In Colombia, rape now being prosecuted as weapon of war
In May 2007, only 12 cases of sexual violence were filed with prosecutors appointed to carry out Colombia's special Justice and Peace Law. Today that number stands at 228.
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Once they established control, the paramilitaries would often use village women as sex slaves. In one town in Cauca Province, there are so many children of paramilitary fighters that they are known locally as the "paraquitos" or "little paramilitaries." In Magdalena Province, warlord Hernán Girlado was known as "El Taladro" or "The Drill" and reportedly would summon a different woman each night. "A shop owner refused to send his wife to Giraldo and he was killed the next day," Buriticá says.Skip to next paragraph
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Paramilitary commanders have said that most were isolated cases of their men getting out of hand.
But Buriticá says testimonies she's collected show the practice was systematic and widespread, despite the extremely low numbers of reported cases. A 2006 report by a special rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights said: "The actors in Colombia's armed conflict, particularly the paramilitaries and guerrillas, use physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women as a strategy of war."
Victims often don't see rape as part of war
Part of the problem is that the women don't recognize themselves as victims of the conflict. Buriticá says she has seen countless cases where women report the murders of their husbands, disappearances of their fathers, or torture of their brothers but don't talk about what happened to them. "There was one woman who reported a murder and it took two years of therapy to get her to report her own rape," Buriticá says.
Based on her research, Buriticá believes the number of women who have been sexually abused during the war could be in the thousands, and those are just the crimes committed by the paramilitaries. Women and girls recruited as fighters by leftist rebels often end up as sex slaves to commanders, according to women who have fled.
The numbers also don't include women like Amelia. Because she was raped after the peace deal with the paramilitaries in 2003, her case does not fall under the purview of the special prosecutors.
Shortly after she was raped, Amelia realized she was pregnant. But she subsequently miscarried. Months after her attack, she gathered enough courage to report her rape. "I heard my own voice telling victims: 'If you don't report it, other cases will follow and impunity will be complete,'" she recalls. "I could go around telling others to report and not report myself."
Fearing retaliation after telling her story to police in her town, she left her family to hide in the anonymity offered by the sprawling Colombian capital, Bogotá.
The woman who was raped beside Amelia has not reported it to police, and though she was questioned as a witness to Amelia's attack, she did not mention her own. "It's her second rape and she still refuses to report it," Amelia says. "I asked her 'How many more times will you have to be raped before you start talking?'"
Amelia hopes that her decision to report her rape will embolden other women in her town and across Colombia to do the same. "The more we are, the stronger we are," she says. But she fears that the fact that she had to leave will have the opposite effect. "I'm sure the women in my town are talking about the price I had to pay for talking," she says. "I don't think I'll be able to go back home for a very long time."