Goma – Centre Gesome, Synergie des Femmes, September 13, 2008
Josephine is a teenage survivor of violence and rape in the Congo. She was 15 at the time of the interview.
My name is Josephine. Josephine is my name. While we were sleeping, very early in the morning, around three o’clock, we heard gunshots so we fled. In the place where I fled I came across three soldiers and each of them took me as if I were his wife. I left with the soldiers into the forest. The last took me and then gave me his bottles to carry.
I SPENT FOUR AND A HALF MONTHS IN THE FOREST
When we were together in the forest I didn’t know his name. We lived in a house. It was a house that other people had left. When the others have left their homes, he would take the house to use as his own. And in the house where we were living, there was, a roof made of tree branches and the floor was mud. The walls were made out of mud. But the bandits did not lack things to do, because when we were together in the forest, he left during the day and returned at night around 4:30, 5, 6. That was when he returned.
Later, after I reached this safe haven, I saw him on a motorbike with a guy from my village. I called the guy and we went and hid somewhere out of sight. I said to him, “ I saw that man somewhere, do you know who he is?” He said to me, “ Yes, he is also from our village.” I asked him his identity. He told me his name, the surname, and the name of his child and the name of his wife as well. And what he did. But I also said to him, “It seems that he is a soldier.” So then he told me the man’s identity, he said that during the day he drives a bicycle and at night he is a PARECO (A militia group that has broken away from the Mai Mai).
I ATE WHATEVER GOD SENT ME
In the forest finally I saw that because I was suffering so much, it was better for me to leave to go somewhere else, even if I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know the road that I was traveling on. I passed through the forest and I ate fruit; ripe fruit and grilled bananas, grilled sweet potatoes and grilled manioc – whatever God sent to me.
THEY THOUGHT I WAS A WITCH
I saw a woman who was cultivating. When the woman saw me, she ran away because my body had become white. I think that it was exposure that had caused me to change. And when she saw me she ran away because she thought that I was a bandit or maybe that I was a witch. I called out to her, crying, saying, “Don’t be afraid! I am the same as you.” When she came close to me, I told her the story of what had happened to me, and I asked her to show me which way to go. The woman showed me the road that would take me to a town near my home. When I arrived in the market I didn’t see a single person from my village.
I saw three women who were from another nearby town, and I left with these three women. The women began to think that maybe I was a witch. I told them, “I am not a witch,” and I told them my story. The women took me to the home of the local leader, and the chief refused to let me stay the night at his house. He told the women, “Leave and take your victim with you.” The women left me outside of the village. I spent about three weeks living on the outside of town, spending the night in the grass, without anything to eat and anything to do.
THE MAN IN QUESTION WILL KILL YOU
A woman saw how much I was suffering, and thought it was not good and she said to me, “I have some advice to give you. I advise you not to go back to your village because if you go back the man in question will meet you again along the road and will kill you. Instead, we will go together to the home of a woman who works for an aid organization. The woman is interested in helping victims of violence.” She took me to the home of a counselor from here.
A BABY IS BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
I arrived here on Tuesday, the 29th of July 2008. And that is how I got here. And when I took the test, they found that I am pregnant. I’m happy because it is God who gave me the baby. And what God gives you, you can not throw away or kill because killing is a big sin. And to cause an abortion is a big sin. It is better to take a weapon and kill someone than to cause an abortion because causing an abortion has serious consequences. A baby is in between life and death. If it doesn’t die during birth, it will live. And a baby that someone throws maybe down the pit latrine, maybe in the river, maybe on the side of the road, this baby also needs to live just like other people. And you never know, that baby could become someone in life. You never know in life, maybe the being that you throw away, she should become a Minister. That is why I’m happy because instead of committing a sin against another and against God, it is better that you suffer. Because there is a philosopher, I don’t know his name, who said that it is better to suffer than to die.
THEY MOCK US
There are others who have experienced violence but they hide what has happened because they are afraid of being mocked. Because if people say that, “That one, she was raped,” they feel that they are being mocked. There are those who mock us saying that we are ‘AIDS women’. That’s why the others are afraid to identify themselves or to denounce that they have also experienced violence.
WE WANT TO BE LIKE AMERICANS
We, the girls of Congo, and we, the women of Congo, we want to be able to be like others; like Americans, like Europeans. Because other girls, in countries on foreign continents, other girls and women have been able to study and they earn a lot of money because of their studies. They have told me at school that in Europe, a girl of 15 years cannot give birth, but here in Congo, because of the violence…
We also want to be called some day to join associations to help others who suffer like we have suffered.
THE CONGOLESE BOYS RAPE TO IMITATE THE BANDITS
The boys here imitate the bandits. They have also started to rape these days because if some boy has raped a girl and others hear that they have raped as well, they imitate this type of rape. It is because of a lack of information. They are ignorant about things. They rape because of ignorance because they don’t have education so they don’t know about the value of women and girls. Those who rape, they have not been to basic school, they have missed basic education. Even if they arrive at school, if they have missed basic education they always rape girls.
SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN TO A TRAINING CANNOT RAPE
If they are taught about the rights of women and girls, don’t you think that could change the situation? Yes, that could change things if they had seminars and trainings on the rights of women and girls. It would be good. Because someone who has been to a seminar or training against violence cannot rape. Because even if the occasion arises when he is told do this, he cannot do it because he thinks about what he has been taught. The Congolese boys who have studied – studies complete the worth in a person’s life, and especially, they complete the ideal worth in the life of a girl. Because without the violence, Congolese boys cannot be unhappy like others. But Congolese boys and Congolese men, they also want for us to study, so that we can be like the others, like other girls.
WE DON’T WANT THIS VIOLENCE HERE
We want sexual violence to stop because due to sexual violence there are women who die from sickness. There are those who get AIDS because of the violence, and the violence also brings poverty. There are many widows, there are many orphans because of the violence. This is the reason that we don’t want this violence. We wish that this violence could be stopped in Congo.
I HOPE MY BABY IS A BOY
I will breastfeed my baby like other women because my mother, she breastfed me. I hope that it is a boy, that way he will never know this problem of violence.
Josephine X is a victim of the on-going conflict in Eastern Congo. She was photographed there in 2008. Photos copyright Lauren Vopni, www.laurenvopni.com. With special thanks to Global Grassroots and Allison Huggins.