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Human Rights Watch released a report on February 13th 2014 entitled, “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. Rape is rampant in many parts of Somalia, especially in the capital city of Mogadishu. Here women and girls live in constant fear of rape and sexual assault, which are considered a normal parts of life. The report outlines strategies and interventions for the government and donor agencies to prevent sexual violence and provide support to victims. The research for the report was qualitative in nature. Human Rights Watch interviewed 27 women in Mogadishu who survived rape, often several attacks. Maryam, a 37-year-old single mother had been gang raped twice while staying in a shelter in the Wadajir district. She was pregnant during one of these attacks and when she went to report to incident to the police the next day she was miscarrying and bleeding heavily. Instead of helping her police handed her a mop to clean the blood off of the floor and told her to go home and clean herself. Rape is common in the camps for displaced persons in Mogadishu. Maryam commented that just the night before her interview she had listened to a woman in her camp being attacked. She told researchers that when women in her camp greet each other they say “Were you raped today?” Two decades of civil war and state deterioration have left Somali women very at a high risk for sexual violence. Displaced individuals and marginalized minority groups are especially vulnerable to rape. Police and government armed forces sexually assault, rape, beat and stab women and girls living inside camps and go unpunished. Women report that they are afraid to report these attacks to authorities because of fear that they will be stigmatized and the knowledge that nothing will come of their reports as rape perpetrators are rarely charged or prosecuted. In December of 2013 a 19-year-old female reporter of the UN-funded Kasmo radio station in Mogadishu was sentenced to a six-month sentence after she reported that journalists at the state owned radio station Radio Mogadishu had raped her at gunpoint.  She was interview by a journalist from Radio Shabelle. The woman, the journalist and the director of Radio Shabelle were all charged with defamation. The woman was allowed to serve her jail time at home but the journalists were sentenced to twelve months in jail. The United Nations estimates that 800 women were raped in Mogadishu alone in the first 6 months of 2013. There were at least 1700 attacks on women in internally displaced persons settlements in 2012. 70 percent of these attackers were armed men wearing government uniforms.  Girls as young as 13 years old are being raped, a third of rape victims are under the age of 18. These women and children have already fled their homes because of armed conflict and drought and are living in with sheets of plastic for walls. Now they are being further traumatized by the threat and occurrence of sexual violence that no one is willing to do anything about. Human Rights Watch suggests a five-point roadmap for prevention and intervention of rape in Somalia:

  1. Physical prevention – Increased security for women in displaced communities
  2. Emergency health services – Medical, psychological and social support for victims of gender based violence
  3. Access to justice – Women should have access to a justice system that meets international standards
  4. Legal and policy reform – The government should enforce laws prohibiting violence against women
  5. Promotion of women’s equality – Equality should be promoted through education, political participation, and women’s social and economic equality

Rape should not be normal anywhere. – Elizabeth Brown Photo: Genocide Memorial Project Sources: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Al Jazeera