Mary*, 42, was outraged.
Employed at a medical clinic in the Gumbo-Sherikat neighborhood of Juba, Mary’s job is to provide psychosocial support and medical assistance to the community. During a shift in May 2019, she was deeply affected by a patient’s case. A woman had come to the clinic with grave injuries after being gang raped, by no less than six men. The patient passed away.
Two nights later, at Mary's home not far from the clinic, an armed man climbed through her thatched roof slightly past midnight.
“It was the rainy season, and I was inside my tukul with my small grandson,” Mary recalled. The man stayed for hours, sexually assaulting her at gunpoint. “What that man did to me was not fair and it broke my heart.”
The next day, Mary weighed the fear of stigma against telling her family. Later that night, the unknown man returned and assaulted Mary again. At this point, she said, “I had to do my part, I had to go to the police and report this crime.”
Mary says incidents like hers, and her patient’s, are not unusual for her area. All ages are targeted. Women traveling across the roads at night in Gumbo-Sherikat are assaulted regularly. In fact, Mary says, her own assailant preyed on several women in the area. There are at least 5-6 other attacks she knows about, but the survivors are not comfortable coming forward due to stigma.
“You see, in our area we don’t have fences. [The perpetrator] was asked by the police investigator, how did he know which women would be home alone? He admitted coming to survey. He would come in the mornings to watch women,” she said.
On February 9, 2021, the 44-year-old military intelligence officer was sentenced at the Gender Based Violence and Juvenile Court to the maximum 14 years imprisonment, according to Section 247 of South Sudan’s Penal Code. The presiding judge also ordered the convict to pay a fine of 500,000 SSP to Mary.
“I want people to know, if such a thing happens to you, there is a court here that can help,” she said.
Since December 2020, South Sudan’s GBV Court has convicted more than ten people for gender-based crimes, including sexual assault and defilement. Supported by UNDP's Access to Justice, Security and Human Rights Strengthening programme, with funding from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the specialized court is intended to provide survivor-centered perspective, tailored services, and contribute to ending impunity for gender-based crimes in South Sudan.
“The police investigator, the people in the clinic, the court personnel, they all dealt with me in a kind way. My experience was good. I was happy even at the court that the perpetrator got what he deserved,” said Mary.
Mary was willing to share her story and her experience at the GBV Court with UNDP and Eye Radio journalist Michael Daniel, who has followed the trials and convictions closely. His stories on Eye Radio are available here, here and here.
“We want to inform the public that there are women coming forward, being brave, reporting these cases and getting help,” said Michael, sharing his motivation to cover the GBV Court as a journalist.
“If we as South Sudanese want a better future for our girls, our sisters, our women, we must work hard to ensure their rights. There is a lot of ignorance in the area of GBV. One way of correcting this is emphasizing that women have the same rights as men,” said Michael.
Michael has memorized relevant areas of the Penal Code, including articles and subsections, that he says need more public awareness. “Some people question, for example, how is it rape if an underage girl comes willingly to your house? Defilement is a subsection of Article 247, and while it should be its own article, it is still a real crime according to South Sudanese statutory law.”
The GBV Court procedures and facilities are designed to ensure privacy and well-being of survivors by reducing contact with perpetrators. Psychosocial support provided by the Ministry of Gender, Social Welfare and Religious Affairs, is supposed to help survivors like Mary navigate their emotional and physical well-being throughout the ordeal. In 2021, UNDP plans to establish a mental health and psycosocial support unit in annex to the court.
“The man who did this to me is now in jail for a sentence of 14 years. My only worry is him coming out before this time,” said Mary, sharing that while pleased with the outcome, she still is dealing with stigmatization from coming forward. She hopes that, if anything, women in her area know they can come to her to get help reporting their own cases and bringing them before the court.
“I had to do it. I had to stop this. If more women know that you can take this case to court and get a sentence, and other remedies such as compensation, maybe more will come forward,” she said.
(*name has been changed to protect privacy)
UNDP’s Access to Justice, Security and Human Rights Strengthening programme aims to strengthen the capacity of the criminal justice system to provide inclusive, effective and equitable services that can ensure increased access to justice for the vast majority of citizens of South Sudan, especially the vulnerable groups such as women and children.
For further information, please contact: Kymberly Bays, Communications Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org, +211 920 580 239