Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The oft-ignored incidence of sexual violence in Colombia’s conflict

Six every hour, 149 per day, 54,410 per year.
That’s how many women on average, according to a recent study, were direct victims of sexual violence in Colombia from 2001-2009 in areas with presence of armed actors (military, paramilitary or police).
Violence against women has remained a seldom-discussed consequence of Colombia’s conflict. This study, however, seems to be generating a bit more attention to the issue. So too, hopefully, is the recent denunciation by ONIC, the National Indigenous Orgainzation in Colombia, of the trafficking of indigenous girls.

Indigenous adolescent girls, ONIC Secretary Luis Evelis Andrade revealed, are being kidnapped from their villages, raped and/or forced into prostitution. Some girls are returned to their homes after a few days. Others never return.
This "hunting" for indigenous girls happens all over the country, but particularly in the southern state of Guaviare. Though members of all armed groups in the country--guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army--are to blame, the only three investigations currently open implicate army soldiers.
ONIC has asked the Colombian government to create a strategy to deal with these atrocious crimes, and the Attorney General's office has responded it will open an investigation. Unfortunately, hope is slim given that, according to Andrade, 95% of crimes against indigenous people in Colombia remain in impunity.
So do most sexual crimes in Colombia. According to the aforementioned study, more than 82% of the women surveyed did not denouce the sexual violence they suffered because they were afraid of retaliation or because they didn’t realize that they had been the victim of a crime. The few women that do have the courage and/or know-how to denounce sexual abuse typically find themselves up against both a recalcitrant judicial system and threats from their abusers.
One woman, here called Ana, describes the rape and abuse suffered at the hand of paramilitaries: “They didn’t ask a thing. The pulled my husband out, in his underwear, and they tied him up. They took me away and they abused me. All the said to me was ‘bitch,’ that was word that I heard the most. I begged them to see that I was pregnant. But they just laughed.”
After escaping with her children, Ana filed am official complaint in the hopes that an investigation would be opened. But a few days later, local newpaper ran an article with her picture and naming her hometown, and the second round of abuse began. She soon received multiple threatening phone calls. She also received a letter, with an intimidating drawing of a cross, a gun and an eagle, that gave her 72 hours to leave her town. “I realized I was trapped,” she says. “I realized they were going to kill me.”
Ana managed to escape to another city. But she continued to run into obstacles with a justice system seemingly reluctant to help her. 

And so, just like the myriad human rights violations committed in the context of Colombia’s conflict, sexual violence against women committed by the country’s armed actors won’t cease until the perpetrators see real consequences to their actions.

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