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

US, Brazil's Climate-Change Plan: More Renewables, Less Deforestation

Officials say joint initiative on climate change will allow Brazil, United States to strengthen and accelerate cooperation on issues ranging from land use to clean energy More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

After Nearly a Century, Voodoo Opera Rises Again

Opera centers on character named Lolo, a Louisiana plantation worker and Voodoo priestess 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.
Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishui
X
Abdulaziz Billow
June 30, 2015 2:16 PM
Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs