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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora