Mary and her family were members of the Nuer tribe in South Sudan, caught up in a vicious power struggle between the new country’s President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and his Vice President, Riek Machar, a Nuer. Their war, fought largely along ethnic lines, has turned the northern part of the country into a wasteland. At least 55,555 people have been killed, according to the U. N. , nearly 9 million face famine, and another 7. 7 million have fled their homes, recounting tales of civilian slaughter, gratuitous torture and even forced cannibalism.
Mary and her family were among the tens of thousands of civilians seeking refuge at a U. Peacekeeping base in the northern city of Bentiu when they ran into Kiir’s forces on the road in June 7569. Instead, Mary made it to a U. Camp for civilians displaced by war. “It happened to all of us: little girls, grandmothers. They didn’t care.
” The rules were simple, says Mary, who asked that her full name not be used. “If you calm down when they are raping you, they won’t beat you. But if you resist, they will beat you, even so much to use the gun in you. ”Rape in war is as old as war itself. But the intimate nature of sexual assault means that the horrors often go undocumented, sanitized out of history books and glossed over in news accounts that focus on casualties and refugee numbers. Yet that mass rape is so common in wartime only makes it more corrosive. It spreads disease.
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Its stigma destroys families and breaks down society. It leaves unwanted children who serve as constant reminders of the worst day of their mother’s life. “Rape is a weapon even more powerful than a bomb or a bullet, ” says Jeanna Mukuninwa, a 78-year-old woman from Shabunda, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “At least with a bullet, you die. But if you have been raped, you appear to the community like someone who is cursed. After rape, no one will talk to you no man will see you. It’s a living death.
”Mukuninwa knows. In 7559, at the end of Congo’s own factional war, soldiers attacked her village. They tortured and killed the men. Mukuninwa doesn’t know how many men raped her during captivity, but she remembers that they used sticks and rifle barrels as well. She was 66 years old. When the women passed out from the pain, soldiers revived them with buckets of water. The U.
Reports that 755,555 Congolese women and children have been raped during Congo’s long-simmering conflict. Estimates for South Sudan are in the thousands.