NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Somali government should deploy police officers to protect vulnerable women in camps for displaced people and stop arresting and persecuting rape victims who try to report such crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
There are 369,000 displaced people living in dozens of camps scattered across the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Many women and girls living in these camps have been gang raped multiple times and they rarely seek, or receive, justice.
Here are some of the women’s stories, as told to HRW in the report ‘Here, Rape is Normal: A Five Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia’. All 27 interviewees lived in internally displaced people’s camps in Mogadishu. Most were raped in their shelters at night.
Maryam, a 37-year-old single mother of six children, was gang raped twice.
The first time Maryam was raped, she was five months pregnant and asleep in her tent in Wadajir district.
“The four men all raped me one by one while one of them stood guard outside. I was struggling with the last man and he stabbed me with the bayonet on his gun. I was screaming and no one came out to help,” she said.
The next day, the camp “gatekeeper” (manager) took her to the police station where she reported that one of the rapists was wearing a police uniform.
“I then started to bleed profusely from my vagina,” she said. “They told me to go home and wash off the blood. But before they let me go, they told me I had to wash the floor where I was bleeding. I sat down, they gave me a brush and I cleaned the floor.”
Shortly afterwards, Maryam miscarried.
Three months later, she was raped again at night in her tent by a different gang.
Hawo, 27, took a bus to Mogadishu with her six children, hoping to find work.
While her bus was on the outskirts of town, assailants with Kalashnikov assault rifles and pistols stopped the bus and said they were going to “take all the women off the bus and nobody should try to do anything about it.”
The women who resisted were beaten into submission.
“They didn’t steal anything from us because none of us had anything of value. They took us to a bushy area and raped us. We could all see each other,” she said.
Afterwards, the women got back on the bus and continued their journey in silence.
Farxiyo, single mother of seven children, was raped while asleep in her tent.
She was unable to leave her home for two days afterwards and relied on neighbours to provide food for her children.
“The worst thing is that the rapes push us into poverty because afterwards we cannot do the same work or carry heavy loads. We need money for our kids to live. The government should do something or kids will die of hunger.”
Xawo, 34, was a cleaner in her neighbourhood.
Four men whose rooms she cleaned took her to a back room, tied her hands, slammed her against a cement wall, broke her fingers, and gang raped her.
She did not report the attack because the perpetrators knew where she lived.
After she became pregnant from the rape, people close to her told her to throw the baby away.
“When a woman faces such difficulties, she knows she can’t go to the government or to anyone. Women are being abused from every angle – from their family all the way to their government,” she said.
“Even within your family, they’re telling you not to keep the child or to cover it up and not bring shame. Women are always told to be quiet. When you accuse the military or police of rape, your family says “Even we will beat you if you bring this up.”