In December the world learnt about the horrendous, violent gang rape of a young woman aboard a bus in India. The woman spent days in intensive care battling for her life, but passed away from her injuries. The crime spawned mass protests in Delhi with people demanding justice and increased rights for women. A couple of days ago, we were reached by the news that a woman in Sweden was sexually assaulted by five men in the street. Though a rare type of crime in Sweden, it reminds us that these kinds of crimes take place anywhere in the world.
Yesterday we received a woman at the Family Support Center who had been raped by a group of men. The rape was perpetrated as revenge. The woman’s husband’s cousin had raped a woman from another clan and now the clan members came for vengeance. The woman told us that the perpetrators broke furniture in her house, killed the family’s pigs, belted her husband and then they took turns in raping the woman.
The latter incident has in my opinion many similarities to war rape, which is a tactic used to humiliate, dominate, punish and psychologically terrorize the enemy. In this case the perpetrators took revenge through sexually assaulting a woman (and physically assaulting a man) from the enemy clan even though these two were not involved in the original crime. Raping a woman in front of her husband also punishes the husband. However, here the issue is more complex. Another component that must be considered is also the question of identity. In Tari, the identity of a person is more of a collective nature. One is not considered merely an individual, but rather a part of a greater collective identity; one’s family. That way, the enemy can punish a person for something that was actually done by a cousin, like the case with our patient.
Gang rape, like the case in India and Sweden, is often a whim where men egg on each other. The common denominator in all cases is a varying level of lack of respect towards other people, and lack of respect towards women in particular. The perpetrators dehumanize the victim in order to justify their actions. They can also claim that the woman was agreeing to the incident or “leading them on” in order to diminish their own guilt.
MSF in Tari provides medical and psychological help for persons who have survived rape. Rape is a crime that affects many aspects of human life; it is a medical emergency, it is a psychological trauma and it has deep consequences on both family and societal level. It is of utmost importance that survivors of rape have access to immediate medical and psychological care, and also for the sake of preventing sexual violence altogether in a long-term perspective it is important that women’s rights in general are improved.