Ethiopian Rape Victim Pits Law Against Culture
Ukie said that there were not enough witnesses and that Woineshet was most likely in love with Negussie and ready for marriage. "This family is only out for revenge," Ukie said in an interview. "Maybe they don't want her to marry him. So they accuse him of rape."
Later, when he was asked about a health report showing severe abuse during the second abduction, Ukie said: "Look, a marriage contract had been signed, and I think we should find it. If she wanted to marry him, then if there was a rape that makes it legally okay."
Then he sighed and said, "Some of our new laws and ideas on these matters do not fit with the culture anymore."
'She Would Be Luckier Than Me'
Negussie, a trader in small soaps and used clothing, did not want to be interviewed and left town when he heard a journalist was visiting. His brother, who police said was with him at the time of the rape, also refused to comment.
But on a recent day at the market, his brother's wife wanted to talk. Woynitu Gela, 27, was abducted, raped and then forced to marry at 15.
"We weren't so lucky then," said Gela, a tough-looking woman with a dirty face and a gaggle of screaming children tugging at her skirt. She shoved them behind a gate and tried to answer the visiting journalist's questions, all the time with a smirk and a knowing glance, her eyes wide, her eyebrows lifting as if she were signaling the truth.
"Was Woineshet raped? Maybe. Sure. I don't know," she laughed and then pointed to her five children, dirty and crying behind a fence.
"I have a terrible life. It's full of difficulties. I am always suffering. I keep saying I don't want any more children. But the man doesn't listen."
She has heard that the case is being appealed and will be heard in several months in federal court in the capital. She grins, just a little.
"Maybe Woineshet will get justice. Who knows? She would be luckier than me if she did."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company