Horrific Accounts of Rape of Bosnian Muslim Women and Girls during the Bosnian Genocide
Serbs Gone, But the Horror Remains – Recovery uncertain for all rape victims
By Nancy Nusser
The Tuscaloosa News p.2F / Cox News Service
18 April 1993.
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The pale woman sitting in the health clinic said she hates the son she just delivered and could not bring herself to look at him before nurses took him away.
She is Bosnian, and the baby’s father is the Serb soldier who raped her.
“The child is a Chetnik,” she said, using the derisive word for Serbs. “I hate the child. My brother was in a concentration camp for 10 months and I was raped by Chetniks,” she said.
Pope John Paul II urged the raped women of Bosnia to bear the children. Some, like this 30-year-old Muslim woman, do give birth, but say that keeping the child is beyond the limit for them.
What some call hate of the baby, other victims describe as fear, said Amra Mesic of Tuzla, who has counseled some of the rape victims. “We are afraid that deep inside they might also be Chetniks,” she explained.
In Bosnia, Muslim woman generally are Westernized in clothing and education. Many look as though they would be comfortable in an American mall. Though not intensely religious, many still hold tight to traditional values — opposing sex outside of marriage and convinced that rape is almost like death.
More to the point for those who were raped, the aggressors were Serb soldiers who in many cases also killed or imprisoned the women’s families, and burned their homes.
“If I had gotten pregnant and couldn’t have an abortion, I would probably have killed myself,” said an 18-year-old rape victim, also interviewed in Tuzla.
She and the 30-year-old withheld their names.
“It’s like mental death for them,” said Dr. Mladen Loncar, a psychiatrist for the Croatian Ministry of Health who has conducted studies of the rapes.
Estimates of the number of women raped ranges from a conservative 2,400 to about 20,000. Estimates of the percentage of victims who became pregnant are equally far apart. Dr. Loncar said researchers have no idea how many quietly arranged illegal abortions. Estimates of how many delivered a rapist’s child range from 10 to 1,000. All of the figures could be skewed because many women try to hide the rapes, and those who are helping them through the post-rape trauma often cooperate, Dr. Loncar said.
“I didn’t tell anyone” the 30-year-old new mother said. “Anytime someone mentioned being pregnant, I was ashamed.”
Recently, her husband has been in Pakistan, and so she successfully hid the pregnancy from him. Her two children do not know, but her mother has figured it out, she said. She was raped last June, when Serb soldiers occupied rural villages in north-eastern Bosnia.
Zineta Durakovic, 29, who also was among those captured at that time, was willing to allow use of her name. She said that after the soldiers rounded up the Muslim women and children and older men, they loaded them into buses and drove them from village to village, collecting other non-combatants. Along the way she saw bodies floating in a river, Durakovic said.
In a furniture store, Serbs separated out about 40 women and girls, and the soldiers began choosing from the group, she said.
Durakovic was taken to a burned house and raped once by a man covered in blood, she said. When she pleaded with him to let her go, he told her he merely wanted to make love to her, she said.
When it was over, he asked her, hypothetically, whether she would marry him. Afraid, she told him she might have under different circumstances.
The 18-year-old said she was being raped in another house at roughly the same time. When the women and girls were being chosen, an officer told her to go to one corner of the room, the 18-year-old said. Later, he took her to a house and told her to clean it, which she did.
After that, he raped her “eight or nine times” in the hours of the night, she said. She was 17 at the time. She said she didn’t even think about losing her virginity, only about the physical pain.
She said her 15-year-old sister was taken off by a 17-year-old soldier who couldn’t bring himself to rape her because he had a sister that age. So they just talked all night. But she said the next day her little sister went to a local well to get water, and was raped by another Serbian.
Many of those raped believe it was a deliberate policy, rather than a breakdown of discipline in Serbian ranks.
“They planned to do it because they know how difficult it is for Muslim women,” the new mother said. Most Serbians are of Christian heritage. She said the man who raped her said,”You shouldn’t just deliver Muslim babies. You should also have Chetnik babies.”
She said she didn’t have an abortion because by the time she realized she was pregnant it was too late.
“In the Islamic religion, affairs before or during marriage are not done,” said Dr. Munevera Fazlic, who directs a Tuzla organization that delivers medical supplies to hospitals and aid groups.
“The trauma is worse for Muslim women because they’re closed. It’s their shame,” Dr. Fazlic said. “They will not talk about it.”
But Dr. Loncar attributed the intensity of their trauma more to traditional rural values than to their Islamic beliefs. He described the rapes as a kind of Serb-enforced ethnic cleansing — a brutal way to making them reluctant to return to villages where everyone would know what had happened to them.
“It is harder for women to find a husband because they carry the stigma of rape,” Dr. Loncar said. Those who are already married “expect marriages to break up, and it does split up families,” he said.
The three redacted to their rapes in different ways.
Durakovic, an articulate court stenographer, said she understands that the rape was not her fault and should not be a source of shame. But she no longer feels marriageable.
The new mother was tightly wound up, months after her rape. She spoke only in a low, flat voice, and wrapped her arms about herself. Dr. Loncar said the pain is particularly deep for women who give birth because of the conflict between their urge to mother their child and their decision not to raise it themselves.
The 18-year-old seems to have coped, or at least succumbed to teenage optimism, in the year since she was raped.
“At first I thought I would never marry and have a family, but now I’ve begun to realize it’s not my shame,” she said. “Maybe my husband will think about it, but if he loves me he will not care.”
In an interview that lasted more than two hours, she even smiled or laughed at times. Her words stumbled only when she was describing how hard she tried to stop screaming when the Serb officer told her that he would tell other soldiers to join in if she did not stop making so much noise.