Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public.
“I lied about the rape because I thought my mother would beat me.”
She stands up during the conversation, she can’t keep her legs together and it hurts too much to sit down. Her mother, Nyabisepela, is furious and wants to tell us what happened. She wants the world to know what happened to her first-born daughter. Nyota also answers our questions. We interview them briefly before we take Nyota to hospital.
This is what the women tell us:
“It was last Saturday and I was on my way to the hairdresser,” Nyota says in a very weak voice. “On my way there I met a man, a neighbour. He took hold of my arm and dragged me into his house. He locked me in a room. “Why are you locking me in?” I asked. He didn’t answer and went out.”
Nyota’s mother adds:
“We know him. He’s often come round to our house, most often when I’ve been out. He usually says he wants to marry Nyota. That’s ridiculous! He’s 33 and she’s only 14.”
He usually says he wants to marry Nyota. That’s ridiculous! He’s 33 and she’s only 14.
“He came back home at around 11 in the evening,” the girl says. “He tore my clothes off. He went on saying he was going to marry me. “Don’t worry. I’ll go to your parents and pay a dowry for you and then we’ll get married.” I cried, but no-one heard me. Then he raped me. I don’t remember anything else about that night.”
Back home, Nyota’s parents have grown very worried. Where can the girl be? The whole family are out looking for her, and phoning everywhere she could possibly be, but no-one has seen her. Her father blames Nyota’s mother – how could she let the girl go wandering off on her own? Why doesn’t she keep a check on where the children are?
When morning comes, Nyota manages to get out of the man’s house. Her underpants are covered in blood and her clothes are torn and stained.
Nyota meets her mother on the street, and her mother is angry.
“At first Nyota lied and said she had been to see her grandmother,” Nyabisepela tells us. “I knew that wsn’t true because we’d rung her.”
Why did you lie, Nyota?
“I was scared she’d beat me.”
The chief of police, Colonel Honorine Munyole, who is dealing with Nyota’s case and who works particularly with cases of violence against women and children confirms:
“Many young rape victims are beaten, yes, assaulted by their families when they tell them what has happened.”
“You’re angry,” Nyota’s mother says. “As a parent, you think at first that your daughter was willing.”
Faced by the threat of being beaten whatever she says, Nyota tells them what has happened. Her mother looks at her injuries and realises that the girl is telling the truth but the family decides to wait until Monday morning before going to the police.
“Her mother washed Nyote’s underclothes on the Sunday,” complains Colonel Munyole. You should never wash the evidence. But there is still blood on other clothing, and I’ve asked the mother to bring that in tomorrow.”
On the Sunday, some member of the rapist’s family come to Nyota’s house. They want to “settle up”, to give her some money or compensate the family in some other way for Nyota’s injury. Anything to avoid a police report. That infuriates Nyabisepela.
“We called the police. They came, Nyota pointed out the man and the police arrested him. Now he’s locked up here at the police station.”
We know about a trafficking network which trades in young girls.
Colonel Munyole will be investigating the case. She is particularly interested in a telephone call the man received after he had been arrested in which someone asked “How’s the business with that girl going?”
“We know about a trafficking network which trades in young girls,” says the Colonel. We’re going to investigate whether there’s a link.
“We know that this man has two children with different women,” Nyota’s mother tells us. “We know him. I’m convinced he would kill my daughter if he was released. I want him to go to a proper prison, for at least 20 years.”
The Colonel promises to do what she can. She has a good reputation among the people who work with questions of violence in Bukavu. If anyone can do it, she can.
By the time Nyota finally left for the hospital it was afternoon, more than a day and a half after the abuse. We pay for the taxi. In the Congo, the police do not provide transport to the hospital for anyone unless they are prepared to pay the individual police officer a substantial sum of money.
The thing that worries the family most is whether the girl has been infected with HIV.
According to the first tests she is neither infected with HIV nor pregnant.
We have spoken to Nyota and Nyabisepela three times after Nyota’s stay in hospital. Nyota is feeling better, but she is hurt and afraid. According to the first tests she is neither infected with HIV nor pregnant. When the investigation has been completed, her family are going to send her to relatives in the neighbouring town. She does not feel safe at home any longer. The man who raped her is still in custody and the police investigation is underway.
Both Nyota and her mother still want us to publish the article and photograph. We have decided to do so, but have changed the names of both the mother and the girl.
Maternal deaths: Just over 900 deaths per l00,000 births ****
Number of children/woman: 5.2 (2011)
Abortion legislation: Abortion is forbidden, even when the mother’s life is at risk.
Law against rape within marriage: No
Violence against women in close relationships: 1.8 million women will be raped during their lifetime. Congo is the second most dangerous country in the world for a woman to live in.