Ethiopian Rape Victim Pits Law Against Culture
Woineshet's father recalled that he felt caught between the draw of the modern world in the capital and the traditions of the village. He said he was offered bribes of cows and cash by local elders to keep quiet. He also endured pressure from some members of his family, who thought that Woineshet should marry her abductor. Ethiopian law absolves abductors of their crime if they marry their victims.
Other family members said they also wanted Woineshet to get married because she was no longer a virgin and therefore, they believed, would never find a husband.
But her father resisted. "I thought, 'Here I am, very much happy in Addis, and women here are working and smart. They aren't suffering all the time,' " he said. "I have only one daughter. And I had that dream for my daughter. That is how I got my courage. I wanted to see her happy like them."
'She Was Very Brave'
After she was abducted the first time, Woineshet recalled, she was fatigued and scared. Her grandmother held her hand and fed her spicy meat and sips of coffee and water. She gently urged her to report the rape.
There was no health center in her village, where horse-drawn carts serve as taxis. The closest bus stop was five miles away, down a long rocky hill that wound through the sloping landscape. She had to wait two days for the next bus.
Woineshet endured a hard journey: a ride on a chaotic, rickety bus, where chickens, people, goats and sick babies all squeezed in and hurtled down the roads to the sound of hip-hop music played at an alarmingly high volume.
"I was feeling so embarrassed," Woineshet whispered as she recalled her journey. "I didn't want anyone to look at me on the bus."
"She was very brave," her father said. "She had berchi," an Amharic term that means a passion to live, strength of conviction.
With her legs bruised and her mind racing with fear that people would know what had happened to her, Woineshet arrived in Abomsa, an agricultural market town 40 miles north of Abadjema, where there was a health center with one nurse.
In the small room where she was examined, Woineshet was asked for the clothing she was wearing when she was raped. She replied that she had left it with her grandmother. A family friend went to retrieve it.
The nurse asked Woineshet if she had been a virgin and why her wounds looked old. She explained that she had had to wait two days for the bus.
Ethiopia has only one rape counseling center -- a pilot program in the capital run by the Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia. Nurses are trained there to recognize sexual assault, judge when the rape occurred and issue a certificate of sexual assault, including photographs. But in most health centers in Ethiopia, there are no X-rays or blood tests, let alone computers, DNA tests and cameras.
Woineshet said the nurse at the health center took notes and held her hand.
"She is no longer a virgin. Not sure of date of penetration, could be recently," said the health report filed in court records. "Many bruises and scratches around vagina."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company