Victimized to silence: Sexual Violence in Somalia
Rape for Somali women did not appear on the onset of the civil war. For many years before the start of the civil war, a group of young men from the ruling elite of the time has wreaked mayhem on the streets of Mogadishu on the heydays of the Barre tyranny. Since rape is not discussed openly, for some cultural/traditional reasons, the families whose young daughters have vanished as a direct result of it only know the numbers of young women raped by these thugs, but the sad stories that are whispered in the privacy of homes are many.
In the heydays of the totalitarianism, raping young innocent victims by the sons of the ruling elite was the norm. The criminals are splashing the scenes of cities around the globe alongside their participatory families. They assume normal lives pushing aside the sage of the horrendous rape they have committed against incident civilians from their new lavish lives while the families of the victims buried their violated daughters muted by the authoritarian government and its supporters.
Using Somali women’s bodies as a terrain of war, rape took an animalistic and sadistic form when gang militias in Mogadishu began to rape women in the most inhumane, immoral, cruel hostile manner. At the advent of war, women were raped not only in their homes, but also in the holy Masjid (Mosque) where they sought refuge. The violence of rape was committed in the presence of children, mothers, fathers and community elders. An unrelenting militia gangster groups wrecked the homes of many innocent less protected groups, these groups were preyed upon for their defenselessness and for being innocent victims of a war they had never partook. Pregnant women were knifed to death to spill the guts that contained live fetuses to end the continuity of one particular group or another.
There are stories of women who were inserted battery carbon and other objects to extend the pain and torture of war. Many other incidents that have transpired on the bodies of innocent victims are too painful to describe. The gang rapes came from militia groups that used women to prove their manhood and torment their enemy. The attacks were committed often with intention of shaming entire communities. With rape, not only community values but also cultural, spiritual and sisterhood values are perpetually hampered.
It is not only the South/central of the country (Somalia) is where SGBV takes place but also within the stable regions which has state governments. For instance, Galkaio, the second largest city in Puntland state of Somalia and hosts an estimated 50,000 internally displaced persons, although its relative stability attracts civilians, sexual violence remains part of daily life in many settlements where internally displaced people (IDPs) gather. it seems that it’s increasing tremendously these days and things are getting worse, not only the increase of the events but also how it happens, previously it used to be targeted women/girls walking alone on the streets at night or IDP women who go to the restrooms or those who gather firewood in the outskirts, but nowadays it happens that they knock doors and snatch them. This increase has been justified as a result of the pirates who are becoming more powerful in some of the regions in the state.
Although SGBV cases doesn’t take place within the IDPs alone but also within the host community, except that host community victims suffer silently or even relocate to other towns for fear of the shame and stigma in the society, mostly the IDPs are those who always report the cases while the host community doesn’t report because of some reasons including their believe that they won’t get justice even if they report it and the matter becomes public. The following is a tragedy incident that took place just few days ago within the host community in Galkaio Puntland Somalia.
On 29th September 2010 at around 8:00 pm two unidentified men came to Halima Ali’s house, a 40 years old Mather of five kids residing in Garsoor sector of north Galkaio and took her to unknown place, they beat her up, raped and left her there, latter on she came back to her house. In the morning Ms. Ali has been admitted to Galkaio Medical Center Hospital, she has been treated with minor injuries as a result of the assault and been given medical examination.
In 2008 as from April to December, 69 cases have been reported within Galkaio (the second large town in Puntland state of Somalia) which were purely from the IDPs within the camp and outside the camp, while in 2009 it increased 104 victims and again it was purely from the IDPs none of the host community was included in the figure both years. In 2010 from January to November the SGBV cases have increased tremendously, not only in the IDPs but also within the host community as well, so far 120 cases have been reported and this time it includes both the IDPs and the host community.
Rape as a tool for Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide
In situations of ethnic conflict, rape is used as a tool for “ethnic cleansing” or genocide. Women and girls may be targets of sexual violence because they are members of a particular ethnic group. Rape and other forms of sexual violence, including rape camps where women and girls are subject to systematic sexual slavery, are used as a weapon for spreading terror. In addition, rape is often a brutal precursor to murder.
The gross underreporting of the rape brought about by the guilt and stigma attached to rape halts any physical and psychological treatments necessary for a rape victims. Rape victims risk a more acute transmission of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV virus that causes AIDS.
Women suffer silently as the psychological impacts of rape are profound and never dealt with for cultural reasons. There are feelings of isolation, shame, and a continuous blame. Pain and suffering is stamped on entire families as the devastation of rape erodes the fabric of the community. The suspect and hate that these reprehensible acts against women have created are evident in all Somali communities today where there is much mistrust and polarization.
Whether rape was committed by elite ruling parties as an arrogant leisurely activity or by warring factions as a psychological war tactics, rape is a criminal act. Law and justice may lag slowly but it will finally catch up to these criminals. Families who have suffered in the hands of the criminals deserve the backing of the community to finally have their day in court and bring the criminals who have robbed their innocent daughters to justice.
Impunity for Perpetrators of Rape and Sexual Violence
All too often, those responsible for acts of sexual violence and rape committed in war go unpunished. Factors contributing to impunity with regard to sexual crimes in war are many, and include: a) Underreporting is also a significant barrier to justice. Many women feel shame and fear rejection from their husbands, families, and communities if they report having been raped. The threat of divorce or the possibility of being considered “unmarriageable” cause many women’s reluctance to report their experience. b) An overall climate of indifference towards many forms of violence against women. c) The tacit acceptance of rape and other forms of sexual violence as an unavoidable part of war. d) Perpetrators belonging to very powerful tribes.