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COLOMBIA: Speaking to Survive

Martha Elena Llano Serna tells her harrowing story of surviving sexual assault and connects the dots between sexual violence and the drug trade in Colombia

"When we speak, we make this planet a better home. When we talk, we change history."

"Rape has been used by men to silence women, to silence men, to silence kids, to silence history and to repeat it. I have to stop being silent."

She remembers the hand, missing all but two fingers, moving over her body. As she was raped over her husband’s dead body, she could not feel anything. Not fear, not hate, not pain. She just focused on those missing fingers and tried to remember where she had seen them before. Later, her rapist’s hand would be the clue that would lead to his conviction. My friend would eventually learn that this man was hired to kill her and her husband over a land dispute. She was raped because two families never knew their land boundaries. It destroyed our peace forever.

Months after my friend faced her hell, I faced mine. One night after breast-feeding my child, I stood up from my hammock and found myself face to face with an armed gangster. This gangster and his partners wrestled my two visitors and me to the floor, where we endured the humiliating reality of being groped by assailants.

I tried to understand the situation. How could this happen? Why? What had I done? What had I not done? I embraced my child with all my love and compassion. And I remember asking the man who was all over me, “What has your mother done to you? What happened to you in your childhood? Who did this to you?”

My husband came down from our open living room to find this gangster trying to rape me. My body was trembling. I closed my eyes and hugged my son close to my body and my soul. When I opened my eyes I saw my husband lying far away from me, his eyes looking into mine. Our eyes stayed locked on each other until my attacker saw the feet of one of his five partners enter the room—and he stopped.

Once the gangsters had what they wanted, everything became the usual amazing night. Dark, frogs singing, the sound of waves, and our slow breathing. Very slow as if our hearts were going to stop. But they did not.

The men who attacked us had come to our house in the rain forest to find a motor boat—likely to move drugs to another country. Drugs are a global problem, but we in Colombia are facing the terrible consequences.

I was a silent woman for a while after this experience. My husband and I never spoke about it. We talked until late that night, but only about material things. And neither of us ever touched that night again—as if it never happened.

I haven’t told many people about this. Not my mom, my brother, or my friends. Just yesterday, I told my partner about that night. He embraced me and we both cried to relieve my pain, his pain, our friends’ pain. Those who read this story may have someone close to them who has suffered like this. We cried for all of you who read our stories and suffer in silence, for all of you who are trying as we are to change this world we live in.

Today I can barely stand my partner over my body. I cannot help the feeling and memory of that night. I have tried many times to erase it, but this incident is buried deep inside my soul.

As I write about this for the first time, I am discovering wounds very deep inside my heart. Wounds that are painful, but willing to be healed. Wounds in my chest that could silence me—as if I am the guilty one. I am not the guilty one. Nor are the others who have been violated—my friend, countless women and children, our own planet.

Rape has been used by men to silence women, to silence men, to silence kids, to silence history and to repeat it. I have to stop being silent. As I write and let myself feel, I am returned to a sacred place. When we speak, we make this planet a better home. When we talk, we change history. When we come out of our silence and speak out without fear, shame, or hate, we take away pain.

I don’t know why I stayed silent so long. I thought forgetting was a way to forgive, but it is not. I forgave but I cannot forget as I watch women face, every day, the same history. There are different reasons but the same old strategy. A silent weapon. A powerful weapon. . . .


Ruth Beedle's picture

Thank you

Martha Elena;

Thank you for sharing this story - for not being silent anymore. Your story is heart breaking and you told it with incredibly poignancy and, yes, even beauty. You are right, this has to stop and if legalizing drugs is the only way to stop the insanity of violence around the world - in Columbia, in Mexico, everywhere - then so be it. Drugs are self-induced violence, but at least that is a choice. What you tell about is not a choice....

I listened to a woman poet slamming her poem about rape. It was raw and real and painful and ugly as the act. The question over and over was asked 'what will you tell your daughter' about this act..... and it ended with the question 'what I really know is, what will you teach your SON?!'

Our sons need to learn that this behavior is against God.

Thank you


martha llano's picture



Thanks for your words....they give me hope to come out even more from my own silence as woman every day.

God is everywhere in nature, my kid has learned that and he knows what is right and wrong from watching nature.



Con afecto

Martha Llano

HAGA ALGO........ lo que lo haga feliz!
Y tan sólo recuerde que las soluciones a problemas globales dependen de cada individuo.

I thank you for sharing your story. Our countries need to come together and work together to bring change to third world countries that are fighting to be able to survive. I was abused not sexually but mentally and emotionally my whole childhood. I understand how hard it is to speak up and speak out. I am so proud of you for bringing a spot light onto this situation. I want to know how to help you and the women, children and people of your country. Are you working with any organizations?

martha llano's picture


I know any kind of abuse is devastating.....I am sorry for your childhood.......I wish no childs in any part of this universe should suffer...they are our future and we have to be kind and loving with them as we should be with ourselves....why do we do all this? how come? I have cried nights all night thinking about what I have feel and seen.....Why are we this specie? what make us make all this things?
I have a beautiful child....amazing music one...which gives me inspiration and love and I can not imagine him suffering anything for my hands, for my thoughts, for my words, for nothing....he is an amazing child and he as the rest of the childs of this world deserve the best, a peaceful childhood believing in a peaceful land.

thanks for your words.

Con afecto

Martha Llano

HAGA ALGO........ lo que lo haga feliz!
Y tan sólo recuerde que las soluciones a problemas globales dependen de cada individuo.

NI NI AYE's picture

Remarkable quotes!

Dear Martha

You could point out the big issues and make international awareness. I agree with you that braking the silence of being abused can change the rate of multiplying abuses and lead to end. Your words are definitely remarkable and are highly impressive. See you more beautiful Martha.

With honors


Congratulations on Very Happy Teachers Day through ten years journey!

martha llano's picture

Ni Ni

Yes Ni Ni speaking out from pain and my own experience might help others to is painful but worth it

ALl my love to you and hope to know you and know your country

With respect


Con afecto

Martha Llano

HAGA ALGO........ lo que lo haga feliz!
Y tan sólo recuerde que las soluciones a problemas globales dependen de cada individuo.

usha kc's picture

dear Martha,, such a

dear Martha,, such a terrible story you shared with us thank u so much. You are so storng ,, so good in all aspect. you did very good opening this silence feeling with us. I believe this will help others too to be opend .
stay blessd,, enjoy with ur world.

love always

martha llano's picture

silence as


Opening my silence was incredible hard. How ever it makes me free.

Thanks for writing


Con afecto

Martha Llano

HAGA ALGO........ lo que lo haga feliz!
Y tan sólo recuerde que las soluciones a problemas globales dependen de cada individuo.

Monika Pant's picture

thanks for sharing. Bravo for

thanks for sharing. Bravo for speaking out. Yes, women have to beat those who aim at silencing their crime, beat them at their own game by daring to speak. It takes a lot to speak, but to speak is to empower others to speak as well, and maybe, just maybe, the thousand voices raised by speaking up will silence those that need to be silenced. May cowards who rape and mutilate souls in the dead of darkness be unable to face themselves in the mirror.

Paola Fattorini's picture

Arte como expresión

Dear Martha Elena,
Last year I had the amazing opportunity to work for 8 months in Bogotá. I fell in love with Bogotá, and certainly with Colombia. I was the creator and coordinator of institutional strenghtening for an ngo that developed projects for kids in situation of forced miagration.
Due to that I had one of my best gifts, participating of a workshop to heal and process violence ephisodes with the Mujeres Tejedoras de Mampuján. It was las December, at the National Museum. What amazed me and my partner who is a great awesome psychologist, was that there were women from different social classes and contexts.

I do beleive that art is a great way to deal and process violence, and each one of us has it's own way, it's own personal velocity to HEAL. Now I volunteer for a movement that helps battered women. But one of my dreams is to bring Mujeres Tejedoras de Mampuján to Perú, so they can make an exchange and workshop with andean women that suffered rape during the armed conflict in Perú.

If you want to have a look:

pawani_rasmus's picture

your story gives inspiration

your story gives inspiration and hope thanks for sharing it
one thing youre very right about is that our stories are not believed ... not by our closest friends or confide in someone your pain and they just tell you things that make you feel its your own fault or its all just in your head...i dont know how to escape

also a silent sufferer

Breese's picture

Hi Pawani, I saw your

Hi Pawani,
I saw your message, and want to help any way I can.

There are several PulseWire members who wrote about similar experience, including some from India, during our recent My Story program. You can read them here:

Frequently related resources are posted in the Resource Exchange and Sharing Solutions sections of PulseWire. I found a few, linked here:

I hope this helps a bit, and that you find PulseWire to be a supportive and empowering community.


chibairo's picture


Thank you for providing voice to millions of women who have not had the courage to speak out against sexual assault. Bravo!

Dudziro Nhengu

Hummingbird's picture

hey brave one

If only people think of the consequences of their actions, our world would become better. If only governments think of the consequences of their decisions and laws millions of lives around the globe would be better. I do not know why law makers always choose hard ways to solve an issue only to go through a painful way and reach a dead end.

I signed on a plea a while ago to stop war on drugs, I hoped that my voice when added to others' might make a difference.

Bless you.

A drop of rain can revive the earth, be the drop.


Bryce-VancouverWA's picture

Thank You for your courage


I was able to hear you speak last night as PSU in Portland. You are such a spiritual person, the way you explain how we are all connected and need to work together and how you connect to nature. Last night was my first experience with World Pulse and I applaud everything you are doing. I hope I can also learn to make a small contribution to your efforts and the other amazing women throughout the world who are making a difference. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Kadeen's picture

I think you are brave and strong

Thanks for sharing your story-it is courageous of you to share this with the world. I hope somehow you find some comfort by speaking out. Your statement about every time someone do coke at a party could be as a result of a woman, girl, boy getting raped is very strong. I think this could be a focus of a campaign to spread the news to the world.

Kadeen Dennie
Pulsewire Magazine

amiesissoho's picture

They wanted to steal the

They wanted to steal the strength to speak out from you, but they have failed because eventually you know it is your power. With the will power, you have won. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Stay strong,


munisha's picture

proud of you

Your story has open gates for everyone to see and feel this dreadful reality of violence induced in the lives of many several women and children due to drug business. As i read it , i could sense the trauma you and your friend suffered and which follow you yet and ,not to forget, also those millions more who are still stuck in their silence.

Thank you so much for sharing your story .

O Praise's picture


Your story is very touching and it is a pain that so many women are going through. Am assuring it is well. one thing am sure is that this you story has healed the wounds of many others

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