News / Africa

Rape Plagues Ivory Coast Long After Conflict's End

Street vendors sell loaves of bread and other wares on a street in Bouake, Ivory Coast, December 2010.Street vendors sell loaves of bread and other wares on a street in Bouake, Ivory Coast, December 2010.
x
Street vendors sell loaves of bread and other wares on a street in Bouake, Ivory Coast, December 2010.
Street vendors sell loaves of bread and other wares on a street in Bouake, Ivory Coast, December 2010.
Two years since Ivory Coast’s post-election violence came to an end, rape remains a problem throughout the country. Though such attacks are now occurring outside the context of armed conflict, they show that the security situation for the country’s women remains bleak.

On a recent Saturday morning, Durand Coffi delivered instructions to a moving crew as they cleared furniture out of his ground-floor apartment in Bouake - the second-largest city in Ivory Coast. Though he moved in with his family less than a year ago, earlier this month Coffi decided to leave in search of something more secure.

One night in late April, five armed men broke into the apartment through an unused side door. For the next 90 minutes, they went from room to room threatening the family with pistols while pocketing money and jewelry.

But the worst crimes were committed against two women who live with the family as house help: one was raped by two men in her bed, while the other was raped in the shower where she had been trying to hide.  

Coffi didn’t recognize the assailants. He said he was convinced, though, they had been staking out the house for some time before the attack.

“It’s certainly someone who knew me and knew this house. I don’t know them. But they’ve clearly watched me come and go,” he said.

Persistent sexual violence

Sexual violence was a fixture of Ivory Coast’s political crisis, which saw the country divided in half following a coup attempt against then-President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002. Though rebel forces were unable to topple Gbagbo that year, they successfully assumed control over the north of the country, making Bouake their capital.

In a 2007 report, Human Rights Watch documented cases of brutal sexual violence committed by both government and rebel fighters throughout the divided country, including gang rape, sexual slavery and forced incest.

The crisis escalated after Gbagbo refused to accept defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara in the 2010 presidential election - sparking a five-month power struggle that killed thousands. At least 150 rapes also occurred during the conflict, according to Human Rights Watch.

Today Ivory Coast is generally stable, but that doesn’t mean rape has gone away. Rather than occurring in the context of armed conflict, observers say it has instead become a common feature of crimes like armed robbery or is committed as a standalone crime.

As is often the case with rape, comprehensive data is hard to come by. The human rights division of Ivory Coast’s United Nations peacekeeping mission verified and documented 59 cases in the first three months of 2013, but that is believed to be only a fraction of total cases.

Ureported problem

Mohamed Eissa, the chief of the human rights section for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bouake, said stigma surrounding sexual violence means rape often goes unreported. His office even has encountered women who, after first reporting their cases to police, have tried to withdraw them as a result of community pressure.

“If you bring the case before the court you will get all kind of difficulty to live in your own community. There is this kind of stigma. You will be isolated. They will give you a very hard time,” said Eissa.

Eissa acknowledged reporting had improved since the end of the post-election conflict, but he said he was convinced there had been an actual recent increase in rape in Bouake - an assertion that was backed up by the local prefect. Eissa said he became convinced of the problem when, after a single night in April, five separate cases were reported in Bouake alone.

He said there were a number of factors that could be fueling an increase, including a growth in population as major institutions in the city, such as the university, resume operations. Another factor is the lack of jobs, leaving young men idle now that the conflict is over.

Social stigma persists

Eissa also said motorcycle taxi drivers have proved to be a particular threat to Bouake’s women in recent months.

“The motorcyclists, they know very well all the small roads and the bush in the city and so on. So when they take a female passenger, if they decide to rape her, they know what to do and where to go,”  he said.

That is exactly what happened to Francine, a 26-year-old Bouake resident who was raped in March by a moto-taxi driver.

“I took the moto-taxi, and when we were on our way he proposed a shortcut. And then we arrived at a place where there were no houses. And then I realized he was the only one who knew where we were,” she said.

Like other victims interviewed for this story, Francine said she was eager for police to pursue a case against her unknown assailant.

Local police declined to comment on Bouake’s rape problem for this story, but Eissa said the odds were low that a proper investigation would be conducted.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Troops Depart

Afghans are grappling with how exodus will affect country's fragile economy More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs