One of the most degrading and harmful crimes committed against refugees is rape. Pirates, criminals, police, guards, soldiers, even sometimes representatives of the United Nations, have been known to rape refugees.
The criminal act of rape is not so much a sexual act of gratification, according to psychologists. Instead, in the case of refugees, it is a barbaric act of power, control and forced compliance with any order or directive.
After hearing countless stories of rape and humiliation related to me by Vietnamese refugees and “boat people” who fled communist Vietnam between 1975 and the late 1990s, I thought it might be useful to share some small bits of these stories without using the real names of any of the victims.
May was about 25-years-old when she left Saigon and began to run away from communism and towards freedom. She travelled with her family to the sea coast and as a group they paid a broker about $1,000 per person for the privilege of leaving Vietnam by boat.
They transited by sea towards Thailand and freedom but they had never heard about the pirates plying the seas in search of the vulnerable and weak.
May’s entire family and everyone else in her boat suffered the horrible fait of being descended upon by armed pirates. Four Vietnamese men were killed in the attack and two more were slaughtered because they did not react quickly enough to the orders of the pirates. One man was beheaded by the pirates in front of the horrified refugee women and children.
May and all the other women in the boat were raped repeatedly. But, because she was one of the youngest and most beautiful women in the boat, May was singled out for special humiliation, abuse and torture. Her arms were tied so each was spread out parallel to the deck and away from her torso. The lines were knotted painfully tight so that she could not move. She looked like someone subjected to crucifixion. Then her ankles were bound and tied so that her legs were apart. More than 22 men had they way with May before she lost consciousness.
When she regained the ability to think, she felt unbearable pain and shame and embarrassment. He own mother cut her down after the pirates left and tended to her bleeding.
When this refugee boat made landfall in Thailand, every woman was “rinsed out” without giving her consent or authorisation. The Thais didn’t want any pregnant refugees on their hands.
“And the cost of entering Thailand and the cost of entering the refugee camp was rape,” a Vietnamese American woman told us.
“My sister was raped 13 times,” she said.
“Many of my relatives disappeared. We are sure they must have been killed.” May wound up in the infamous Thai refugee centre called “Sikhiew Camp.” She estimated that in her two-year stay there she was raped about 60 more times.
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