Sexual assault survivors aged 13 to 35 years describe horrific experiences, even as the government dismisses their claims as “fake.”
The soldiers arrived, as they often did, long after sunset.
It was June, and the newlyweds were asleep in their home, surrounded by fields of wheat they farmed in western Myanmar. Without any warning, seven soldiers burst into the house and charged into the bedroom.
The woman, a Rohingya Muslim who agreed to be identified by her first initial, F, knew enough to be terrified. She knew the military had been attacking Rohingya villages, as part of what the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing in the mostly Buddhist nation. She heard just days before that soldiers had killed her parents, and that her brother was missing.
This time, F says, the soldiers had come for her. The men bound her husband with rope. They ripped the scarf from her head and tied it around his mouth.
They yanked off her jewelry and tore off her clothes. They threw her to the floor. And then the first soldier began to rape her.
She struggled against him, but four men held her down and beat her with sticks. She stared in panic at her husband, who stared back helplessly. He finally wriggled the gag out of his mouth and screamed.
And then she watched as a soldier fire a bullet into the chest of the man she had married only one month before. Another soldier slit his throat.
It would be two months before she realized her misery was far from over. She was pregnant.
The rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar security forces has been sweeping and methodical, The Associated Press found in interviews with 29 women and girls who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. These sexual assault survivors from several refugee camps were interviewed separately and extensively. They ranged in age from 13 to 35, came from a wide swath of villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and described assaults between October 2016 and mid-September.
Foreign journalists are banned from the Rohingya region of Rakhine, making it nearly impossible to independently verify each woman’s report. Yet there was a sickening sameness to their stories, with distinct patterns in their accounts, their assailants’ uniforms and the details of the rapes themselves.