When it was her turn to tell her story, she stood and told us she was thirteen. She described the day two years earlier when she and her friends were confronted by soldiers while searching for firewood. The other children were able to run away, but she was caught.
I was awed by the courage it took for her to tell us her story, but I wanted to wrap my arms around her and protect her all the same.
Every woman we met that day left an imprint on my heart, but the face of this girl will stay with me for a long time to come.
Today, in addition to victims of sexual violence, we met some very special women who have taken seriously the biblical mandate to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. These volunteer counselors—who face both support and opposition from the community—step into the lives of traumatized women who are most vulnerable. Woman after woman told us about the counselors who got them to a hospital for treatment and made sure they had a place to live. When some of the victims were literally stripped of everything they owned, including the clothes on their backs, counselors clothed them and provided for them from their own limited possessions. When the women were sick or recovering from injuries, counselors visited and comforted them. We could see the gratitude on the women’s faces as they described how these counselors offered care, encouragement, counsel and hope.
As I listened to the women describe how the counselors had helped them, it made me all the more determined to speak up on behalf of both the victims and their caregivers.
Marianne Clyde, LMFT
Her family took her to a hospital over two hours away in the city of Goma rather than to the local hospital. They were ashamed and didn’t want the village to know what had happened to their daughter. Her wounds were so severe she stayed on in Goma for nearly a year for ongoing treatment.
She received treatment for her body but I ached for the damage to her psyche. In a culture that stigmatizes the victim of a rape but not the rapist, she is hidden away, unable to attend school or be part of the life of the community. I am a therapist who deals with trauma and family relationships and I yet I felt I had nothing to offer her. I wanted to scream, and the only thought that kept running through my head was a prayer: “God, what can I do?”
I am listening for the answer. It’s hard to wait.