I fought back... and survived | 22 juni 2020 | by PAX

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I fought back... and survived

Many women and girls in Iraq face various forms of sexual and gender-based violence, which are worsened as a result of armed conflicts and political instability. PAX partners Al-Amal Association and the Al-Firdaws Society have been gathering stories from women and girls who dare to speak out, stories about fighting back against sexual and gender based violence. We are publishing some of these stories in this blog series. These stories are shocking, and are difficult to read.

The stories have been gathered and are being retold as part of an effort to break the 'culture of silence' around violence against women and lessen the stigma of being a victim. And, of course, to try to improve the government's and the security sector's response to such violence. The Dutch NGO Impunity Watch is also involved in this project.

Names and some details have been fabricated to protect the identities of the people involved.

I am Hiam from Al-Anbar

I was fourteen years old when I got married to Bassem. At first, we lived with his family.

My husband’s father and brother joined ISIS. ISIS members started to visit our house to try and persuade my husband to join them, but he refused. To avoid the pressure on my husband to join ISIS, we decided to rent our own place. I sold my jewelry to furnish our home. As for my husband, he worked in a small car repair shop. His father used to visit the garage, along with ISIS members, to repair cars damaged during clashes with the army and the police.

I grew worried for my husband, so we decided to flee the territories controlled by ISIS. When we reached the Iraqi security forces, I was surprised to discover that my husband was listed as a member of ISIS. I pleaded with the security forces, but they arrested him anyway. I was alone with my two kids Taha and Lamia, two months pregnant.

My tragedy began when I ended up in a camp in Al-Anbar. I met a young man who treated me humanely, but I soon discovered his intentions. He started to verbally harass me, and expressed his desire to have sex with me, but of course I refused and I asked him to leave. A few days later, I was sleeping in the tent next to my children when I felt someone trying to grope me. I screamed as loud as I could and he ran off. And so I decided to leave that camp and move to another one. My children and I took a taxi, but the driver tried to rape me in exchange for the ride. I cried and I begged but in vain, so I got out of the car in the middle of the road. A family found us and drove us to the camp, where they told our story.

I informed the police there of my situation, but they imprisoned me in the camp, accusing my husband of being an ISIS member. One of the police officers tried to sexually abuse me. All of this affected me so badly that I tried to commit suicide twice: once, I poured oil all over my body ready to set myself on fire after sending my children to my neighbor so they wouldn’t see me. But when my son returned unexpectedly, I went back on my decision.

If it weren’t for the help of a volunteer from the Iraqi Al-Amal Association, I would never have got help from the United Nations to save me from this humiliation. They got me out of the camp and helped me with the paperwork to go free and join my family. Although I knew that my husband was not an ISIS member, I decided that filing for divorce is the best option for the sake of my children, especially since the divorce would only be a formality.

Later, I gave birth to my third child. I named him Bassem after my husband, whose fate is still unknown to me.

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