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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid