New Reports Aim To Reveal Hidden Truths About Rape

In the news today: A study of Swaziland women finds people don't know most rapes aren't committed by strangers. Another piece says rape is a war crime being committed in Colombia, and often not reported.

According to a new survey of 1,244 women in Swaziland, one third had been raped, reports today's New York Times. Previous studies and newspaper stories in Swaziland have focused on rapes that are committed by teachers in school, but 17 percent of the rapists were male relatives or family friends, while 3 percent were teachers or principals.

The study, which was conducted by Unicef and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the small nation, surrounded by South Africa, has one of the highest rates of AIDS in the world, with 26 percent of the adult population infected. Part of the reason for the high rate of sexual assault may be the persistent myth that a man can be cleansed of AIDS by having sex with a virgin. About 5 percent of those interviewed said they had been raped before the age of 18.

While the systematic assault of women in Congo, the Darfur region of Sudan, Serbia, and Rwanda has been widely reported, the scale of sexual violence in Colombia's four-decade-old conflict is mostly unknown, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Women's organizations say there are thousands of cases of rape by right-wing paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas that are going unreported in the country. "The problem is not yet being seen in its full dimension," says Patricia Buriticá, who heads the Women's Peace Initiative, which helps victims of sexual violence.

Though paramilitary commanders claim the rapes were isolated cases, a 2006 report by 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." Buriticá says she has interviewed hundreds of women who say that once the groups took over a town, the paramilitaries would use village women as sex slaves. In one province a warlord would summon a different woman every night. "A shop owner refused to send his wife to Giraldo and he was killed the next day," Buriticá says.

Many don't realize how widespread the rapes are because women are afraid to report them, and don't see the crimes as part of the conflict. Buriticá says many women will report the murder or torture of male relatives, but still not reveal 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.

Amelia, one of the women who reported her rape, said she finally decided to go to the police because she wanted to embolden other women in Colombia to do the same, "The more we are, the stronger we are," she said, adding that she worries that the fact she had to leave her village to protect herself and her family may make more women afraid to report. "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."

Sexual Abuse: New Study Documents Rape's Grim Toll [The New York Times]
In Colombia, Rape Now Being Prosecuted As Weapon Of War [The Christian Science Monitor]