Raped For Food: Benue sexual assault victims’ stories

Raped For Food: Benue sexual assault victims' stories
Raped For Food: Benue sexual assault victims’ stories

Babara Kim, a 20-year-old rape victim, is three months along in her pregnancy. Last year, her community in the Guma Local Government Area of Benue State was reportedly destroyed by armed men.

A few months back, as she was harvesting cassava on the farm, two young guys attacked and raped her.

Babara, who lives with her grandmother in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, reported that she had returned to the farm because they had no food.

When I went to the farm in March of this year to harvest cassava, I was raped by two boys. I wept and returned to the camp, but I did nothing further.

“I did not report the incident because I did not know to whom I should report. I also did not seek treatment since I did not know what to do. As a result of the incident, I am now three months pregnant,” she told.

Babara’s story is one of the several rape accounts of women in Benue State, who have been driven from their villages and are now forced to care for their family in IDP camps.

In a state where armed conflicts, caused by community confrontations and bandit invasions, have forced thousands to abandon their ancestral homes and live in camps designated by the government, women who attempt to return to their fields are frequently sexually assaulted. However, according to our correspondent, the majority of these female victims experience sexual abuse in secret due to the stigma connected with the topic.

Every year on June 19, the international community observes International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict to honour the victims of the growing number of sexual violence incidents. “Conflict-related sexual violence” is defined by the United Nations (UN) as “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilisation, forced marriage, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls, or boys and directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.”

According to the United Nations, the phrase also includes human trafficking committed during armed conflict for the purpose of sexual assault or exploitation.

Practitioners in the field estimate that for every conflict-related rape that is reported, 10 to 20 incidents go unreported.

The United Nations decided that victims of human trafficking and sexual assault perpetrated by terrorist organisations should be eligible for official reparation.

Many rape victims in Benue State describe how they were frequently sexually attacked at gunpoint during the invasion of their villages or while searching for food on their previously abandoned fields.

Sandy Dodo, who claimed she had not yet entirely recovered from a harrowing ordeal at the hands of three guys who sexually assaulted her in May, explained that she was returning to the camp after searching for food.

Sandy, who currently resides in a camp for displaced persons with her four children and is 24 years old, reported that she had been raped last year when armed men ransacked their hamlet. She stated that her spouse subsequently fled the camp as conditions for the family deteriorated.

“About a month ago, my children and I hadn’t eaten for days since there was no food in the camp and my husband had abandoned us, so I walked out to find food; however, three young guys held me down and raped me on the way back.

“Two men restrained me while the third raped me. They desired to take turns, but upon hearing footsteps, they fled. When I returned to the camp, I informed my neighbour, who took me to the clinic for medical care, “she explained.

Sandy, like Babara, did not report the incident to the police. She stated, “I am physically OK now, but I continue to endure palpitations as a result of the event.”

When hunger became severe in IDP camps and women attempted to return to their fields in abandoned villages to harvest crops, according to a second female victim, women were frequently raped. She stated, however, that there were instances in which indigenous people committed sexual assaults, as those who assaulted her spoke a known language.

“Because I don’t know them, I’ve decided to suffer my shame in silence rather than report it and risk ridicule,” she explained.

In support of the victims’ accounts, a camp official who desired anonymity confirmed that the number of rapes committed by men in host villages and IDP camps had grown.

Under the condition of anonymity, a health worker in one of the IDP camps in Guma Local Government Area disclosed to our correspondent that the camp had over 50 rape cases, with the bulk of perpetrators being bandits.

“Sometimes when these ladies visit fields, they are assaulted and raped. The assailants will always kill the guys, even if they are only two months old, then rape, beat, and release the woman, regardless of whether she becomes pregnant. Numerous pregnant women have been raped and beaten, he stated.

Explaining why the women become prey, he stated that the majority of the victims had been deprived of their means of subsistence, so that when they become hungry, they are frequently compelled to return to their farms in order to pick food. Occasionally, they are fortunate and do not encounter the attackers, but in most situations, they are unfortunate to encounter them.

“When these rape situations arise, community liaisons refer them to us in strict confidence. We provide transportation for their arrival, regardless of their distance. When they arrive, we first screen them for HIV and other STDs, and then we make sure they do not become pregnant against their will as a result of the rape.

“Thereafter, we offer psychological support treatment, which includes counselling. In other instances, ladies are brought to us without clothing, so we supply them with attire. We supply additional necessities such as toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, underwear, wrappers, etc. We treat them with medical and mental health care.

“If they come within three days, they will never become pregnant since we administer a medicine that prevents pregnancy and HIV, but beyond three days the drug is no longer effective,” he said.

Dr. Emmanuel Shior, executive secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), did not answer to phone calls seeking comment on the matter when contacted.

In addition, he did not reply to calls placed to his phone on Friday to respond to allegations that IDPs lacked food.

But Shior, in a recent interview with newsmen while launching the monthly distribution of relief supplies to IDP camps across the state, including Abagena, Daudu 1 and 3, Anyiin, and Agasha, among others, bemoaned the plight of the displaced.

“The federal government seems uninterested. Government officials discuss the IDPs in the north east. And while classifying the northern states, Benue State is frequently included.

“On a personal level, as an informed individual and also as a university professor, I want to contest that designation, because if Benue State is one of the 19 northern states, yet the federal government is not aiding the state government in caring for the IDPs, what does that mean? We are identified solely by this label, which, in my opinion, is highly unfair. This is unacceptable to me,” he argued.

He also expressed concern that the state government alone could not provide for the almost two million IDPs in the state and urged the federal government to pay attention to the situation of the Benue displaced people.

“It is difficult to estimate the overall population of IDPs at this time due to the continual influx of IDPs as a result of the ongoing hostilities. However, we stated that the population was roughly two million. That implies that you have almost two million voters. Therefore, even though the IDPs have nothing to do, they are warming up and saying, “Well, we’re entering another general election season,” he continued.

Five trucks of rice, four thousand cartons of noodles, maize, guinea corn, and millet were on Shior’s list of food supplies to be supplied to IDPs during the month of June.

SP Catherine Anene, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for the Benue Command, stated that the command is unaware of any sexual harassment occurring in the camps.

Anene stated, “I am unaware of any increase in rape cases at the IDP because no such cases have been reported.”

In one of its bulletins, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) raised concern over the rise in sexual violence against IDPs.

Mohammed Ali, the deputy head of missions for MSF in Benue State, noted that an alarming number of survivors of sexual violence visit the clinic for reproductive health that the organisation supports.

“On average, we see twenty-four patients every month who have been raped or subjected to sexual violence,” added Ali.

Mitch Rhyner, the MSF project coordinator in Benue State, responded by email to our correspondent, “During the first five months of 2022, our clinics treated 294 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. “The majority, but not all, were IDPs.”


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