Casualties of Chaos: “I Was Raped at Gunpoint, and My Nudes Were Taken”- Victim Cries Out

Mary (not her real name) left her home one afternoon in Nkwen, Bamenda and was going to the saloon when a bike rider pulled up by her claiming he didn’t know his way around and was asking for directions.

“I was willing to give him a helping hand,” Mary tells Timescape Magazine. “When I went closer, he pulled out a gun and knife and threatened me to climb on the bike. He took me to an unknown destination, to a forest precisely where I was raped by one man and his two colleagues that accompanied him in the act took nude pictures of me and threatened to release them to social media and as well they threatened to hurt my loved ones if I dared try anything funny.”

Mary says the rape itself that she blames on suspected separatist fighters was sufficiently traumatizing but living with the knowledge that strangers were in possession of her nudes is “killing me gradually.”

“Finally, I left the town and went to a different town. It’s not something you deal with in a day or two, especially when you sit and imagine your nudes are with unknown people,” Mary says.

“Living with that trauma is not easy at all. There are times I just want to be by myself, I don’t want to talk to anybody,” she adds.

“When the thought comes to my mind, it’s like I just want to commit suicide.”

Soldiers deployed to Southern Cameroons frequently turned their guns against women for sex

And hers isn’t an isolated story. As conflict rages on in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons, also known as Ambazonia, women, and girls have become the unwilling victims: they are being raped as a weapon of war.

13-year-old Susan, a form three student told Timescape Magazine how a soldier who was supposed to be guarding their school against attacks by pro-independence fighters, rather dragged her into a school toilet.

“He asked me if I had ever slept with a boy ... I said no. He asked me why. I said that it’s because if I sleep with a boy, I will be pregnant or I will get infected,” Susan recalls.

“Then he said that I should be ready to be pregnant. He said that let me go to the toilet. I was refusing; he forced me to go there. Then he stood in the toilet with a gun and said that let me remove my dresses. I removed it. He said that let me put it on the ground. I put it on. And he removed his own trousers.”

Susan couldn’t find the voice to recount the rest of the story, the tears becoming uncontrollable.

Sexual violence has become rampant as the crisis in the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons intensifies. Nearly 500 recorded cases of rape and sexual assault have been reported in the first quarter of 2021 alone.

Last year, the United Nations reported 4,300 cases of rape and sexual violence in the region.

Marie-Therese Abena Ondoua, Cameroon's Minister of Women’s Affairs and the Family (C)

The Cameroon Minister of Women’s Affairs and the Family, Marie Therese Abena Ondoua has expressed outrage at the rising cases of abuse against women in the country.

“This act is horrible. It deprives the victim of dignity and exposes her to shame and public condemnation,” she says.

“Sexual exploitation of young girls and children or any type of abuse or violence against them is a violation of human rights as established in the preamble of our constitution,” the Minister laments.

Although the Cameroon penal code punishes cases of rape with prison terms ranging from five to ten years, the perpetrators are hardly brought to book, partly because the cases are hardly investigated, or because the victims don’t speak out.

Nsono-Josephine-Nwiemalu, anti-rape campaigner crusading for the rights of young girls

Josephine Nsono, herself a victim of rape, has become a strong campaigner against rape in Cameroon. She now runs an organization that has been providing much-needed respite, especially for women who have been raped within the context of the war in the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons.

“Our organization has provided safe shelter to survivors. Safe shelter would include protection services where they can run and have some protection especially because the perpetrators are always after them, knowing that they might speak up. We equally provide dignity kits, we provide food. Most importantly, we provide mental health and psychosocial support because the traumas that survivors live with are really crippling,” she told Timescape Magazine.

Still, it requires strong will from each victim to overcome the trauma.

“I believe God has really been helping me and I believe I’m a strong girl and God has a reason why he allowed it to happen,” Mary now says, as she struggles to turn a rather sad page in her life.

Conflict broke out in Cameroon five years ago with the country’s English speakers fighting to restore the autonomy of the Once Independent State of Southern Cameroons and rename it Ambazonia.

The fighting has so far killed at least 3500 people and forced more than a million from their homes, according to the United Nations, although other sources put the death toll at over 12,000.