Colombia: I am a strong, determined mother

02-03-2010 Feature

Sexual violence related to Colombia's armed conflict is on the increase. Affecting women, men and children. Many victims fail to report attacks, either because they are afraid of being stigmatized or because they have received threats. The story is repeated again and again. In silence.

The ICRC is concerned about the situation, and is doing everything it can to ensure that the victims of sexual violence receive the help they need. Protecting and assisting women during armed conflict is of vital importance.


 A few life-changing minutes  

©ICRC/ C von Toggenburg 
An image of Marta, who has endured displacement and sexual violence. 
Marta used to live in a port in the south-east of the country. Everything about her life was normal until the evening of 11 November 2008. Two armed men broke down the door of her house. They raped her, drugged her and slashed and burned her skin. From that moment on, every minute was a living hell. Marta was too afraid to report the rape to the local authorities. Instead, she fled to the nearest city and wrapped herself in a terrified silence. " I felt like there was no way out, like I was in a cage, " she explained.

" A month later, I found out I was pregnant. With twins. I didn't know what to do. I thought about all sorts of things. I was a displaced person, in a city I didn't know, and I had no-one to talk to. " One day, Marta decided to contact the ICRC and tell them her story. The ICRC referred her to Profamilia, a government organization with which the ICRC has an agreement to run a programme supporting women who have suffered sexual violence in connection with the armed conflict. " They gave me a lot of support, and with the help of a psychologist I got through it. " The ICRC also gave Marta food and the basic items she needed.

" It was hard, because I just couldn't accept what had happened, but then I realized that it wasn't my babies'fault and I decided to go ahead and have them. I've started to forget what happened a bit, thank God. I feel I'm a strong mother now. I've decided to move on, for my little boys. I'm a brave mother and I feel strong enough to bring them up and give them loads of love.

To other women who are going through the same thing, I just want to say'Take care of your babies. They're not to blame for anything. With a bit of help, you can do it!'"

Today, Marta is still displaced. She is living with her brother and her two little boys, looking for ways to continue h er recovery.

 The right kind of help  

The staff of the ICRC health department supported Marta throughout her pregnancy and at the birth of the twins. They also referred her case to the assistance network that the Colombian authorities provide for people in her situation.

In 2009, the ICRC recorded the cases of 21 people who had suffered sexual violence, offering them medical, psychological and social support.

Sexual violence is prohibited under international humanitarian law. And it can be prevented. In addition to rape, the term " sexual violence " covers such acts as enforced prostitution, sexual slavery, enforced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and all other forms of sexual assault.

The consequences for the victims are serious, and go beyond the immediate physical and mental suffering. In addition to the risk of sexually transmitted disease (especially HIV) and an unwanted pregnancy, victims of sexual violence may suffer long-term psychological trauma, preventing them from leading a normal life. The victims of sexual abuse do not always report the crime to the authorities, and therefore do not always receive the assistance and medical treatment they need.