Rape As a Preparation For Victims' Social Death in Rwanda

Sexual violence against women has played a key part in Rwandan genocide. Perpetrators used rape as a weapon, because of the consequences it had on not only the victim, but the family and community. Genocide rape has been named a 'life force atrocity' and 'social death' by many. Claudia Card said that social death is the evil of genocide, and that it differentiates genocide from other mass murders. When one loses the social vitality, they lose their identity which purpose for one’s existence. It takes away not only your purpose but also the sense of being. This is not something that was randomly carried out; it is painfully clear that this attack was planned. Mass rape was used as a main tactic of genocide on women and girls.

Data from the Rwanda Ministry for Family Affairs talked about 15,700 children born of rape, but these numbers do not include cases hidden by women; the abortions by raped Tutsi women who did not want to give birth to children. According to a UN report by Rene Degni-Segui, 'almost every Tutsi over the age of twelve was raped because rape was the rule and its absence was exceptional.'

Death did not come fast. Most of the time, death did not come at all; this was the worst type of torture. They were raped many times, with spears, bottles or sharp plants. The breasts were cut off, the reproductive organs were poured with boiling water or acid, the foetuses were pulled out of the uterus . Rape was usually a prelude to the murder, but of those who survived, 70 percent have been infected with HIV.

It resulted in a myriad number of pregnancies which constantly reminded the victims of the traumatic experience. Many women felt like there is no other choice but to end their lives by choosing suicide. Many others aborted the foetus, abandoned their children or killed the baby after it was born.

Many women experienced sexual assault in front of their families in order to degrade and humiliate them. Rape is still a taboo in Rwandan society, which forced the victims into hostile and poor living conditions. The mothers and children faced many difficulties as a result of isolation from the support network.

After the tragic events that took place in Rwanda, people organised vigils and support systems for the victims. Sadly, no ceremonies took place for the victims of rape. Statistics show that between 2,000 and 5,000 children were born as a result of genocide rape in Rwanda. However, survivor groups state that the numbers are greater than that. They estimate the numbers to be around 10,000 to 25,000. A British charity, 'Survivors' Fund' believes that the number is close to 20 thousand. The stigma, humiliation, shame, and secrecy pushed many women not to disclose their experiences.

Although rape is present in all wars, it especially played a key part in Rwanda, where the effects of it are still felt to this day. Unlike the genocide orphans, children of rape do not qualify for any support from the local government, which forces them to live in poverty with their mothers and usually suffer with social death. Marie Josée Ukeye, a counsellor for the raped women and children stated that many children struggle with behavioural problems, and find it hard to find their own identity and purpose. They are confused, often neglected and abused by their mothers who cannot accept them as their children. Marie tries to help them with overcoming their anger and grief. 

13 July 2023
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