Can sport change how we talk about rape?
“There were so many people who were killed and massacred, but still I wish I was dead. I wouldn’t live with this burden.”
The words spoken by a victim of the Kosovo war, a woman raped and tortured over and over by soldiers as part of a war strategy to punish and ethnic cleanse.
This is not the first time I have heard these words spoken, nor have they come from just the mouths of women. No matter what country I go to, the rhetoric is the same: ‘I would rather die than be raped’.
19 June marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, a global day to honor survivors and take steps to end this brutal crime. Women, men and children are sexually violated during conflict. It can be used as an intimidation tactic or for ethnic cleansing. Sexual violence in conflict is happening this very moment in many parts of the world, including Europe. Will it ever end? Possibly not given how war creates extreme abuse of power, and this is why it is so important to bring a voice to those suffering in silence.
Looking in from the outside, it may seem difficult to comprehend what rape in conflict means. Currently, very few governments acknowledge that this issue exists, leaving hundreds of victims unable to access health services, support or financial assistance. Helplessly, they carry the burden of deep trauma, stigmatisation, injury and possibly even a child born from the rape. The expectation is that the victim must silence their burden and live on as if nothing has happened. How can they? How can any sexual violence survivor be expected to deny their trauma and move on with their life without any restoration?
You might be feeling uncomfortable right now. I understand, rape is a confronting issue that confuses many of us, sparks debate, creates taboo and mostly finds fault in the victim. Who wants to talk about an issue like this?
Sadly, sexual violence is not going away and its prevalence reaches far beyond conflict. This very instant, as you are reading my words, hundreds of our children are being sexually abused, 1 in 4 women are experiencing rape, and 1 in 6 men are being sexually violated. How do I know this? Because in the past 3 years, I have met many of these victims, I have heard their stories, felt their pain and seen with my very own eyes what little support is available, if any at all.
I understand all too well their wounds because I have my own. In 1999, living in Paris as a foreign student, I was violently attacked, raped and left for dead. What followed was a long struggle through the French justice system that only came to an end 16 years later. I faced victim blaming, secondary trauma and was brutalised by a system that was meant to protect me. In 2014, I decided to speak out about my ordeal. What came next was extraordinary.