More often than not, Rape is used as a weapon of genocide, war, and other types of conflicts in many parts of the world. It often goes unreported during the ensuing chaos, as the more visible occurrences take most of the media spotlight. Apart from their suffering resulting from the destruction, displacement and other physical effects of the conflict,victims of this ‘silent’ atrocity are left to bear their psychological pain and trauma alone.
During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, rape was used as a weapon in a widespread manner and many women, both young and old, were brutally raped and have had to bear the physical and psychological wounds and scars that remind them of what they went through.
Being a 14 year old victim among countless others during that ‘period of darkness’ in my country in 1994, I was brutally raped and have since been living with HIV as a result. Other victims suffered a similar fate like I did, while others became pregnant for unknown fathers, being gang raped in many instances, while yet others were killed after being raped. Rape in itself is a heinous crime, and when it is used as a weapon during conflicts, it is even more brutal. I can never forget the hopelessness, grief emotional trauma I felt following my experience in 1994, and such negative feelings became even more amplified after I discovered that I was infected with HIV as a result of the sexual attack I was subjected to. At the tender age of 14, it was even more difficult for me to deal with the severe trauma. I had to ignore the shame, emotional stress and mental anguish that I felt, as avoiding being killed by those hunting me and others was the priority at the time.
For years after the genocide, I had to relive the painful ordeal many times as it frequently flashed through my mind, both while awake and while asleep. For others who went through similar ordeals and for one reason or another have not been able to talk about it, I know how difficult it must be for them. Speaking and writing about my experiences has helped me to break the deep-seated feeling of shame, insecurity and hopelessness which I lived with for many years, feelings which I am certain countless other victims of rape are still grappling with in their lives.
Getting the courage to speak and write about one’s experiences as a rape victim is not an easy task, as the severe psychological turmoil within you often becomes so overwhelming that it is very difficult to express what you feel. It may be doubly difficult for victims who bore children as a result, as in addition to their own suffering, they have to also protect their children from the horror of how they were conceived. In the long run, even those children are deeply affected as well.
Victims of rape cope differently, but the pain and emotional trauma is most likely the same. In my case one of the things that has helped me the most from the onset of my journey of survival is the fact that I didn’t allow myself to have self pity, and remained hopeful and positive about my life. I constantly reminded myself that despite my circumstances, I must hold on to faith and hope, as being HIV positive was not the end of my life — I felt so fortunate to be alive. That faith and hope eventually gave me the courage to put pen to paper and document the gruesome events of my life that I had held within for a long time, and to speak about them in public as well. This brought me great relief as I felt like a huge load was lifted off my shoulders. The thought of telling my story to the world gave me great consolation as I wanted to speak out and be a voice for those victims who cannot speak for themselves, including those who were raped and tortured and eventually murdered.
A recent documentary titled “The Uncondemned” documents the first conviction of rape as a war crime and act of genocide. The film pays special attention the three fellow women survivors who testified against Akayesu, a former mayor who is serving a life sentence handed to him by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). I truly thank filmmakers Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel for making the film.
I wish to commend my fellow survivors and victims of rape for their courage in speaking out about their ordeals and testifying in courtrooms prosecuting cases of rape around the world, as this will serve to highlight the plight of vulnerable women who become victims of rape, and also bring perpetrators to justice.