News / Africa

Rights Goup: Rape, Sexual Abuse 'Pervasive' in Ivory Coast

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua

Large numbers of women have been raped, sexually assaulted, beaten and abducted in Ivory Coast, according to a humanitarian aid organization.

The International Rescue Committee [IRC] is calling on the international community to “ramp up” support programs for victims of gender-based violence [GBV] “to address the needs of the humanitarian disaster.”

Liz Pender, the group’s women’s protection expert, is meeting with Ivorian women who’ve sought safety and shelter in Ivory Coast. “The reports I’m hearing are horrific,” she said.

Pender is currently in the Liberian town of Ganta in Nimba County, where many thousands of refugees have settled.

“The reason why we’re using words like ‘pervasive’ is, first of all we know, unfortunately, from years of experience that rape and sexual violence are a defining feature of every emergency, particularly those involving conflict,” she said.

First hand accounts

IRC conducted a number of focus groups in both Nimba County and Grand Gedeh, which has seen a big influx of late of Ivoirian refugees. Some 300 women took part.

“Just on the first day,” Pender said, “I had a total of almost 26 women and girls disclose that they had been raped as they were crossing or during the fighting. That is extraordinary. I mean I have never had that happen in 10 years of doing this work.”

The figure of 26 is believed to be just a small fraction of the actual number of victims.

“Numbers are actually not that meaningful when you’re working on GBV because so many survivors do not come forward. So for every one case that you know about there are so many more that you don’t know about. But when you have something like 26 women disclose in one day, it’s just unheard of,” she said.

Often women refuse to reveal they’ve been raped, fearing reprisals from their attackers or rejection by their families.

Why come forward?

“It also indicates to me that sexual violence is so common now – has become almost normalized – that women feel more comfortable disclosing about it because it’s happening to so many women and girls in their community. I mean that, in and of itself, is alarming,” she said.

In the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has been used as a weapon of war for many years. Thousands of women, girls, men and boys have been raped by armed groups. Rape is a terror weapon that subdues communities. But does that hold true for Ivory Coast?

“I don’t know that we’ve had the opportunity to really do a contextual analysis on that. I can just tell you anecdotally that sexual violence is happening and it’s happening frequently,” she said. “It’s a powerful weapon. It destroys a family. It destroys an individual. It compromises a community’s ability to function.”

Pender adds, “Rape by definition is an act of force. It’s an act of power.”

A mere child

The youngest reported victim of rape in the Ivory Coast crisis is a seven- year-old girl in Yamoussoukro.

“I have heard here in Liberia of young girls also being targeted, but not as young as seven,” she said.

The IRC says it’s also heard accounts of armed groups abducting women and girls for up to one week, forcing them to be sexual slaves.

One woman told the IRC, “If you are good, they will eventually let you go. But mostly when they get tired of you, they exchange you with their friends. And when they are done, they might kill you.”

Victim support

The International Rescue Committee says it supports a “network of medical professionals, counselors and women’s groups” that helps abuse victims.

The IRC uses what’s called a survivor-centered approach. So what you have is a very, very strong emphasis, first on health care, but also on emotional and psycho-social support. And then we’re also doing our best to implement what we consider to be primary prevention activities. It’s about stopping gender based violence, sexual violence, from happening in the now,” Pender said.

Some women are forced to do sex work to raise money to survive or to help their families survive. It’s known as survival sex. Training them in income-generating activities means they don’t have to “sell their bodies” to get what they need.

Window of opportunity

“The priority is to ensure that survivors of sexual violence get access to health services within a very small 72-hour window. Because within that 72-hour window we can get them emergency contraception. We can get them post-exposure prophylaxis, STI treatment, various vaccinations that they use at the same time that we’re also focusing on their emotional support.”

Post-exposure prophylaxis has been used to try to prevent HIV infection after rapes by administrating anti-retroviral drugs.

You May Like

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: Iraq President Vows to Fight IS 'Until They Are Killed or We Die'

In wide-ranging interview with VOA Persian service reporter, Fuad Masum describes conflict as new type of fight that will take time to win More

Video Russian Anti-Corruption Campaigner Slams Putin’s Crackdown on Dissent

In interview with VOA Alexei Navalny says he believes new law against 'undesirable NGOs' part of move to keep Russian president in power More

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs