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Victims’ voices: a victim of sexual violence in armed conflict speaks out

Edina Karic is a 37 years old Bosnian.  She was a victim of sexual violence in the conflict that subsumed that country.  This is her story.

“At the beginning of the war in 1992 I was 15 years old. Right at the beginning I was captured in front of my house by the Serbian military – my Serb neighbours. They took me to a camp, which happened to be a mine, where I was locked up with about 60 other civilians. During my time there, 50 prisoners were led away for exchange of prisoners, and they were never heard of again. Their bodies have still not been found.

Those that were left were mostly girls. They would take us to a nearby village, Bratunac, where there were abandoned Bosniak houses. There, many times over many nights, they would abuse us. Then they would return us to the mine. I spent about a month in the camp. After that I was transferred and placed into the Sports Center in Loznica.

There, after a few days I met my now ex-husband. He was a Bosniak from Zvornik.

Very quickly after meeting me he offered me the chance to live with him and his parents as his wife.  I agreed, but not before I told him all the horrible things I experienced in the camp. In that moment, in those few days, he was very supportive and understanding. I was alone for the first time away from my parents, having experienced what I experienced, alone in a strange world. I was afraid and I did not know what to do, but to join someone and to live together seemed the right thing to do.

But after two months of living together, he started to abuse me first psychologically by bringing up and holding against me the terrible things I experienced in the camp.

After that, he hit me for the first time. That abuse, physical and psychological continued day in and day out, year in and year out, I had to suffer and take it because I did not know where and what to do alone.  I stayed with my husband, and had two children with him, but the abuse never stopped. And so after a few years of abuse, when I really could not take the hits any more, I decided to get a divorce, even if it killed me, but I did it. I got a divorce. I was alone again with two children.

For me, though, the fight for survival continued…I was unemployed, I had to feed my children. I started working, cleaning houses to survivor. I fell to the bottom many a times, physically and psychologically, but I got up stronger. It was in those years that I first asked for psychological help from an NGO, and they helped me. But that was not enough for me. I needed help in the moment when it was difficult for me, when the memories come flooding back and pictures were clear of my abusers in my mind.

Now I realize that I focused so much on work in order to avoid thinking back at the rape and abuse I sustained in the camp during the war.

In that time of need, God sent a neuropsychiatrist my way, who helped me incredibly, I can’t even begin to thank her for the psychological empowerment and for helping me become as strong as I am today. Unfortunately, many women who are victims of rape today still have no psychological help.

Many women are silent about what happened to them, they suffer inside on their own and many have died with their secrets. Many suffer in their marriages because they have no support from their family or their husbands. I know this because I went through it all –  when you don’t have enough strength to fight, the shame and even the fear of being rejected by the family is there.

One of the pains, for me, is that the prosecutors are not doing their job. Even though they know who were the perpetrators in my case, even after 20 some years, they have yet to do something about it. The rapists are showing up on social networks. It was very difficult for me to see someone who raped me on a social network where he still was spewing nationalist hate-filled phrases.  Sometimes I start losing hope, even though I still try to fight.

For us victims, the war is still going on, it will go on as long as we live. We are fighting by ourselves, we don’t have adequate support, nor protection, the government has thrown us on the back burner… somewhere in the past.

But we must continue fighting. We cannot surrender: our silence supports the rapists. As long as any rapist is walking around this country free, and the victim is humiliated in the courts, we must be vigilant.”

(As told to Nerina Čevra).