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
"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. . . .