Rape is "Normal" | The Center for Victims of Torture

Rape is "Normal"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kalo Sokoto is a Counseling Supervisor with CVT's healing initiative in Nairobi, Kenya.

I have an experience which, even after months, I cannot seem to shed from my memory.

Kalo Sokoto
Kalo Sokoto

As a counseling supervisor with the Center for Victims of Torture in Nairobi, part of my job is to train staff at organizations that work with refugee survivors of torture and violent conflict. During one of these trainings, an expatriate female resettlement officer asked us if we could speak more on rape. She said that most refugee women who have been survivors of rape and later get resettled did not show the need for counseling and that perhaps this was because rape had become so normal to them that they are okay moving on with life.

I’ll get straight to the point. Rape is not normal. It can never be normal. Rape is in fact abnormal in every nature of the word.

Having worked with refugee survivors for the past three years, I have come across the largest number of rape cases that the average human being will come across in their life time. You would think someone in my position would be used to hearing these stories and even be hardened by their frequency, maybe even to the extent of calling it normal. The truth is that the abnormality of rape becomes even more real to me every time I sit down with a client and observe the effects of such an inhumane experience.

These survivors come to CVT weak and hopeless. Most cannot walk properly and are in constant pain due to the effects of rape. Others are full of hate for men and the world because the former caused harm to them and the latter did not protect them. This terrible experience robs these women of the priceless joys of life; love being the greatest of them all. Surely, no matter how often this happens to one, it can never be normal. To be honest, the woman’s comment during the training made me angry. I immediately concluded that she was a narrow minded, insensitive and even racist. According to me, she was in the wrong profession!

Just a few weeks later, the Kenyan government issued a directive for all urban refugees to return to their countries or to the Camps in Kakuma or Dadaab. I was sitting in my living room hosting a bunch of family members when this was brought up for discussion. At one point, I explained some of the injustices refugees have undergone and emphasized how many experienced rape. One relative said “...well, it’s better they [refugees] just go back to their country. Are they not used to whatever happens there anyway?”

I was totally thrown back by his comment. I could not believe it came from someone whom I admired, respected and loved. It was harder to think terrible things of my relative than it was the resettlement officer at the training for obvious reasons. And this made me think some more.

How aware are we that we often speak from a privileged position? In this case, I doubt the resettlement officer or my relative is a rape survivor. One is American and the other Kenyan therefore none have experienced living in times of war. Both are working class and have their jobs, family and possessions with them. They both have access to the basic human rights and more. Almost nothing in their lives would make them understand the life of a rape war survivor.

Privilege easily makes one blind to reality. The less in touch we are to reality, the less productive we can be in making this world a better place. Unless you seek to understand the reality on the ground you will forever be blind. CVT gives time to survivors to explain their reality and to be understood. Furthermore, CVT shares this reality with people who might not have the chance to meet a survivor. Let us seek to understand. Let us not be blind.

My journey at CVT continues to make me a better person.

For more on care for survivors of sexual torture, read CVT's Storycloth article, Restoring Dignity After Sexual Assault. Resources for health and human service providers are also available on HealTorture.org.


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