Nairobi — Deteriorating security, a culture of impunity and an increase in attacks on internally displaced people (IDPs) in the central Somali town of Galkayo, Mudug region, have resulted in a sharp increase in rape cases, gender activists told IRIN.
"Attacks on women have gone up dramatically in the last two months and the severity of the attacks has become worse," said Silje Heitmann, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) gender-based violence (GBV) specialist for south-central Somalia.
Many of the rape survivors live in IDP camps in the town, in flimsy shelters that often do not have doors or other structures that would deter an attacker. Gender activists also attributed the increase in rape to a deterioration of security, with armed gangs of young men roaming about the town, often high on khat (a natural stimulant), and frequently able to get away with raping women who have no clan support.
Sado Mohamud Isse, an activist, told IRIN clashes between Puntland forces and a clan militia in early September in Galkayo contributed to the increase in rape.
"The clashes forced many families to flee the town, creating conditions that gangs of young men exploited," Isse said, adding that impunity was another factor. "Almost all the rapists get away with it and know they can get away with it. So they commit these crimes without any fear of repercussions."
She said the fact that Galkayo town was divided between the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland and the self-declared autonomous region of Galmudug had also contributed to the current wave of rapes. "A criminal who commits rape in the north [Puntland] and thinks someone will come after him will simply cross to the south [Galmudug] and remain there until he feels safe to return."
Many rape survivors are referred to the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD), a group that advocates for women's and IDP issues, for counselling and medical attention.
GECPD recorded 21 cases and six attempted cases between January and August 2011 but cautioned that these were only the cases that had been been brought to the centre; others went to hospital while still others did not report at all. "There are many more that are not reported out of fear or ignorance," said Isse.
"In my estimation rape cases have gone up twice what they were in 2010. Last year, you would hear of a rape case maybe once every two weeks. Now you hear of rape cases every three to four days," said Hawo Yusuf Ahmed of the GECPD.
Exact figures are not available because there are a number of groups who record cases and even more rapes are not reported, said Ahmed.
Women's groups have launched campaigns and invited traditional elders, religious leaders and security officials to discuss the issue. "We need to make sure opinion-shapers and those in charge of security realize this is a major problem faced not only by the displaced but also the ordinary women of Galkayo," said Isse.
Rape survivor Halwo*, 20, grew up in one of the IDP camps in Galkayo town. "I came here with my mother when I was 10 years old. Six months ago, I was attacked as I went to work. It was around 5:15am, two young men with guns waylaid me and told me to go with them or they would kill me."
Halwo said the two took her to the outskirts where they raped her and later brought her back to town, warning her that if she told anyone of the ordeal they would return to kill her.
"I was crying and pleading but they did not care," she said. "They were laughing when they finished and all I wanted to do was hide."
Halwo said she has since taken to wearing a niqab (a full face-covering veil) because she is afraid the rapists will recognize her. "I see them on the streets almost on a daily basis and I don't want them to recognize me."
Halwo is just a statistic in the growing cases of sexual violence in IDP camps, according to activists such as Isse.
Halwo's mother was also raped a year ago. "It is something that I will never forget," said Mumino*, 40. But she was more devastated by her daughter's rape. "I don't know why it is happening to us."
Isse said apart from a lack of basic services, displaced women now had to deal with the constant fear of rape.
Zahra Farah, head of a women's group in Hela Bokhad IDP camp - home to 1,285 families (each with an average six members) - is part of a committee that "has set up a community watch group that patrols the camp at night. We have had no cases inside the camp since we started the watch group."
According to UNFPA, one of the problems is the lack of proper data and, to address it, the agency started to implement the Gender Based Violence Information Management System (GBV-IMS).
"This project was created in response to lack of a system throughout the GBV community for collecting, analyzing and sharing data related to reported incidents of GBV in a humanitarian context," said Roar Bakke Sorensen, communication specialist, UNFPA Somalia Country Office.
The agency is also providing Post Exposure Prophylaxis kits and kits for sexually transmitted infections to the hospitals in the region, he said.
*Not her real name
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]