By MAMAMIA TEAM
TRIGGER WARNING: This article deals with an account of rape/sexual assault and may be triggering for survivors of abuse.
There were 130 female victims, ranging in age from three to 65.
They’d go to bed at night dressed in their pajamas. But when they’d wake up in the morning, they would be completely naked and their thighs and sheets would be stained with semen and blood.
It happened over a period of four years – from 2005 and 2009 – in a 2500-member Mennonite community called Manitoba Colony in the South American country of Bolivia. Mennonites are Christians, but their practices differ from group to group. The Manitoba Colony are old order Mennonites, meaning they follow strict gender roles, produce their own food and don’t drive cars or use electricity, similar to how the Amish community live in the USA.
For a long time, the women kept their experience to themselves. When they started to hear stories of other women getting up in the morning with headaches, they started to talk.
But nobody believed the women. They were told by the men in the colony that their experiences – their memory losses and their stories of getting up in the morning with dirty fingerprints on their bodies – were just figments of “wild female imagination.”
At one point, the women were led to believe they’d been the victim of ‘ghost rapes’ or attacked by demons.
There are no police in the colony to whom the women could report what was happening (the Bolivian government does not interfere in the community unless there’s a murder) – only Church leaders. And without electricity there was no way to keep watch with lights or alarms.
The women lived in fear – with some trying to stay up all night to avoid being attacked in their sleep – until 2009 when two men were caught trying to break into a house in the community.
At that point, the truth was finally revealed.
A group of nine men, aged between 19 to 43, had been visiting houses at night and gassing the women unconscious using a spray that was adapted from a product used to anesthetize cows.
They would hide outside bedrooms and spray the substance, which was provided from a veterinarian in a close community, through windows and screens to drug their victims and sometimes the family members who slept around them.
The story of the Manitoba ‘ghost rapes’ was covered extensively in a piece by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky that was recently published by Vice Magazine (the piece is extraordinary and goes into great detail and can be read here).
Friedman-Rudovsky covered the incredible story for TIME Magazine in 2011 when the nine men tried for rape were charged in a Bolivian court (the community sought intervention from the Government after demands from the victims’ husbands and relatives).
They were each sentenced to 25 years in jail. And the veterinarian who supplied the men with the anesthetising product was sentenced to 12 years.
Two years later, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky returned to the Manitoba Colony to see what – if anything – had happened in the wake of the men’s convictions.
Friedman-Rudovsky found the rapes were still happening.
“The demons, it turns out, are still out there,” she wrote.
Those I spoke with said they have no way to stop the alleged attacks. There is still no police force in the area, and there never will be any proactive element or investigatory force that can look into accusations of crimes. Anyone is free in the colonies to report somebody else to the Ministers, but crimes are addressed on the honor system: if a perpetrator is not ready to admit his sins, the question is whether the victim or accuser will be believed… and women in Manitoba already know how that goes.
Friedman-Rudovsk found numerous instances of incest and women and children who have “learned to live with it”.
She found the women who had been raped by the men who were now in jail had never received counseling. She found women who had never had conversations with their children about the rapes they (the children and the mothers) had endured.
And she found a community in the depths of denial.
“That’s all behind us now,” one civic leader told her. “We’d rather forget than have it be at the forefront of our minds.”
You can read the full VICE article here.
Please note if this post or any of the comments bring up any issues for you, or if you need to speak to someone please 1800-RESPECT or the NSW Rape Crisis Centre on 1800 424 017. It does not matter where about you live in Australia, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.