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

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US 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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More