blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By Elizabeth Stalfort, Human Rights in Bosnia 2014
I was raped when I was seventeen. I had a party at my house and woke up to a boy having sex with me. Soon after, I realized there was nothing I could do about it. In America, one in four women will be raped in college, but only 5% are reported.
In our meeting with Medica Zenica we learned that between 25,000 and 50,000 women were raped during the Bosnian war. Very few of those crimes have gone to court, and even fewer have ruled on the side of the victim.
I did not want to go to court because I knew I would not win. There was no evidence. I had not gone to the hospital within eight hours after my assault and gotten the rape kit necessary to prove what had happened, and there had been no witnesses. When asked, the boy would say I was drunk and that it was consensual, and I would have no way to prove otherwise.
Victims of rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot receive the “civil victim of war” status that they need in order to claim support and benefits for the trauma they have been through. The court needs some documentation of the rape, which is impossible to get from a doctor twenty years later, when one’s body has healed, or from the man who committed the crime. Without this proof, the women will not win in court and will not receive her physical or psycho-social health benefits.
When I told my parents what happened they did not believe me. They thought I was embarrassed about what had happened and was trying to make an excuse. The friends I told blamed me for what happened, telling me I was a slut and that the rape was my fault. I heard again and again, “If you hadn’t had drank so much, it wouldn’t have happened.” I eventually stopped telling people because I couldn’t relive my story only to have more people blame me for my assault.
After the war, there was very little focus on the women who were victims of rape during the war. These women were disregarded, seen as having trivial crimes committed against them, while the men – particularly veterans – had dealt with so much more. Women who survived sexual violence faced a stigma that led the society to ignore it. Many women did not tell their husbands or significant others what happened to them.
I was also afraid. I was afraid of everyone knowing what happened. I was afraid of my father’s employees knowing what happened. I was afraid of being judged even further, but mostly I was afraid of having to relive what had happened. So I didn’t speak up. I remained silent for years.
Many women who reported their rapes in court had terrible experiences: their stories were made public, they waited to testify in the same room as their assailant, or they had to answer questions about their decades-old trauma over and over again. The week laws surrounding witness protection, which cannot guarantee the safety or privacy of them women during or after testifying, have deterred many women from reporting their rapes to the courts and often from telling their husbands, friends, and other family member. They have remained silent for close to twenty years.
I still see my rapist from time to time. He still lives in the town where I grew up. My parents always ask why I never go home, but I’ve never told them it’s for fear that I will see him, that I will have to sleep in the same bed where I was raped, that I will have to use the shower that makes me feel dirtier with every second. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to make a new life for myself somewhere else, where I never have to see him.
Many war criminals return to the town where they lived before the war, as many victims did. Some freely chose to return, while others had no other choice because of economic and social factors. Return, either way, was and still is difficult. These women see their rapists and cannot say anything. These men are often in positions of power, in political offices or businesses. Many women have moved, but the one’s who remain live in fear.
The United States believes they have a strong legal system that will give justice to the victim. For many women who have been raped, that is not true. On my trip to Bosnia, I realized how similar my situation was to many of the women who had been raped during the war, who also will never receive justice.