By Lisa Holland
Friday, February 14, 2014
In a new report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses government soldiers of being amongst those carrying out attacks.
It says women and girls displaced by war and famine are particularly vulnerable in displaced persons camps and even as they tend fields, forage for firewood or walk to the market.
HRW says Somalia’s ineffective judicial system is central to the high levels of violence, with many victims not reporting crimes against them because of a lack of faith in authorities.
The group documented the case of a 37-year-old single mother who attempted to file a rape complaint to police.
She said the police officers she went to humiliated her after she bled from injuries sustained during the rape.
“Before they let me go, they told me I had to wash the floor where I was bleeding,” he said.
“I sat down, they gave me a brush and I cleaned the floor.”
She says she never returned to the police station to pursue the case or report a second gang rape three months later.
A 34-year-old woman also interviewed by the group says she was gang-raped in a displaced persons camp.
“They took turns. The men didn’t hurry because mostly women live in the camp and are no threat to them,” she said.
“During the attack one of them told me: ‘You can tell anyone that we did this, we’re not scared’.”
HRW, which interviewed 27 women in Mogadishu who survived rape, says one victim who did not report the attack on her said: “Rape is a frequent occurrence in Somalia. Here rape is normal.”
The UN reported nearly 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in Mogadishu during the first six months of 2013.
HRW says the actual number is likely to be much higher.
About one third of victims of sexual violence in Somalia are under the age of 18, according to UNICEF.
It says armed attackers, including members of the security forces, have sexually assaulted, raped, shot and stabbed numerous women and girls.
HRW has called on the federal government, which took office in August 2012, to take urgent and concrete steps to address the issue.
The group recommends deploying more trained police – including female officers – to provide security for displaced communities, ensuring health and social services can provide adequate psychological, social, economic and medical support to women and girls recovering from violence and promoting gender equality through education.
Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at HRW, said: “Donor countries should press Somalia’s government to ensure that the plight of rape survivors is a priority of reform efforts. And then donors need to step forward and make those reforms happen.”