15 December 2013 | By Jasminka Sikic
Some rape victims in Vukovar still live next door to their rapists. The majority of the crimes have never been prosecuted. Now, twenty years after, the victims are receiving their first organized psychological help.
“There were already three men there. One of them read out the order in which I was to be raped. Six of them raped me that night. While they were raping me, they abused me in all ways – beating me, threatening me, acting perverted, shoved a beer bottle in my rectum. My six-year-old sister, who was aware of the situation, was crying silently and my eight-month-old daughter was screaming, as she was both hungry and scared. One of the men, irritated with her crying, threw a military jacket over her to stop her from crying. I couldn’t do anything, I thought they have suffocated her”.
The eight-month-old baby’s name is Sunny and today she is a grown up girl. She survived all the horrors of the war in Vukovar, Croatia. The testimony quoted comes from a book that got named after her and includes 14 similar experiences.
Some of these men still live there; some of them are police officers, doctors or lawyers. This is Europe in the ’90s and we’re talking about, by then, civilized and well-educated people, not wild tribes.
Whoever managed to survive now has to live in the same city with these people. But in 1991, the war chaos and brutality that took place were such, that, according to one of the testimonies, an alder man, after shouting: People, stop this, what century are we living in? was immediately beaten up so hard that he almost died on the spot.
It’s amazing how much brutality and hatred could emerge from a human being when presented with an opportunity, especially when it comes to hurting a woman. In the 1990′s, all of the maniacs and criminals suddenly got their chance to act without legal punishment and were even tactically backed by the military police. Some female civilian prisoners were being held in prisons or camps, tortured by day and gang raped by night. Some of them were being held in private houses, raped by up to 20 men at a time.
After Serbian military forces overtook Vukovar, Croatian homes were marked with white rags and that meant that anyone could come into the house as they pleased. Some of the Serbian neighbours and paramilitaries were taking full advantage of that.
The number will stay unknown
The youngest raped was six and the oldest 80, according to Marija Sliskovic, the editor of the book Sunny; she is also a president of Women in Homeland War.
There has never been an official report on the exact number of rape victims. It was estimated that around 10,000 Croatian women have been imprisoned. It is presumed that in most of the cases, they have been raped. If we take into account that 80% of concentration camp inmates in Sarajevo reported being raped or sexually tortured, and these were similar circumstances, we’re likely to come out with quite a high number.
Slikovic claims it’s impossible to get the exact number of the victims since not all of them are not likely to speak. Some of the women in the book remember other women being taken away and brought back crying or throwing up but most of them never spoke about it, some of them not even to their own families. They have all been threatened not to talk about it and some of them are still afraid.
Now, more than twenty years after, they will get their first psychological help. This is thanks to the efforts of Marija Sliskovic and her WHW. After years of being ignored by the political officials in Croatia, Louisa Vinton, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Croatia decided to support the WHW and its project in Vukovar. They rented a house where women will be able to have some therapy through creative workshops and gardening. Until now the victims have had nothing.
“Everybody got their statuses solved, so we have war veterans and those disabled in war, only these women are still nothing. They have been treated as nothing”, says Sliskovic. The reason why no Croatian government has ever shown much interest in the subject lies in their primitivism and indolence, she observes.
“We live in a primitive society. Public servants are rude and don’t see our work being any help to them. They are afraid, that’s an inherited attitude, that’s a heritage around here. We are still a country where the people and the government are separated. If you keep quiet about the victim and you’re supporting the criminal, if that’s the message we are receiving here, than I wonder how many meteors will fly in future and where”, say Sliskovic.
Violence against women on such a mass scale can’t just pass ignored, argues Sliskovic. “Events like those provoke a trauma and those victims live in our society. The trauma transmits to their families and the society in whole. People think they can just ignore those victims and, once they die, in a couple of decades, we’ll have a healthy society. It is not so. The fact we’re ignoring it leaves deep mark on our society”, she says.
There hasn’t been much luck with the prosecution of these crimes. Two of the convicted men fled to Serbia after their convictions which took 10 years to come. All of the time, they were defending themselves still living at home. One of them was a policeman and the police union was paying for his lawyer throughout the trial. The rape victims never got such help. The WCWI is considering a legal file against the Republic of Croatia for letting those two convicted criminals simply move to a neighbouring country once they were finally found guilty.
That says a lot about the legal system in Croatia. Most of the women included in Sunny’s testimonies filed a report to the police but most of them never got any response and these cases probably haven’t ever even been opened. So far, there have been only 17 prosecution trials opened by the State’s Attorney.
Overall helplessness remains
After being raped in something “similar to a grave” and then taken to be gang raped by at least 20 men and end up surrounded by dead bodies, one of the victims from the book describes her post war reaction to the legal injustice by the following words: “Every day I would walk around with a knife in my purse, intending to ‘convict’ him myself. For days I was thinking about my revenge. Since nobody took him to trial, it was my every day preoccupation; I was walking through streets where I knew I could meet him. I’ve been torturing myself like that for a year and after that, I found peace in prayer so I don’t become a criminal”.
The man she reported died of natural causes, peacefully, a free man. Most of the guilty men never confronted a judge. Most of them continued to lead a normal life with their families. They have jobs and they are respected citizens. Asked how the victims coped with this, Sliskovic says:”They keep on showing the members of their families to me, they point and say – look, that’s his daughter, look that’s his wife .The family of one of the rapists organized a big party for him after the court decided he was allowed to defend himself from freedom. The next day he fled to Serbia. They observe that and there’s nothing they can do about it”.
Sliskovic says she has noticed some patterns of trauma when talking to the victims. “If they were raped by much younger men, the age of their children, they feel especially humiliated by the fact. They keep on saying – it was just a kid, I could have been his mother…”
Jasminka Sikic is a journalist based in Croatia
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of The Petticoat Journal, or any other entity of Spink Turtle Media Pvt Ltd.
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