Not every survivor wants to talk about rape. We know that many women and men choose to keep their stories private, be it to move past their abuse internally or, perhaps more often, to avoid being shunned or re-attacked. We also know that open conversation about sexualized violence is something whole societies still grapple with: From Sudan to the United States, it is only in the last few decades that a respectful public dialogue has begun. It is that much more important, then, to recognize historical examples—the few instances in which women did come forward despite a climate that was likely even more judgmental than today’s.
Safa Sankari, a member of our Syria team, spoke at the UN on July 18 as part of a presentation of our first findings of a data analysis of our crowdmap of sexualized violence in Syria. Sankari, who is Syrian-American, is the co-founder and president of the Syrian American Medical Society’s Michigan Chapter Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps in the humanitarian and medical needs of Syrians. WMC’s Women Under Siege Director Lauren Wolfe also spoke. You can read her testimony here.
Silence: A symptom that plagues all scenarios of sexualized violence, rape, and abuse, no matter what communities we’re addressing. In the Sudan conflict, rape was used to silence women. When a woman named Safiya Ishaq unashamedly spoke about her rape, she was forced to flee the country for fear of retribution. The potential of being stigmatized has prevented women in the Democratic Republic of Congo from seeking medical treatment for rape.
“I sometimes heard the cries of the girls with my own ears…there were girls who made food that I saw, but also sometimes at night there were commanders…and you could see the girls prepare the food, and at night you could listen to the girls even saying, ‘I don’t want to.’”
“I have lost hope,” a 13-year-old rape survivor tells Inter Press Service. After fleeing war in Congo, she was attacked by her own stepfather in a Malawi refugee camp, where she lives with 11,000 others. Now, she must care for the baby produced by the rape.
The most positive, most productive way to improve the lives of girls in conflict areas may appear to be to sharply steer them away from stigma and violence. But as researchers and fieldworkers, advocates and policymakers, we have to consider the pitfalls of thinking we know best.