BIRN Presentation on Rape Victims in Chicago

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Marking International Women’s Day, Gordana Igric, founder and Regional director of the Balkans Investigative Reporting Network and investigative journalist, explored the power of journalism to expose rape and impunity at the third annual “International Movement to Stop Violence Against Women: Sharing Strategies” conference in Chicago, Illinois.

The all-day conference hosted presenters from Mexico, Israel and United States. Igric’s presentation, “Documenting Rape as a Tool of War: Journalism, Human Rights and Accountability”, marked the first occasion on which a presenter had been invited from the Balkans.

Audience members ranged from university students to seasoned mental health professionals working with survivors of domestic violence. Most had never heard more than headlines from the Balkans, whispers of wars far away with hard-to-pronounce names and constantly shifting borders.

Igric began by offering an overview of the systematic use of rape in the early 1990s by Serbian paramilitary forces. She focused specifically on the town of Foca, recounting her own investigations there, 15 years ago.

“I had heard of this town, Foca, this town where soldiers went to fight during the day and rape women at night,” she said. “I wanted to interview these people. These women. These men.”

Igric went on to show the CBS expose, “In Plain Sight”, which exposed on American, and later, Bosnian, television, the systematic impunity indicted war criminals appeared to enjoy, often with the complicity of international forces.

By challenging the idea of rape as a tool of war rather than simply a personal tragedy, Igric lead the workshop into a larger discussion of the reintegration of survivors of rape into society. “You would think justice came – but when you talk to the women they say it is not enough,” she noted. “If justice came at all, it came too late and didn’t help these women in everyday life.“

Many members of the audience asking questions, wanting to know more about the children of rape victims, as well as about the way the media and government had addressed the fate of these women.