Many women in Yei River state say they have been the victims of sexual violence but say it is nearly impossible to get justice in Yei since violence broke out in July 2016.
"Many of these cases are happening in Yei and once you approach the police to help, someone asks ‘what was the case all about?' They blame the victims saying you were looking for it," "Jenifer," who asked to not be identified, told South Sudan In Focus.
Jenifer said her sister was raped in June but authorities have yet to charge her alleged rapist with a crime.
She said local law enforcement institutions typically pay little heed to issues affecting women, and for that reason, most rape victims are reluctant to report the crime. She also said there's a good chance that if they do, women will be ostracized in their communities.
Jenifer is one of many Yei women who attended a weekend workshop organized by the community-based organization Salam Women Group to discuss the need for more protection of women and girls in their communities against sexual predators.
Equal access to justice
If police investigate a sexual assault case, they ask "mocking questions and sometimes they laugh at the victim," she said.
Jenifer is calling on state officials and human rights groups to promote equal access to justice for victims of sexual assault, adding many victims are traumatized with nowhere to turn for help.
"The practice of blaming victims should stop. The victims should be taken seriously and helped. NGOs and the government should treat sexual violence as an issue that must be addressed urgently," she said.
A 26-year old Yei resident, identified as "Rose" to protect her privacy, said she was recently raped by a group of men. Rose told South Sudan in Focus she tried repeatedly to seek justice, describing rape as "a disease with no medicine" in Yei.
"Malaria can be treated by mosquito nets and other medicines. But sexual gender-based violence is becoming so common, happening to young girls, ladies and old women. Let the government and the people stand up so that this issue is brought to an end," Rose said.
Yei resident Linda Edward said one of her close relatives was raped this year. She helped her relative by trying to follow up on the case with police but doubts justice will ever be served. Edward urged the government to make sure perpetrators of sexual violence are brought to justice.
"I would like to remind the government that if such cases are reported to them they should not keep quiet. They should ensure perpetrators are punished and victims should be accorded rights so that others will not carry out similar abuses because they know they can get away with it," Edward said.
Hawa Adams, head of the Yei Women Association, said since a new wave of fighting broke out in Yei in 2016, not one alleged rapist has been charged with a crime.
"No justice has taken place, and women are suffering locally in Yei River State. We are crying out that the government should take up action to work with the law so that the voices of the women are heard," said Adams.
Yei River State Police Commissioner Lugang Kamba denies police do not take rape cases seriously. He claims police are unable to prosecute perpetrators of gender-based crimes because of the huge backlog in cases caused by the recent nationwide judges' strike.
"The cases of gender-based violence or rape have their own office in the police. The police are not happy with what is happening to the women because they are a vulnerable group. I am encouraging them to come and open up cases because we are working for the safety of all without fear or favor," Kamba told South Sudan in Focus.
The judges complained of poor working conditions and called for the ouster of the chief justice who they said strongly favored the Kiir administration. The strike ended in May with the judges calling on President Salva Kiir to make sweeping and immediate changes, neither of which has happened.
Officials want to help
Leon Lemeri, Director General for Local Government and Law enforcement in Yei River State, urged residents to take their cases directly to his ministry so that officials can follow up with the relevant government institutions.
"There are people who obstruct access to justice, cases to do with gender- based violence. If anyone has experienced such action, he or she should report to the ministry of local government to channel his or her dismay and we shall take charge," Lemeri told VOA.
He vowed that anyone "obstructing access to justice" will be held responsible for his or her actions.