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The two unmarried women were taken away and never seen again. The Revolutionary, who was married and pregnant, was taken to a prison near Tripoli, where she was stripped and raped. She miscarried in prison, she said. In Libya, rape victims are often ostracized, and discussion of the crime remains taboo.
There are small signs of change, with the government promising action to help victims, but the issue remains so sensitive that aid groups sometimes hide their efforts to help victims to avoid causing an outcry. The Revolutionary, a woman in her 20s, spoke on condition of anonymity from behind a black veil, only her eyes showing. With the pain of recollection, her voice gradually rose to a shrill pitch. The women were stripped and subjected to all kinds of torture. The torture included electrocution, she told a conference session attended by Reuters.
She gave her account at a hotel in Tripoli as part of an event earlier this year organized by the Libya Initiative, a project that brings together various rights groups to promote healing and a just society in post-war Libya. Maybe they are outside now, standing guard at checkpoints. Souad Wheidi, an activist creating an archive of the sex crimes committed during the revolution, stood next to The Revolutionary as she addressed the conference, comforting her when the girl broke down as she reached the end of her story.
The activist has campaigned for government action and such efforts appear to be having an effect. Shortly after the Tripoli meeting, the Libyan prime minister proposed a new law to recognize rape and the need for resources to be allocated to victims as a matter of urgency. There are good reasons for this; victims who speak out risk being shunned or even killed by their families. Victims are also reluctant to come forward because bringing a charge of rape to a Libyan court may be seen as an admission of having had unlawful sex.
A rape claim can even result in the victim being prosecuted. The prevailing, dismissive attitude to rape is reflected by a government ministry set up to support victims of the civil war; it has never offered any help to rape victims. The ministry said such aid was beyond its remit, which is to search for missing people and support families of those killed in the war. In the absence of government support, a number of local groups have pursued their own initiatives.