Mending the invisible wounds of sexual violence

Survivors of sexual violence in the Central African Republic share stories of stigma, survival, and community support in a new MSF report.

A smiling woman in brightly colored dress sits on the lawn in front of a brick building in Central African Republic.

CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

In the Central African Republic (CAR), the number of people treated for sexual violence by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams has increased three-fold in recent years. MSF’s new report, Invisible Wounds: MSF findings on sexual violence in CAR between 2018 and 2022, delves into the causes—and solutions—for this concerning trend through the analysis of quantitative data from a dozen projects and emergency programs it supports or runs in CAR. The study found that while an increasing number of survivors of sexual violence have had access to assistance over the last five years, many gaps continue in survivors’ access to care and support, from basic to comprehensive medical care, to psychiatric and legal support, among other areas. 

Central to the study are the voices of survivors throughout CAR, as well as MSF staff and community members fighting the stigma that many of them face. Here are their stories.  

Back of a woman in a blue dress sitting on a swing in the Central African Republic
CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF
“I’m a survivor. I don’t care what they say; no one chooses to be raped."

—Magali (name changed for privacy), a survivor who has HIV as a result of being raped

“I was raped when I was 18 and became pregnant. It was December 16, 2016. I didn't have an abortion because I was afraid of dying; abortions are done secretly at home and often there are problems and girls die. My daughter will soon be 7 years old, and I love her very much. She is my daughter, and I am happy to have her. Now what I would like most of all is to be able to continue my studies.” 

young woman in pink dress standing under trees
Violette, 23. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

"We must break the silence to protect other women. Sexual violence is wrong because it is done without consent. On December 3, 2017, men from an armed group kidnapped me and took me to their base. There were many of them. They raped me and hurt me a lot. was devastated but I have been able to recover thanks to the association, which does sewing workshops and so I have had a source of income. Now I have gone from being a victim to a survivor. We as women have our rights: if someone picks on me because I was raped, I denounce him.” 

Woman in a pink printed dress standing on grass in Central African Republic
Olga, 30. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF
“We are in a vicious circle due to silence and impunity: every 10 years the victims become executioners and the same story repeats itself. We need to know who did what and why.”
—Edith Douzima, a former International Criminal Court lawyer and a chairperson for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to bring peace to CAR.
Woman standing against a black background in Central African Republic
Edith Douzima. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

“It's hard to live with this, but I'm doing it. In 2014, the rebels came to the village when they were advancing towards Bangui. They killed my three brothers and my parents. Only my little sister and I are left. We stayed hidden in the forest for almost a year. The rapists made me pregnant. I tried to have an abortion in the forest, but it didn't work. Now I have a 9-year-old girl; she is my child and I love her. It's not easy to raise a little one […] We need to talk about rape, because many girls are suffering the same thing and stay locked up at home, out of shame.”

A young woman in an orange colorful dress stands in a green area outside in the Central African Republic.
Guylaine. Central African Republic 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

“After the rape, I locked myself at home. The people in the village made fun of me. I went to Bangui with some relatives, but the same thing happened here. I reported it but my family can't afford a lawyer.” 

young woman in a yellow dress standing outside in Central African Republic
Leslie, 24. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF
“It happened to me too, and explaining it helps other women."
— Marie Laurence, midwife coordinator at the Tongolo Center in Bangui
A midwife coordinator at Togolo Center in Central African Republic
Marie Laurence. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

“When the fighters came to the village, my father took me, and we hid in the forest. But they found us. My father was killed, and I was raped. I stayed alone in the forest until some fishermen found me. They cured me with traditional remedies. When I returned to Bangui, I filed a complaint but I couldn't identify the perpetrators. I fell into a depression. I dropped out of school in the third grade because it was impossible for me to concentrate.”

A young woman in beige T-shirt stands beside trees in a grassy area in Central African Republic.
Julia, 22. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

“When I was raped, I was 11 years old. [It] changed my life. I continued to go to school, but I always stayed in a corner by myself. When I go to sleep the images of what they did to me come back to me every night. My parents told me that I was finished, that I couldn't do anything in life.”

Young woman in a T-shirt standing in greenery in Central African Republic
Lidia, 19. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

“The armed group came to our house in Bilaou and killed my husband. I was raped by three men. I have four children and now we are alone. I don’t know how to get by, I want to learn a trade. I cultivate a small vegetable garden. I don’t want to go back to the village because it would be too hard: I would relive everything they did to me there.” 

Woman in a blue dress in Bangui, Central African Republic
Ida, 36. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF

“All the men in the village had gone into hiding. I was alone in the house when a group of rebels came in. They brutally raped me, broke my leg, and left me there. The neighbors found me and took me to the hospital. I reported it, but neither the judges nor the police have done anything.”

Woman in colorful dress standing in front of a green area in the Central African Republic
Edwige, 21. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF
“If we don’t talk about it, it will never end."

—Euphrasie Yandoka, founder of ANAF, an association supporting women and girls who are victims of sexual violence in Bangui
A woman in a bright orange and blue dress sits in a green area in the Central African Republic.
Euphrasie Yandoka. CAR 2023 © Juan Carlos Tomasi/MSF