it is the women who pay,” Julienne Lusenge, president of SOFEPADI, has said. “Women’s bodies are used as battlefields—and this must end.”
More articles by Category: International, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Rape, Activism and advocacy, Sexualized violence