Friday, March 5, 2010

Rape: New weapon in African wars

Waiting for a recent class, I happened to pick up the current issue of Global Journalist. And it was a win FAUL for me.

I opened it to an article on rape in Africa. This was not the most striking part of the article. It was the writer--former AP Bureau Chief for the Caribbean Michelle Faul.

Michelle is my first international editor. She writes with passion and passed that on to many of the writers under her care in the Caribbean.

This passion came through in her writing about soldiers in Africa using sex as a weapon.

The piece first examined the logic of identifying victims of rape in some African nations. Michelle talked about how she had defended a decision 30 years ago to withhold the name of a rape victim in Rhodesia which is now called Zimbabwe. However she is now pushing to have rape victims names in print. She was interviewing a woman who had been raped recently in eastern Congo. After making sure the woman knew her story would be told around the world and in the Congo, Michelle asked if the woman was certain she wanted her name printed. What came next surprised me: "Three times she insisted that she wanted to be identified because, she declared 'I have done nothing to be ashamed of.'"

That opened my eyes to the struggles that these women are going through in that part of the world. Here was this woman willing to endure the shame of rape to get the story out. She stood strong in the face of something so profoundly difficult.

This infused me with a want to tell the story of those who can't get their story out.

Her writing was vivid as well. "A surgeon I spoke to who sewed together raped babies refused to allow me to interview his nurses, saying they had to have concealing for trauma and that it would be too painful for them to recall what they had witnessed," she wrote in Global Journalist.

Michelle wrote that she had to fight with editors to get some of these details into her stories. "Ultimately, the decision was that we are witnesses and cannot sanitize facts so that readers can sleep better at night," she wrote. "If people are disturbed, well, the subject is more than disturbing."

This inspires me to get out in the world and tell these disturbing stories so that we all know the world is not paradise and passion.

Thank you Michelle. Thank you for showing us a mirror of the world that most people would like to leave shattered.


Michelle Faul has covered Africa for The Associated Press since 1982 from bases in her native Zimbabwe to Ivory Coast in West Africa, Kenya in East Africa and, most recently from Johannesburg, South Africa. In between, she worked in the Caribbean for 10 years until 2005.





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