Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida is easy to spot in a crowd. Dressed all in red from her cowboy hat to her boots, she stood on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to mark the somber two-year anniversary of the abduction of more than 200 girls from the northern Nigerian village of Chibok by the militant group Boko Haram.
Wilson leads a weekly gathering of members of Congress to call for the release of the girls. The attending lawmakers dress in red, too, just as demonstrators in Nigeria do.
The Chibok girls represent hundreds or thousands of girls and women who have been kidnapped and raped by Boko Haram, and hundreds of men and boys who have been hurt or killed, Wilson said Thursday. More than 2.6 million people have been displaced by the group's violence.
Wilson said she has visited Nigeria, and heard shocking firsthand accounts of the group's unspeakable atrocities, including beheadings. She and other members of Congress strongly condemned the fact that Boko Haram is forcing girls as young as eight years old to act as suicide bombers in terrorist attacks.
Wilson was joined on the Capitol steps by Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a number of other lawmakers and some Nigerian girls who escaped from Boko Haram and now have safe haven in the United States.
Republican Representative Chris Smith made clear that Congress' efforts to keep the issue alive is a bipartisan one. Smith pointed out that Boko Haram wages war on girls and women, often singling out Christians, but that most of its victims are fellow Muslims.
Democratic Representative Barbara Lee agreed that the terrible ordeal of the Chibok girls is a symbol of a much broader war on women by Boko Haram, saying that what their fighters are doing amounts to modern-day slavery. Some terrorism experts believe that the Chibok girls, and other Nigerian girls kidnapped later, are alive and that they are being held as a potentially valuable ransom tool.
A video that has emerged recently shows some 15 girls, alleged to be Chibok girls, dressed in black.
Terrorism expert Malcolm Nance told VOA that he believes the video is legitimate, and he believes Boko Haram is trying to extort money from the Nigerian government. He also said the girls may be forced to cook, clean and bear children for Boko Haram fighters.
Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee is calling for Congress to allocate funds for the families of victims who were abducted, and also vowed to keep advocating for the girls’ release.
Wilson is ready to "hop on a plane" at a moment's notice to welcome the Chibok girls upon their release, and promised to keep pushing for it until it happens.
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