A report from Amnesty International titled, “This is what we demand, Justice!” details cases of sexual crimes against women and young girls in which security forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla groups “exploit girls as sexual slaves in order to seek vengeance.” They are often treated as “war trophies” who have to be silenced and punished. In many cases, sexual violence forces families to abandon their land and become internal refugees.
The major challenge is impunity: By the end of March 2011, the paramilitaries who participated in the Uribe government’s Process of Justice and Peace admitted to 57,000 crimes; only 86 of them were of sexual violence.
According to Amnesty, Shirley (not her real name) was only 17 when a paramilitary group dragged her from her village in Antioquia to take her to their base, where she was kept hostage and repeatedly raped.
“I couldn’t even tell when I was having my period, because I bled all the time. There were so many men,” she said.
Her ordeal lasted for three months in 2005 until she managed to escape. In December 2008, despite the constant death threats against her and her two children, Shirley made a formal accusation, “so people would know this sort of thing happens”.
Shirley identified more than 35 of the men that abused her sexually. “But ask me how many are in jail because of what they did to me—none. Honestly, there is no justice. Not for me.”
A May 2010 survey done by la Encuesta Nacional de Demografía y Salud revealed 73 percent of women and girls physically abused did not report the occurrence to any institution.
In 2010, the Ombudsman, la Defensoría del Pueblo, reported 70 percent of women victims of physical violence and 81.7 percent of victims of sexual agression did not report it either.
Oxfam and la Casa de la Mujer expect 82.1 percent of victims of sexual violence did not report it either.
The most vulnerable are displaced women living in urban areas, and women of indigenous descent living in remote rural areas, in the middle of combats, with no access to any institution.
The majority of the cases qualify as war crimes or crimes against humanity, a reason that would justify the International Criminal Court to interfere if the Colombian government does not address such matters seriously.
The Historical Memory group of Colombia’s National Comission of Reparation recently published a similar report, “Women and war: victims and resistance in the Colombian conflict.” It reveals paramilitaries holding beauty pageants of underage girls who then become sex slaves. The head “para” leader of the Sierra Nevada, Hernán Giraldo, had at least 24 children with different underage girls. One of the girls ended up working as a prostitute.