Dr. Seham Sergewa distributed a questionnaire to 70,000 Libyan families living in refugee camps after being driven from their homes, originally to measure how traumatized children were from the fighting, the AP reports. The 59,000 responses she received begin to quantify the full extent of the horror suffered.
10,000 people suffering post-traumatic stress, 4,000 children with psychological problems. Then came the unexpected: 259 women said they had been raped by militiamen loyal to Muammar Qaddafi.
Sergewa’s survey originally did not ask about rape, but when women began approaching her, she added a question about rape on the survey. Some of the women described the attacks to her in terrifying detail, such as a woman in Misrata who said she was raped in front of her four children after Qaddafi fighters burned down her home. And although 259 women came forward, Sergewa believes the numbers is many times higher as women are afraid to report the attacks.
It’s not unusual for rape to be used as a weapon of war, but this is one of the first indications of the extent it has been used in Libya, since Iman al-Obeidi burst into the hotel housing foreign journalists in Tripoli in March and accused pro-Qaddafi militiamen of gang-raping her. Despite her story and reports of condoms and Viagra found in the pockets of dead Qaddafi solders, some have found the evidence of a concerted rape campaign thin. Doctors in Benghazi said they had heard of women being raped but had not treated any. A consultant for Human Rights Watch reportedly said that the organization has learned of “a few credible cases of gender based violence and rape, but the evidence is not there at this point to suggest it is of a systematic nature, or an official policy. On Viagra and condom distribution we have nothing so far.”
But these new testimonies indicate widespread trauma behind a heavy code of silence. Another doctor reported testing victims for AIDs “who were terrified their families would find out.” Some victims have already been abandoned by their husbands, while others fear seeking treatment will result in retribution from spouses or banishment. Dr. Sergewa said of the 140 rape survivors she personally interviewed, not one could she persuade to prosecute.