Many young girls in Mali are victims of rape, but most parents prefer to silence their children for fear of being shamed by their friends and neighbours. Sharing a personal experience of rape is very difficult, not least because victims know they are likely to be blamed themselves. A young woman recently had the courage to share her story on RNW Media’s Benbere platform, setting an important precedent for survivors of rape in Mali.
By Louise Rasmussen
Addressing a taboo
Aware of the silence that surrounds rape and sexual violence in Mali, RNW Media’s Benbere team decided to raise the issue on their Facebook page with the post: Do you think victims are best protected by denouncing the perpetrators or by keeping quiet? The post was read by around 14,300 people and received just over 600 comments – more than any other Benbere post has ever had before. Amidst all those comments, there was one in particular that caught the team’s attention:
“I was raped when I was 12, and my family did nothing, except for humiliating me. To them I was the shame of the family pfff I was only 12. My family never denounced the perpetrator. God is going to make him pay one day, the man that raped me.”
Niamoye Sangare, Benbere’s community manager, says numerous girls continue to have similar experiences, but they cannot turn to their parents for support. Talking about rape is simply unheard of in Mali, she explains. Fearing for the safety of whoever left the comment, Niamoye decided to hide it on Facebook and to contact the young woman in a private message. After the survivor described what had happened to her, Niamoye offered to help and asked the young woman if she would be willing to share her story.
A difficult conversation
The survivor agreed to talk anonymously on camera about what had happened to her: Denouncing the perpetrator is better than staying silent despite the risks. How else will he understand that what he has done is crime? she wrote in a private text to the community manager. Given the social taboo around rape in Mali, it was significant that the survivor agreed to share her story publicly: “Her decision to speak up could really turn the tide for a lot of girls and women and break a long-standing taboo”, says Niamoye.
A personal challenge
The community manager knew it would be hard for the young woman to talk openly about her experience, and so she was concerned that the survivor would change her mind about speaking up at the last minute, as other girls contacting Benbere had done before. But the conversation was also a challenge for Niamoye personally. Even though she had already heard many stories of rape through her work, it was the first time she had spoken to a survivor of rape directly.
“I was afraid that I couldn’t satisfy her expectations. I told myself that she wanted to confide in me for a reason, so I thought that if I can’t live up to her expectations, she will think that she testified for nothing.”
The day Niamoye spoke to the survivor and shot the video of her testimony, it got too difficult at one point for the woman to continue, and:
“Of course, I also cracked then. We spent a few minutes crying, and then we recovered. It wasn’t easy.”
“No one helped me”
In the video, the now 26-year old woman describes what she went through and how her family beat her instead of supporting her because they thought she was to blame for what had happened:
“My aunt went to get a whip to hit me, instead of taking me to the hospital. When I was 12, no one helped me even though my clothes were torn and I had blood running down to my feet.”
In less than two weeks, the video was seen around 360,000 times, and it received hundreds of comments, most of which were very supportive. Another girl has since turned to Benbere to confide her experience of rape to Niamoye.
“She is very strong”
The survivor originally grew up in the Ivory Coast, and only came to Mali at a later age. After she was raped, she struggled to live at home because her mother kept reminding her that it was her own fault and that she had brought shame on the family. It was her grandmother who eventually decided to take her to Mali:
“The move to Mali and the change of scenery helped her a lot”, Niamoye explains. “And her grandmother also helped her a lot. She consoled her and told it was not her fault, so she managed to get a bit of her life back. In comparison to a lot of other victims, she’s doing pretty well. In comparison to a lot of other victims, she is very strong, you can see that.”
After the survivor shared her story on video, Benbere helped her get in touch with Wildaf, a pan-African women’s rights organisation. Niamoye personally accompanied her to the organisation, and she is now speaking regularly to a psychologist. Niamoye explained that even though Benbere has withdrawn from the case since Wildaf began to support the survivor, Niamoye is still in personal contact with her.
She is getting married soon.
The video has been viewed around 360,000 times and triggered almost 10,000 interactions (likes, comments and shares) – the most of any content posted by Benbere.
You can also watch the video and read the comments here on Benbere’s Facebook page.