Gunshots ring throughout the destitute villages. Citizens are especially watchful of land mines that can leave them without a limb. Quarreling nations have seen this picture painted many a time and South Sudan is no exception. But there is an invisible weapon that has proven to be more powerful and destructive than any AK-47. Rebels and soldiers alike have pillaged villages and ravaged their women, leaving them with emotional wounds that will remain long after the physical bruises have faded.
Brutal attacks on civilians have been a consistent theme during the war in Sudan. The longest civil war Africa has ever seen has driven Sudan into a humanitarian crisis, complete with sexual violence. Largely under-reported, rape has been one of the most effective war crimes. By crippling the very core of any community, the women, the soldiers have been able to destroy the morale and fighting spirit of civilians.
The tale of three girls being gang raped by soldiers who invaded their home is commonplace to South Sudan's citizens. Stories of victims being sexually assaulted and then urinated on are all too familiar. Displacement has left women and girls vulnerable. They are viewed as expendable and without protection these abominable acts of rape occur without equivocation.
It can be difficult to determine just how many women have experienced sexual assault simply because it is a crime that goes unreported, especially during warfare. Yet, the world's youngest nation has cases being reported at a rate that is unheard of. Instances of women being abducted, gang raped, and having their sons castrated are becoming more and more prevalent. And authorities fear that the hundreds of cases that are being reported are only a small percentage of the acts of sexual violence that occur.
Rape is not only being used as a brutal physical attack on women but also as a tool of revenge against other men. Opposing militia ravage each other's women as a statement of superiority. The psychological effects of witnessing the corner stone of your society being treated as though she is less than human can, without a doubt, damage the psyche of any culture.
Violence and conflict have transformed South Sudan into a land that not even natives can recognize. And women and young girls continue to bare the brunt of the brutality. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has organized security patrols and fence camps with thorn bushes to protect females. They also relocate the most vulnerable women to safer areas. Sadly, some rape victims are ostracized and forced to move to other camps. Fortunately, some are given priority for resettlement in safer countries. The UNHCR has created guidelines for preventing and dealing with sexual violence in the refugee camps, and it trains field workers to be more sensitive to victims' needs. Refugee women are encouraged to come together and form committees. They are also pushed to become involved in camp administration to make themselves less vulnerable to men who might steal their supplies or force them to provide sex in exchange for protection or resources.