Survivor Testimony – Report The Abuse
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Survivor Testimony

My rape will always be with me, it will always be a part of my story. I don’t want it to define me though or make me a victim, because that’s not what I am. I’m a survivor.
At some point, I just moved offices because I was tired of fighting for the support I needed from my managers.
It took me years to come to terms with what happened on that UN base – where I know an entire battalion heard my screams for help, even though no one came. I felt totally alone.
I am a grown woman and an experienced humanitarian, but I have been scared of the dark ever since a UN peacekeeper broke in to my tent in the middle of the night, half naked, blind drunk and crouched in the darkness, refusing to leave and poised ready to attack. I had never interacted with him before and he ran away when my screaming brought my colleagues running. His superiors found it funny. Later I was told he had been sent home, but months later I bumped in to him in the next town over.
At first, he started flirting with me, and I was very clear with him I was not interested. He continued to say inappropriate things, and then started touching me. It was hand under the table, then it was hand on my neck, and finally he walked into the kitchen when I was there, forcibly kissed me and grabbed my breasts. I pushed him away and walked out of the kitchen. For the rest of the time when we were both there, even though I could lock my door, it was so flimsy that I continuously worried that he would force himself into my bedroom.
He put out his hand to shake mine and when I took hold of it he pulled me towards him and kissed me. I pulled away, and he did it again. I pushed him away and told him to leave my office.
I later submitted a complaint to his organisation. A few months after this they told me he was not reprimanded as he had left my office when I had told him to go. I heard from other expatriates that he used to harass the national female staff. I was in a much more powerful position than these female staff, but I could not do anything to stop him.
On the last night before I left for R&R, a program manager from another organisation came into my tent while I was asleep, climbed into my bed naked and raped me. I was questioned as to why I hadn’t reported it directly to the staff of the local agency (all men, some of who reported to the man who raped me) or tell my driver or programme officers (all male, and all my subordinates). They wanted to know why my tent hadn’t been locked, why I didn’t call and report it immediately as it happened, why I didn’t fight back more.
I received little support and no justice. My organization did not provide me with medical care, psychological support, or any legal options (not that going to the police would have led to any sort of justice). PEP or emergency contraceptives were not made available. I had to seek out HIV and STI testing and basic medical care on my own afterwards.
I chose to return to work after the assault; I didn’t want what had happened to take away a job I loved and a career I had worked hard for. I didn’t want what had happened to define me.
Talked with a few other female co-workers about [my sexual assault], but they just laughed it off. One said ‘sorry it happened’.
Since he spent the next day leaving me presents, I wasn’t sure that he actually raped me. I mean he was not a stranger and it didn’t happen in a dark street. He jumped on me, forced me to have sex, he hurt me, but he also apologised…I was very confused and it took me time to realise that non-consensual sex is rape.
The majority of my colleagues were incredibly supportive. However, one or two colleagues complained to my supervisor about the fact I was talking about what had happened and felt that it was inappropriate. My supervisor used this as an example of how I was not handling things appropriately. If I was to go back and do it again, I wish I had not spoken out.
I was in Afghnaistan in the summer of 2015. It was a male/female restroom. A young guy followed me to the restroom. He had asked to be my translator and I said I already had a translator. Then, when we got to the restroom, he saw no one was there but us two, he physically jumped me, saying he ‘wanted a kiss.’ He wanted more than a kiss. He grabbed me and pushed me against a wall. No one was there, but I managed to fight him off and no one saw us.
I told my co-workers and initially they were supportive. They had security apprehend him and called his family and gave them a ‘scare’ by saying he must never do this again or they’d prosecute. After that though, my boss was very curt and unsupportive when I had problems sleeping, had nightmares and explained that I was experiencing stress. He was critical of my work. Said I needed to get over my ‘personal problems.’ He seemed to expect me to get over it immediately, and I didn’t. My nightmares got worse and I cried a lot. I understood that I was in a war zone. However, I feel that I deserve emotional empathy, consideration and support for what happened in a work situation.
Felt like it was just expected behavior and was written off as something men there would do to an expatriate women.
I was in South Sudan working on GBV. Report it to the police? Not an option.
I was working in Afghanistan as a USAID contractor when I had my experience with sexual assault. I felt MUCH better after speaking to my local colleagues. They were kind. Security was kind. But it was supposed to be ‘secret’, making the situation hard to talk about. Those who knew of the situation – the other expats – were not kind and were dismissive and treated me (I feel) like I was incompetent. It really hurt. I felt betrayed and deeply saddened.
He got me very drunk and then implied that if I didn’t have sex with him I would be kicked out of the only place I could stay in…I didn’t feel that I had a choice.
I was offered the email addresses for two individuals trained in psychological first aid but no clear procedure for how to contact them, whether I or the organization would cover the costs, whether it was confidential or would be reported back to my supervisors etc. I was embarrassed and traumatized and in no condition to seek out mental health support on my own.
The person who harassed me worked at a local partner organization, which partnered with the INGO I worked for. He was the most senior executive and had a huge staff and a reputation for being improper with women – local and expats alike. I met with him to discuss one of our projects and he flirted with me inappropriately and touched me inappropriately during the meeting. I felt extremely uncomfortable and reported the incident to my coworkers and my HR. It was not dealt with except that I was told there were concerns that I could not ‘handle’ working in this culture. My organization could not reprimand the other organization, as we relied on them heavily.
We were at a social gathering. He cornered me and started fondling me. He wouldn’t let me go unless I agreed to go to his room. He kept telling me that I wanted him and I wanted to go to his room. I kept saying no. I walked over to a group of people and asked someone to walk me out. It was daylight when this happened.
We were sharing a dorm room. He was very drunk and asked me if I wanted to sleep with him. The question was totally out of the blue as I had never flirted with him. I said no, and nothing else happened, but it was hard for me to sleep that night. I guess the next day he did not even remember about it. At that time I thought he was just drunk and stupid. Now I feel it was not correct for him to act that way and that he had no right to make me feel threatened and fearful.
To be honest, I didn’t even know where I could go. This had never been explained to me, and I don’t think the organisation probably even had a formal system. Some of the inappropriate touching and comments happened in front of the head of the field site, and he didn’t say anything, so I was at a loss and never reported it.
I have spoken vaguely about it with a few friends and my current boyfriend, but mostly I feel stupid. I should have just gotten myself out of the situation and feel that it’s mostly my own fault for being there in the first place. I still have nightmares about it and off days.
I was at a party in Haiti when a much older expat colleague working for the UN began massaging my knee under a table while we were all sitting around talking. I didn’t know what to do – this was someone who oversaw grants to our organization.
I still feel ashamed, but the two friends I talked to were very supportive. One of the two had been through a much worse experience while on mission in Lebanon, but by a UN mission staff member.
I was at a party in Central Asia and a local guy had too much to drink. He grabbed me and tried dragging me off. I tried to talk to him to get him to stop and leave me alone. Another person at the party intervened and jumped him. They fought and my assaulter left the party.
I discussed it with colleagues immediately. I felt terrible because they belittled me, made a joke out of my experience, and told me I should use sexual harassment to my advantage to get what I/the organization wanted.
I didn’t fill any complain for many reasons. First, I had already had an experience with the local police, while trying to report some stolen property, and they’d made me feel guilty, violated and my complaint had not even been filled. I did not want to know how they’d handle a complaint of rape. Secondly, I was feeling very guilty about what happened to me. I knew him. I thought I deserved it for not being more cautious.
I had arrived in country the day before, the driver came to pick me up at the airport. The next day he was supposed to drive me to the border, he came to the guesthouse much earlier than agreed, asked if I wanted to have breakfast with him (he had the keys and I had just got out of the shower). I declined the offer and locked myself in the room to get dressed and fix my luggage. When I got back to the living room he was in there and I felt a bit uneasy, so I went to the balcony. He followed me and started hugging me and then groped my breasts. I shook him away and he started behaving as if nothing had happened. I went back two weeks later, and again he started coming to the guesthouse at very random hours without any need, and every time he tried to touch me again, trying to corner me. I decided to move out of the place and to a friend’s for the time I had to stay there.
I was given no support throughout the process after my assault – my probation period was immediately extended, and I was told that I was on tenuous ground. When he came back to the field, they informed me that I had one month to leave. I left the following week. He continues to run the activities in rural India.
I was supported within my organisation. I was not emotionally affected by the incident itself, I was more frustrated that I could do nothing to stop him doing this to other people.
The only person who offered to listen at least was a colleague who had been assaulted by the same man before, the others just seemed to want to avoid the subject at all costs. Their reactions varied from a knowing smile to avoiding the subject completely. I understood it may not have been easy for them as well, knowing that I was left alone with this man for two weeks, but in a way it felt the thing was unimportant to them, although they all had had a gender awareness training the week before I arrived. After that I lost some of the trust I had in the organisation, and felt a lot less inclined to talk about other issues in the future.
There needs to be more awareness and support of this type of situation. The helpers need to be healthy too, not just the community we serve.
I did not need medical assistance. Looking back I may have benefitted from psychological assistance, but I felt embarrassed and thought I would make a bad start asking for support on my first week in the new mission.
I sometimes imply it when discussing with friends or colleagues, when this topic comes in the conversation, but I never really told anyone apart from my boyfriend. I felt relieved when I told him.
He was hinting for a few days that he liked me, by touching my hand at meetings (I did not). One day we were just the two of us and he aggressively grabbed me by putting his arm around my neck and grabbing my breast. I pushed him away and he fortunately did not try again. I was shaken and asked that another colleague stay with me from that point on (to never leave me alone with this man), so that I wouldn’t have to deal with embarrassment and the worry of being attacked again.
I met him at an embassy party in Central Africa, when I didn’t know anyone else. He was there with his wife who was charming. I had previously met him through work and some social activities. At some point in the night he pulled me into the bathroom and tried to assault me. I managed to escape and go back to the party. I wasn’t prepared for it because of his wife. He had been flirting with me but I had just tried to laugh it off, thinking it was harmless fun. It was only when I was suddenly trapped with him all over me that I realised what was going on and had to fight my way out.
I am much more cautious, not just in work but in life. I used to be quite fearless but now I am more risk adverse (not in a good way).
While living in Central Asia, one night a man tried to enter my apartment as I was walking back to my place.
I did not discuss with my colleagues – at the time I was new to the field, a bit naïve, and just accepted this behavior as unfortunately normal.
I feel conflicted about telling people. I told one friend, and have since told my now husband. They both are supportive, however their removal from the humanitarian space means that they don’t understand how taboo it is to report sexual abuse or unwanted sexual attention.
Every decision I make is framed by ‘do I feel safe enough?’. It feels like my entire ability to make a decision is coloured by what happened. I no longer trust myself.
I sometimes don’t go walking in the evening because of sexual harassment; I don’t go swimming because of men staring at me; when at HQ I avoid talking to people because of possible harassment (apparently the moment you are nice to a man they think you want something from them).
The psychosocial trauma carried with me for a very long time – I still wonder what may have happened if I was not strong enough to fight him off.
I had been previously physically and sexually assaulted in the United States, while not working in the field. So I think my more recent case brought back flashbacks of those other experiences…I could prove nothing and felt I couldn’t talk about it either.
I have withdrawn and stopped socialising. Following the incident I didn’t care much about myself, lacked self-respect and would engage in behaviour that was kind of self-destructing…When I go out now, I always leave with a friend. I have asked a close friend of mine to always make sure we leave the party together and I never go to or stay out at a party without a close friend around. Never.
Excuses were made for the person being a man, away from his family and [in a conflict zone]. Basically, that boys will be boys. There was no appropriate response, even when IDPs were targeted. It was simply ignored.
[It] made me become over protective with people around me and it made me more cautious, I feel like I have my ‘rape radar’ on.
He tried repeatedly to force sexual relations, both ‘sweet-talking’ and forcefully (at the same time) until I eventually relented, sadly. Should that be called rape? I’m not sure since I agreed. I eventually said no after a couple times; he then repeatedly tried to insist again (I had to throw him out of my tent once). He then stopped.
I feel better talking to family and friends. They were supportive when I left the job I was in at the time, due in large part to the sexual harassment. I have learned how common sexual harassment at work is.
I have never seen a complaint handled well; it is more a question of degrees of badly.
I talked to another colleague about what happened, but I felt that my superiors could do nothing to help me and that it wasn’t so serious a case that warranted a formal investigation or complaint. The assaulter was not working for our organisation, and a formal complaint would have complicated already sensitive relations between our organisation and the local authority.
Initially, I felt that I had done the right thing. Soon after, it became quite clear that his connections were more important than my (or other women’s for that matter) safety or well being.
I am more aware of my surroundings I speak up for myself now. Sometimes feel anxious in parties with strange men and alcohol or just walking down the street alone.
Men need to understand that women don’t want to be touched against their will. Changing that mentality is impossible in most cultures where women are considered as chattel, are not considered equal, and have no human rights.
I struggle a lot with my work environment because I fear sexual harassment. I know how common it is and how seldom it is reported or dealt with appropriately. I approach work a lot more cautiously because of my experience, and I believe it has impacted the quality of my work and my engagement with coworkers.
I live on a compound with the foreign staff members. I have touched women inappropriately in the past. I have since isolated myself from others or risk doing it again. I was never violent, but it was clear (maybe just in hindsight) that I was giving unwanted attention.
I felt that telling it to people around me would bring too much trouble. You may share the same feeling but being a humanitarian aid worker working in difficult contexts also means spending (for me a lot of) time reassuring the non humanitarian people around us that you are fine, that you are cautious, that you follow security rules etc. I feel that it would be too difficult to tell my loved ones that someone raped me while I was on duty but that it is not impacting my career choices, they just wouldn’t get it and I think that I have been through enough to handle being judged.
Upset and violated - they made a joke out of my defending myself. Nobody cared enough to even call me and ask if I was OK.
Unfortunately from what I see the UN doesn't do anything. They are mainly concerned in keeping it quiet and there's certainly a pattern of behaviour there. They use their immunity to keep doing whatever they want - there's no court where we can complain. But I am glad you have this website, at least more people will know about it.
My main goal was to forget as fast as possible.
We were sleeping in the same room since most of the house was damaged from rain. in the middle of the night, while I was sleeping the assaulter jumped into my bed.
I have really focused in on ensuring that when the topic is discussed it is not just the big red flag incidents which are discussed, but things like unwelcome sexual comments are also included.
What I believe however was the essential missing piece was their lack of compassion and empathy. The absence of this from my organisation and colleagues - was devastating.
I was evacuated the day after my rape, and the organisation did an internal investigation. The results of the investigation is not known to me, since it related to sensitive employer/employee information. The rape was also reported to the police of my organisation’s headquarters, which did not investigate due to "court economy concerns", which basically means that it would be too complicated/costly for the police to investigate the matter.
I was angry with myself and him, especially after my colleague mentioned there were rumours about him when he was working in western Africa.
I pretended I had gotten a UTI and went to a gynaecologist. It was supposed to be covered by insurance provided by HR, but they wanted to know details of my problem and I didn't want to share them, and I knew they would never take my word over a his (based on previous female colleagues telling me of their experiences) so I ended up paying for the care I needed after my sexual assault out of my own pocket.
It's a tough issue. I am currently working in Africa, and recently two international NGO staff members were raped by random assailants when their car broke down. The community is understandably alarmed, but at the same time, digging into who they are and what happened is not the answer. We need to find a way to better understand the situation without compromising people's privacy. Anonymous help lines (or skype chats?) would be useful, and better psycho-social support is desperately needed.
Break the silence, get organizations to advocate for proper follow-up measures for their workers, provide adequate medical and emotional support.....make the humanitarian community realize this is a significant problem that has to be addressed.
What is needed is a system that aid/humanitarian workers or victims can report the case without worrying about losing job while the perpetrator can be punished effectively. But it seems like the victims are always worrying about losing job while the perpatrator keeps their position reflectong from my experience in the abuse of power cases.
I have severe clinical depression.
I see the systematic abuse of women all around me- in my work of course, but also in daily interactions. I am of course much more vocal about things, about abuse, about someone speaking to me inappropriately. I am also very aware of the younger women in my life (nieces, goddaughters, etc), and try to make sure they are better prepared than I was.
I thought it was so funny that people came up to me after the meeting and called me "brave" for sharing .. I actually didn’t even know initially what they were referring to. I think the issue many non medical people don’t understand is that I went through 1/100th of what many of my patients went through. My story is so mild and innocuous compared to so many other stories that I have heard professionally or personally over the many years.. I don’t really think of my stuff as being "that bad" because I know of so many that have suffered so much more then me. It's just that I can’t talk in public about their stories due to medical confidentiality.. so I just have my stories that Im free to be able to share now and happy to do so if thats what it takes to help start the conversations rolling
My colleagues were more supportive than the administration and it was good to have their support.
I had previously been warned against reporting some incidents of graft, as doing so would make my own life in the field site harder. I assumed I would get a similar response.
Since he spent the next day leaving me presents, I wasn't sure that he actually raped me. I mean he was not a stranger and it didn't happen in a dark street. He jumped on me, forced me to have sex, he hurt me, but he also apologised... I was very confused and it took me time to realise that non-consensual sex is rape.
I was in Afghanistan in the summer of 2015. It was a male/female restroom. A young guy followed me to the restroom. He had asked to be my translator and I said I already had a translator. Then, when we got to the restroom, he saw no one was there but us two, he physically jumped me, saying he 'wanted a kiss.' He wanted more than a kiss. He grabbed me and pushed me against a wall. No one was there, but I managed to fight him off and no one saw us. I told my co-workers and initially they were supportive. They had security apprehend him and called his family and gave them a 'scare' by saying he must never do this again or they'd prosecute. After that though, my boss was very curt and unsupportive when I had problems sleeping, had nightmares and explained that I was experiencing stress. He was critical of my work. Said I needed to get over my 'personal problems.' He seemed to expect me to get over it immediately, and I didn’t. My nightmares got worse and I cried a lot. I understood that I was in a war zone. However, I feel that I deserve emotional empathy, consideration and support for what happened in a work situation.
I have sought emotional assistance, on my own, since leaving that job. As far as I know there were no emotional resources (therapists, etc) available to me in country.
I went back to the party and immediately called a friend and went to her house. She looked after me. I told my mum a few days later. I didn't tell anyone else until months later, when I was warning them about him.
I was working in Afghanistan as a USAID contractor when I had my experience with sexual assault. I felt MUCH better after speaking to my local colleagues. They were kind. Security was kind. But it was supposed to be ‘secret', making the situation hard to talk about. Those who knew of the situation - the other expats - were not kind and were dismissive and treated me (I feel) like I was incompetent. It really hurt. I felt betrayed and deeply saddened.
I felt like I was burdening them, by telling my family what had happened to me. Particularly with my dad and brothers, because I knew that it would hurt them so much knowing that they couldn't protect me. No one could protect me.
I still couldn’t understand what the purpose of the meeting was about. He wasn’t talking anything that made much sense. I was very confused and rapidly becoming pissed off. I had things to do on my home base. It appeared that I had wasted my time to make this trip as there was no apparent reason for it. I finally asked to be excused to go to the bathroom. I stood up readying to leave the room. He then jumped up and ran in front of me to the door - I thought in his Eastern Europe way to open the door for me. Instead he locked me in. He refused to allow me to go closer to the door and started to make physical contact with me, pushing me to the corner of the room and then up against the wall. He started saying things about me not knowing my place and that it would be his job to teach it to me. He started to undo his belt and pants as he was pushing up against me. Rubbing. Like a puppy on your leg. I was so disgusted and then angry. I pushed back against him allowing for some more distance between us and in that moment thought through my options.. and decided. I kicked him as hard as I could. I aimed successfully and ran out of the room.
It takes me far longer to trust men these days, and I always have exit routes in the back of my mind when I enter a new place.
All agencies, especially UN, need training, policies and abusers need to be held accountable.
I have struggled with trauma at various points, but had time to decompress and feel much more resilient now. I occasionally still get twinges, but they are fewer and further in between.
I think people should also be held accountable to their attitudes. I would love to say it is the system, but frankly, when I train a bunch of UN workers (and NGO workers) on GBV and their attitude is that women deserve this, that marital rape is ok, that certain rights don't apply to females, that we're overreacting to sexual harassment... I can't even imagine reporting an actual assault to them.
Organizations should emphasize that it is NEVER ok to experience sexual violence without saying anything, even if there isn't a 'culturally appropriate' way of doing so. I know some people who did not report incidents, or did not speak up while they were happening because they did not want to be known as the girl who doesn't understand or respect the local culture.
I am not so open about my experience with sexual violence, as some people find it funny that I was attacked by a female.
Investment and capacity building [must be taken] within the (I)NGOs or agencies and real measures taken against the assaulters.
It started with little remarks and inappropriate touching, ended being pushed against the wall with his fingers inside me, trying to kiss me. I managed to break free after a few minutes and locked myself in my room. Neither he or I ever brought this up and it never happened again, but we still had to live in the same house together for 7 months.
I did not tell anyone except my ex boyfriend who escorted me for a HIV test once I went back home. Fortunately my rape did not stop me for working in humanitarian work a career that I have loved for more than 15 years, but for years I couldn't think of the organisation my rapist worked for without dread. I was even resentful to one of my friends who worked with this organization for a long time. I still look carefully any time I am in a meeting with staff from this organisation. I have told my story to literally two persons before today: my friend who was present that night and my ex boyfriend. Even my husband has no idea about it. I have always felt so guilty and that it was my fault because I was drunk and because I accepted their invitation and because I was fascinated by humanitarian workers. Even after working years as a GBV practitioner and knowing how to tell others that it is not their fault but HIS decision to abuse, I can still not proceed this with myself and my own experience with rape.
An HR advisor was included immediately after the incident, and I was interviewed by the internal investigation team. The duty of care advisor has also been responsible for follow-up in the period after the incident.
Breaking the stigma is essential. There also needs to be more awareness raised around consent - inability to give consent =no consent. no consent = rape.
I expected my organisation would provide an easy path to getting medical and psychososial support, provide the space and resources to heal, and support my attempts to get justice. Instead, the opposite happened, in nearly every way.
My main goal was to forget as fast as possible.
After the incident, my colleagues and I were stuck for a week at a Peace Keeper camp before we were evacuated to a safer location. Having a week of downtime, just waiting, my colleague and I began drafting an incident report of everything that occurred. We informed management of this. We were immediately discouraged from doing this. This could have been in an effort to not burden us but my sense at the time was that he was fearful we were going to overly criticize him and/or the management. This was frustrating and we felt like despite what we had been through that the organization was trying to stifle and silence us. In the end we did submit our report which was objective and only reporting what occurred. For the evacuation the organization wanted to evacuate us directly to the nearest country and home. We objected to this as we wanted to see friends, felt we deserved a face to face debriefing with the organization in country and wanted to collect what belongings we had in country. Again, it felt as if the organization (in country) was trying to silence us and get us out. Eventually, they accepted that we de-brief in country before going home. Once home, the organization gave us each 3 weeks extra leave and encouraged us to speak with someone (either within the organization or someone else of our choice.)
He was American and he had very strong ties with the local government, and he used them to help the organization gain ground. He informed me upon arrival at the remote field site that we needed to go to the state capital to register me. I did not think much of it, and went with him by train. Before we left, he said that he and the Director (female) typically shared a bed to save money and suggested we do the same. I asked if we had budget for two rooms. He said no. I said then I will only go if we have separate beds. The org had low resources, so it did not strike me as odd until after the incident. The staff was a heavy drinker, and as we would later find out, was an alcoholic with a serious addiction that had been reported by volunteers (female). He was drinking heavily and I was in the room working. He came into the room, shut the door, and mumbled some things to me. He came up to me and turned my chair around. I asked him what he was doing. He then leant in and pulled the chair towards him to kiss me. I said, wait stop. He kept coming in. He had a hand on either chair arm, and I began to hit him and shout STOP WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I was able to hit him hard enough that he backed away. I did not speak to him the rest of the trip, and we eventually went back to our home base. We did not have to go to the capital to get registered, and the trip was useless.
It was a minor incident compared to many, but basically, it started was the usual question "Are you married?" When I replied "no", the guy remarked, "Well you could become my second wife, I've never been up in a white girl before." This took place in front a several other local male colleagues who all sort of smiled/chuckled. I responded by telling him off in a way which the other guys seemed to find comical, and made the guy realise he wasn't going to get anywhere with further comments. I then exited from the conversation. After that I made sure to not be left alone with the guy, despite that I was fairly confident that he wouldn't have actually tried any thing physically, but I didn't want to leave myself open to any further uncomfortable comments or conversations etc.
I was drugged and raped by another international, who was working for a vendor of UNICEF. I woke up the day after I was drugged not remember the past 6-8 hours. I was scared and alone. I didn't realize until that moment how vulnerable I was capable of feeling. It was, without a doubt, one of the lowest moments of my life. The reaction from those around me afterwards were the other lowest moments of my life. This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
I think that we are far too cavalier with women's risks of sexual violence. This is likely the greatest threat we face in our work and yet it is not taken as seriously as more unlikely threats to our safety. When in the field I do not go out on my own in the evening and if this means missing social events or work events in the evening, so be it.
Training needs to put sexual violence - how to prevent it and how to respond to it - front and centre. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that prevention will not always work. I strongly refuted arguments at the time I was attacked that if I'd done self defense I could have acted accordingly. As a small female I will always be vulnerable in certain ways that others will not. Aid organisations also need to put in place policies for responding to violence against their employees so that there is a procedure that is known, understood and can therefore be relied on. In my instance, I felt like no one really knew what to do and the response was quite ad hoc.
I know better how to speak up with supervisors and colleagues on the importance of this issue. I am still working on gender based violence programming and continue to raise awareness amongst colleagues on this issue.
I am much more careful in making friends, and in particular I avoid being with a male person, whether a colleague or friend, on our own in all circumstances.
First, I think training is hugely important. Often, humanitarians entering a conflict zone are required to undergo training. The same can usually be said for humanitarians working for large international organizations or during time of particular risk (mass protests, outbreaks of violence, etc.). However, its very rare for local human rights organizations to provide any sort of training for any of their humanitarian workers on gender, sexual violence, or even other forms of violence, even though funders are largely international and include provisions within their own by-laws. I think ALL organizations should be required by funders to provide training and a system of reporting for ALL of their employees - local, as well as international.
Repeat and repeat and repeat that victims are not guilty, and maybe try to find ways for male staff to feel less sympathetic or even 'high-fiveing' the aggressor Even if they do not think that groping a woman's breast is sexual violence, they should at least concede it is inappropriate behaviour, but from some of the male colleagues I got answers/comments that were very close to 'you maybe asked for it' or 'ok but you enjoyed it after all didnt you'.
That was my first time volunteering abroad. I was helping a local NGO and feeling really attracted by this area of work. One afternoon I went with a friend of mine to a guesthouse. She had planned to work with this organisation, so wanted to meet some people. I tagged along and I was fascinated by the stories two guys there were talking about. We spent the afternoon at the guesthouse then went for some dinner and then dancing. At that point I was a bit drunk and enjoying the party. When my friend decided to leave I decided to stay. The guys, sounding mature and responsible told my friend that they would take care of me and bring me back home. Off she went. As the party went on late, they asked me if it was okay if I slept in the guesthouse and that they would drive me back the next day. As there had been no any seduction going on I felt very safe and agreed. They brought me back to the guesthouse. They showed me the guest room and I fell asleep immediately, only to be waken up by one of the men who was in my bed. I was then feeling very bad and more than drunk. I remember fighting him off but I was feeling so sleepy and he was behaving as if being in my bed naked was the most natural thing. I kept repeating no no no but he did not care. After raping me he even asked me to kiss him to show that I was forgiving him. Then I passed out…the following morning he was gone. I woke up in that strange house feeling physically the worse than I ever have. At first I could not move, then I spent hours vomiting ... My head was hurting so much that I could not leave the house... My friend came back looking for me and we left. I did not tell her anything about what had happened until years later (then she told me that she had guessed something was wrong).
The isolation and lack of ability to "contain" information flow within the organisation made it difficult to get support. Also, when sexual violence happens in a high-risk environment, it is difficult to include your own network.
The wounds from how I was treated by my former organisation run deep though, in some ways even deeper than those from the rape itself.
At first I told just the group that was with me when I was raped and the people who debriefed us. Then a few more colleagues after several years...and after nearly two decades I spoke with a wider group, my brother, family...just recently I have gone public within my own organisation.
I spoke with one colleague (who saw me the next day and always wondered), but only after more than one year and after she had left the organisation.
I am a volunteer who was working in the Caribbean. While there, a female doctor kept wanting me to sleep with her. I didn't and one day she hit me. I reported this incident to our office. She was suspended with pay and immediately accused me of sexual assault. The investigation lasted until almost the end of my contract, after I had already my ticket to leave, at the end of which they decided I hadn't assaulted her. Even though I ended being exonerated, I was also repeatedly harassed by my organisation in the process.
I felt ok after speaking with my colleagues, but we all agreed that the organization wouldn't do anything. And they didn't. I was the third person to report sexual harassment to HR, in regards to this person, and he is now in a senior position.
Organizations should put the basic security measures in place - satellite phones, radios, etc. The organization I was working with did not have these measures in place at the time.
It requires a commitment to say that what is unacceptable can't be accepted and therefore organisations need to be willing to sack people who overstep the mark.
I didnt deal with it, or even have time to recognise that it was an assault until over a year later. Ive been working with victims of trafficking and GBV for years so it didnt really occur to me that this was bad compared to all the stories I've been working with.
I think with distance now, I no longer permit male colleagues or really any older men to make such unwanted advances. I don't smile and politely correct them - I am much more angry - much more firm in protecting myself.
It has been said before but it cannot be said enough but humanitarian organisations need to put words into action; rather than simply saying that they have a no-tolerance policy they have do demonstrate by investigating and prosecuting.
Most male staff do not know that it happens to their female colleagues.
I am much more concious about my vulnerabilities. My abiding memory of being attacked was the realisation that I am the statistic. When you think about one in three women experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime, I had never guessed I would be the one in three. Now I'm much more likely to think of myself as a potential statistic.
It was something I didnt really think about since that time. I dont remember ever speaking of it. Then it came to mind and I spoke of this incident at a defence policy roundtable...some 20 years later.
I am certainly more cautious now, and protective of my body and emotions. I don't want to get hurt again, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally hurt. I get scared every time I have to tell someone because I am worried that they will reject me. So many friends and colleagues rejected me after I went public - in big and small ways. So I'm still in this constant state of belief that I will lose the people around me because of my experience with rape. It's likely an irrational feeling...but it is always there playing with my reactions.
I went to a clinic and said I had been raped and needed a full test for all STDs. They told me to come back with another story -- that no doctor would want to handle a rape case. But I did, because I had to know.
Within the current organization I work for (a very large NGO) sexual violence against female humanitarians especially is not seen as an issue - it just doesn't exist. When I have friends who do report - it becomes something immediately beyond their control - they have no say over how they want to proceed and what they want to happen, and there is no genuine concern for their well-being (it is much more a series of actions to protect the organization from being sued). These women are often the ones who bear the consequences - being forced to move to a different post.
I think it needs to be spoken about by large organizations. Orgs need to have clear policies and resources available. A lot of times sexual harassment comes from within an organization. Sexual harassment training can help.
I talked to two close friends just after I arrived back home. I talked to my parents three months after the incidents. Other parts of my family, including children, don't know.
I kind of regretted talking about my rape. A lot of my friends don't understand what I do and they couldn’t understand how I could still do this job after what happened.
Today, having done all this work on myself to be able to say and share my experience with sexual violence - I finally feel whole and unfrozen.
I was evacuated to a health system that has "rape survivor centres" which are specialised in gathering evidence, medical and psychological follow-up and legal advice.
Regular and constant verbal sexual harassment relating to me being a lesbian and wanting his sperm, to him asking where to buy cock rings. Towards the end of my employment, he swatted my butt with a manila envelope in front of his assistant.
It's not something I've had time to think about much. I know there that most organizations have measures in place (e.g. briefings/signing of codes of conduct, SEA trainings and focal points), but in my experience the way in which these are implemented/function can vary dramatically from one organization to another, and even within organizations depending on context and personality.
I got assistance from a colleague in my organization, the assaulter knew I was going to her and later he did what he has done with everyone I have worked with and gotten close to - he got to her. Once he did that, she no longer kept in touch with me to follow my recovery progress.
Often, training and prevention targets permanent staff members only, while in my experience interns/staff on temporary/unsecure contarcts are at higher risk. They need to be specifically sesitised on the options they have and care needs to be taken that any complaint will not impact on their employment prospects with the organization (e.g. when friends/people who have worked with the accused for a long time are also older males and make employment decisions).
Training, code of conduct, and enforcing them - this can work in larger organizations but what about the smaller ones - need some kind of coalition on the issue not leave it up to individual NGOs or agencies.
Bosses need to clearly set expectations and repeat often. The field can be incredibly stressful and lonely. That's no excuse for acting inappropriately, but there will always be people who are susceptible.
It took me a long time to truly trust men again. I also had nightmares for several years (not consistently).
It's probably the usual stuff, but increasing dialogue among all staff, regardless of gender. Not propagating gender stereotypes, and being willing to discuss the whole spectrum of sexual violence. - Even just providing vocabulary around sexual violence in the humanitarian sector would be helpful I believe. This has been a challenge for myself and other trainers that I work with, as we try to find the best language and vocabulary to present, discuss, and learn about sexual violence and its prevention. - More (free!) training opportunities available for staff with roles who need to communicate around, prevent and respond to sexual violence, like safety and security or human resources, managers, etc. In order to ensure we are prepared to bring the critical points back into our own teams/orgs/etc.
I'm much more gun shy about being alone as the only female or alone without close peers present, especially when dealing with other country's military.
Then he came over to near me and pushed me to the ground along side the river bed. I realized then he was going to attack me. I was going to be raped. I remember thinking I could never escape from here. There was no where to walk out of here to. I remember acknowledging that even if I got to the trucks and got the keys - I would never know the way back to a main road. There had been literally no sign of people or civilization for most of our trip - there would be no help coming for me now or in the near future. Then as my mind was working through the decision analysis of how to survive - I saw a change in his eye. He grabbed a large rock in his hand. I suddenly realized, this wasnt going to just be about a rape. He was going to kill me. There was no talking to him. The kind, teaching, passionate, caring physician I had been with working 80 hour weeks with side by side had disappeared. He was gone. He'd cracked. Still with my back on the ground, my hand reached desperately around me and then found it. The ubiquitous glass coke bottles that litter Africa. I broke it against a rock and thrust the jagged edge of the remaining bottle to his throat. In that split second, time stopped, or at least slowed to feel like an hour passed with us both there staring at each other. I could feel him still deciding how to best assault me. To make me pay for the sins of the white man in his country. I consciously had to decide how hard to keep pushing the broken bottle against his throat as it sat now against his pulsating jugular vein. Then - in a flash - our eyes focused and met again as two human beings. In that split second he snapped out of whatever state or place he had been in Stumbling, he then fell over onto his back. He just lied there for a minute staring up at the sky. Then he stood up. He tidied up his clothes and zippers and slowly walked back to the drivers side of the truck. I got into the passenger side .. still holding the broken coke bottle.. and without a further word - we drove home. He dropped me off in town and I found the one other Canadian in town that I knew of. He went for me to the doctors home and gathered my belongings. I left town the next day. I never saw my supervisor again.
What was offered to me by my org was insufficient. It felt more traumatizing so I sought care on my own.
Reactions were mixed, re my story. My brother asked me if I had a ̈cool scar ̈ on my face. Later he apologized. My son was horrified and sympathetic. I felt some release.... I told my housekeeper and she continued to hound me to get out of bed, to get my hair done, to try to return to a normal life.
From the organisation at country level yes this was handled appropriately however the HQ level of my organisation responded differently when the report was shared with a Female Manager. Her response was - paraphrased [...] so what it happens to women all the time, she needs to just get on with it.
I didn't really share the details, so I was not able to feel better about it through sharing.
It is really, really difficult to include colleagues in something that is so private and also potentially traumatic.
During Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness week this year, I posted about my experience on my Facebook Page, hoping to encourage others to speak out and to dismantle any shame.
I felt relieved to be told that what happened was not my fault and assured that all that happened was not because of my friendliness or how I was dressed. But I also felt scared, alone and isolated because the conversations with the therapist were via phone.
I do think that humanitarians are not necessarily more sensitive to sexual violence and what does it exactly means and implies. I think humanitarians should be trained in gender-based and sexual violence. As we all come from different places, ages, status and sexual orientation and have our own mindsets, there should be some standards to keep and avoid thinking that just because we are humanitarians it means we are good guys!
I turned to a nurse I knew from MSF after the incident. She did the PEP kit and instructed me on what to do. After a few months I still had some physical issues so I went to a hospital while on work trip in Europe and was diagnosed with internal nerve and muscle damage and PTSD. Then the hospital contacted my work insurance and they paid for 6 months of physical and psychological therapy.
Cases brought up to management attention need to be taken seriously. Mainly when there is a repetitive track of cases. In my duty station, everyone knew who were the perpetrators and their modus operandi, it ended up becoming a joke among female colleagues. Almost like a rite of passage. And the behaviour went beyond the harassement to aid workers. It was much more serious against the people they should be aiding for. Perhaps the 'look the other way' attitude, or the 'men have needs' policy should be combated first, so perpetrators would not feel encouraged to act on their female colleagues as well. Another important task is to verify the quality of training on the subject aid workers are receiving. I've recently heard from a colleague who witnessed very dubious discussions about marital rape and women obligations towards men. I don't think people are getting the right message.
10 months later, I was informed that my assaulter would be returning as my supervisor. The CEO had come in from the United States, and I asked to speak with her. She told me to tell her exactly what had happened. I told her word for word. She then looked straight into my eyes and said, 'You're a woman. It happens. Deal with it.' and proceeded to say that he told her I had lied about the entire incident, that his memory of the evening returned and he knew that I was lying. I was embarrassed about what had happened and was afraid to lose my job.
I talked to a colleague (woman) who had lived in the same guesthouse for a while about what happened, and she said the same happened to her when she arrived (she too was international staff). After that I reported the incident to the security staff in the mission, but except for one person who said what happened was a reason to terminate the contract, the Logs/security coordinator shrugged and when I reacted quite strongly he said 'ok we will take a decision'. I talked about the incident to my supervisor as well, but nobody mentioned the thing afterwards anymore, except for the colleague who had been assaulted before (she did not report officially at the time of the incident and then thought it was too late).
Men have repeatedly shouted sexual comments from passing cars at me, or men walking down the streets on multiple occasions. A taxi driver also put his hand on my leg and tried to move it down towards my groin. At one point there was also a vehicle waiting outside my accommodation and the man inside it shouted that he wanted to rape me.
My organization handled this all very badly, which actually deepened the trauma. We were strongly advised not to go to the police nor to a medical facility because ̈that could get us into more trouble.
But then what. .. what to do. who to tell. what to tell. When you are the doctor of the mission.. where exactly are you supposed to go for your medical care and who is it that is supposed to give you your medical assistance?
Men aren't just part of the problem.. they are a very significant part of the solution. Some men though need some help still to see and understand their role in supporting the end of sexual violence.
I am more fearful and distrustful now.
There needs to be training and information provided pre-departure. Also, there are very often no mechanisms of accountability. This needs to be addressed.
It is a very complicated problem; people come from different countries, where different things are acceptable. Furthermore, due to the system it is difficult to hold people accountable. What might be a good idea is to employ more women (the gender balance is nowhere to be found where I work). Also a better induction course on what is acceptable and what not would be good.
I told my sister within a month of coming home and my mother 6 months later.
I was sexually harassed for a couple of months by our organization's security advisor. During that same mission I was raped in my compound during a party where people stayed over after curfew and someone forced himself into my room.
I was attacked in the middle of the day in a street in a village in South Sudan in front of a group of local Sudanese men. My attacker came from behind - grabbed one of my breasts and attempted to penetrate me with his fingers in my vagina. I fought him off, punching him and kicking him to the ground. He ran away. I reported it to the UNDSS, who then helped me report to the local police. Even though this assault was reported in the security round up the next day, and I reported the incident to my superiors, nobody from my offices in Khartoum or Juba called me to ask if I was ok. I was badly bruised on my breast and in and around the vagina. I broke a bone in my right hand punching him. I went back home on leave and in that time I had to have physiotherapy treatment on my broken bone in my hand. I did not undergo any counselling nor was I offered any support. My colleagues laughed at me and said they felt sorry for the guy who attacked me. To this day there has been no follow up on this incident.
It was good to have support immidiately after the incident. However, their general response is that I should not continue working within the sector and I've stopped discussing it.
I woke up one night with hands on my boobs, and an arm around my neck. When I tried to push the arm away, the arm closed around my neck. His hand grabbed me inside my vagina. I was fighting to release the arm around my neck, since it was blocking the blood going to my head, kicking, screaming as loud as I could. While I was focusing on trying to get his arm off my neck, his other arm/hand was grabbing me inside my vagina. The fight went on for four to five minutes, before I managed to get out of his grip.
I told my mom 6 months after I was raped. My brother, some family members and a few friends didn’t find out for nearly two decades though.
Do I feel that my complaint was handled well? Yes and NO. Yes: given this happened many years ago...we were debriefed (but this is due to the fact that we were thankfully with an ICRC staff member -which were at the forefront of debriefs, etc), medically treated, kept on contract and offered the option to access psychologists. NO: today I feel this should have been reported to authorities. It was both a war crime and a work related accident. I feel that my organisation then and now has in fact not taken its responsibility.
I now work for a charity in Europe. As part of my role, I receive supervision/counselling once a month. It has been in this space that I have spoken about the abuse I has been 5 years, and I still talk about it every session. This has helped me to speak out and to be open about my experience with rape.
I felt exposed, scared, as if I would be in trouble and did something bad for telling them about my sexual assault. I felt paranoid and fearful as they started distancing themselves from me after a few weeks and started becoming closer to the assaulter and flirting with him. This made me feel confused and alienated by my own gender and persecuted by people I had trusted.
I have nightmares and PTSD, and it affected the way I date.
Outside of counselling session - think the first time I really spoke of this event was the defence policy roundtable. It was kinda neat to see that by offering my story a deep and meaningful conversation was started where several other shares were also provided, followed by deeper conversations and topics with the others. It really did help open the conversation. That was empowering. Hence.. why Im here writing this all now... in case it helps others or helps open up the conversation more. Its time.
I'm much more scared than I used to be. It's something I am handling with slowly, but it's hard. Sometimes every day feels like such a struggle.
I told only a couple of people and it was because they initiated the discussion.
My friend and I were watching a sporting event at an upscale restaurant. Because the team we were cheering for won, a waiter brought us a congratulatory Pisco Sour. I don’t much care for these. My friend drank most of it, but I also had some. Her reaction was immediate -- she started to buckle. I asked the restaurant to call us a cab, which he did. In the taxi she started to vomit and to pass out. I was remembering the bill I had paid, and we really didn’t drink that much over several hours. I asked the driver to take us to a hospital because I thought she was dying. He shook his head, and took us to my apartment. He took me upstairs, stole my inherited jewelry, raped me, apparently assaulted me (I had a bruise and blood on my face the next morning). The agreement was that he would then help me get my friend upstairs. He did that. The next day I asked my friend if she remembered the night before. She said, ̈very little, ̈ and I was also having blackout issues. We went into our office (Monday) and reported the incident, since we figured we had been drugged. We were told NOT to go to the police, nor to medical facilities. Why? Because allegedly, this could bring more trouble to us. I went to a gynecologist on my own steam, because god knows what STD I might have been exposed to. My psychologist back home and a psychiatrist in my field location both wrote letters putting me on medical leave. I did not take that leave, partly because I was afraid to stay at home, and partly because I needed to pretend that nothing happened. A few months later I was told my performance was poor, and I had six months to prove myself. This, after 2 years running all the INGO’s Regional Ops.... quite successfully and through several serious incidents. I was told at the end of 6 months that my performance had not improved, and that I would not have my contract renewed. I was offered the opportunity to resign, but I chose not to go that route. That is my basic story.
I immediately spoke with my closest friends. I told my mom within 10 days, once I was in a safe place, but it took months before I was able to tell my dad and brothers.
I felt like I wasted my breathe. My male faculty advisor didn't want to hear of what I had to say. He liked the man.. therefore he must be okay and not capable of this. It was clearly easier to think I was misinterpreting what happened then to believe it actually had happened.
I am much more on edge at parties. I want to leave early. I cling to my partner.
Organizations need to stop pretending that this issue doesn't exist. It needs to be included in security briefings. Security guidelines often do not have a single reference to sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. We need to acknowledge that there is a serious risk of gender-based violence and make sure that the appropriate guidelines and protocols in place for prevention, crisis management and after care. We cannot effectively address a threat if we are failing to recognize it. In the field, men and women experience different security risks. Women in this type of work environment are more likely to be at risk in their own compounds or workplaces from fellow employees or civilians, not from state actors like military or police. Security procedures need to reflect this reality.
After seeking help from a therapist, I felt calmer, better, less ashamed, more motivated.
I just told one close friend who was working at HQ, but saw that something was off with me when she was on field mission. It was about 4 months after I was raped.
I was the only female on the mission. I had bosses that saw nothing wrong with feeding me to the wolves for fun if it furthered the mission/work relationships. I didnt believe anything would be done. I wasnt sure what could be done. I was afraid I would be told it was my fault for being in the room alone with him, or that I must have led him on, or that I was exaggerating about what happened. He was supposed to be in the mission another year, whereas I was a month away from going home. I knew how it would end if I told anyone. There was no obvious pathway for systemic justice and it felt like there was far more for me to loose then gain in complaining about the incident.
The response from the HR manager in my organization was not useful. The COO and Security Advisor told us that we had made up the story, based on their own investigation.
I was the only volunteer working in the centre for the duration of my stay in the camp. From the beginning, I had a good working relationship with the manager but found him to be very controlling. He did not allow me to make any local friends (apart from with the family that I was placed with, who happened to be his family too) and was unable to leave the camp, travel or do anything independently. I was unable to have regular contact with my family and was banned from social media and had to change my name (security reasons) He ensured that he was the only person that I could 'trust' and talk to about any problems that I may be experiencing. After 2 and a bit months of working there, he began flirting with me. This made me feel uncomfortable, but also wanted. As I have said, he made sure that he was the only person that I had in a this hostile environment. One afternoon he called me into his office and locked the door so that the children who used the centre daily could not enter. He also shut the main gate and closed it down for the day. We started a conversation about my time there, he was teaching me about the political situation, and with his words, made me feel shame about being european, white, and a 'weak' girl. I was used to this type of conversation from him though so it was not unusual, but it did make me feel uncomfortable. He then asked me some very personal questions about my body; which parts I hated and why, and about my sex life, emotional state etc. This eventually made me feel very worthless and very low. It was when I was in my lowest state that he came and kissed me, and then had sex with me. I felt completely powerless to stop him. He was in a position of great power, well respected, and I literally could not open my mouth to say no and to stop him. So I let it happen. I was silent. This happened again, on 4 separate occasions. The same pattern of abuse. I know that I was groomed by this man almost from the beginning of my volunteering with his organisation. But this realization took me a year or so to come to terms with.
I was raped by a rebel during an uprise in violence in the African country I was working in at the time.
2 months later, I was back in university. I knew that my school had recommended my assaulter for ongoing student supervision. I told a senior faculty member that I didn’t think they should send any more students to my assaulter. I was asked why. I told him why. I was then asked if I possibly could be over reacting in my interpretation of events. For you see, they had known him for years and he was always such a wonderful man and father and teacher. I was told that clearly politically, it had been a stressful time and place to be in for all concerned. I was told that I shouldnt be thinking that my supervisor was normally like that.
All humanitarian agencies and organizations must have a point of contact that these incidents can be reported confidentially. Such a focal point must be of a very senior position, so matters are taken seriously enough. Do not try to deal with these issues within the organization. Take cases for criminal prosecution. If at least a few cases are prosecuted, attitudes of senior managers in humanitarian organizations will change. Without the change of attitude in managers, things will not change.
Why talk about what happened to me? It just ruins other people’s evenings. Lets face it - no one wants to know or talk about it.

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