In the ongoing struggle for freedom in Libya, a new and terrible tactic seems to be on the rise: rape. Most of the world first became aware of this problem when Eman al Obedi stormed that infamous Tripoli hotel to show her wounds to the world’s journalists. She was quickly taken away and held in a detention center for a number of days. In a later statement to Anderson Cooper, she discussed being beaten daily, and while she still had the support of her fiancÃ© and family, her ability to travel or work had been severely compromised.
Now, in some Gaddafi-held cities there is talk of Gaddafi’s soldiers using rape as a weapon. They go into homes, often arresting one or many of the men there, and then proceed to rape the family, not sparing mothers or daughters. One gynecologist who spoke to Al Jazeera described not believing that some of the cases she’d heard about were possible. That a mother and three daughters were raped in front of their brothers and father. Yet her examination of them proved this awful tale correct.
Other doctors have reported that panicked women have been cleaning and even injecting themselves with highly dangerous chemicals such as bleach or chlorine in efforts to clean and protect against pregnancy. Abortion is not much of an option in Libya (especially these days), so any woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape may risk her life using unsafe and nonsterile abortion options. If she keeps the child to full term there is also a higher likelihood of infanticide or her eventual ostracization from her community for having such a burden placed upon her.
Using rape as a weapon is a war crime, and rightfully so. But to prove that this is being tactically deployed is a little bit more difficult. Witnesses are needed and women will have to come forward. However, should Gaddafi’s actions ever end up in front of a judge, it will come to light that most opposition soldiers have reported finding numerous bottles of Viagra in the tanks of Gaddafi’s soldiers. Bottle upon bottle, and sometimes rows of condoms have also been seized from numerous Gaddafi fighters, since caught by the opposition. A few of them even explained that they were given orders from on high to rape.
Doctors across the areas in the East have also reported rapes in their own towns. Figures as high as 200 cases from individual physicians give the impression that we are talking about a tactic that is being consistently deployed. Therapists in Benghazi are mobilizing and discussing how to deal with the likely surge of PSTD cases in women, which is only compounded by rape being a highly taboo subject within more conservative factions of the culture.
It is likely that some of these survivors will face divorce and even financial hardships after undergoing such brutal crimes. For this reason, many of the foreign international health workers are trying to educate the men and women who still hold to such old fashioned customs. Like most societies torn apart by crimes against humanity, the road to healing will be long and painful. As more world leaders call in vain for Gaddafi to leave, and the actual battle seemingly at a stalemate, it might be a while before Libyan civilians can begin to put the pieces back together.