Rwandans born of genocide rape discover silence is healing
SEE ALSO :A close look at campus sexual assaultWhen he talked about his life, Elie expressed a deep ambivalence about whether it is better to talk about or conceal his past. On the one hand, he was adamant that he wanted to know who his father was and whether he was still alive. On the other hand, Elie emphasized that he preferred to conceal the circumstances of his birth from those in his community. He explained, “I don’t want people to know my story.” Elie was by no means the only person who wanted both to talk and to keep quiet about his origins. This tension between speech and silence was a central theme across our interviews. Emmanuel, who was also born of rape committed during the genocide, explained that he wanted to talk to his family members to find out who his father was, but that in order to “get freedom in society,” he also tried not to talk about it. For him, “freedom” meant having the opportunity to be treated like other youth his age. Claudette, a young woman born of rape, explained that she preferred that her peers and her neighbours did not know her story, because she has suffered from rumours that she has HIV. At the same time, Claudette appreciates that she has been able to glean some information about her origins from her stepfather and from other family members who knew what happened to her mother in 1994. These young people’s alternately positive and negative views of speech and silence are powerfully shaped by the stigma they risk if neighbours, peers or teachers find out that they were born of rape.
SEE ALSO :Man gets 20 years in jail for rapeThe very reason many of the interviewees are called “youth” when they are actually legal adults is related to stigma and to local expectations of adulthood. Since poverty and the stigma of their origins were typically barriers to marrying, our participants self-identified and were identified by their communities as “youth” in a social sense as, like Elie, they resided with their mothers or other family members. The perspectives of these young Rwandans remind us that it’s important to understand how diverse cultural expectations can shape people’s experiences of, and responses to, violence. For example, many Euro-Americans assume that talking about traumatic experiences of war and genocide — while difficult — is a self-evidently good thing that promotes healing and improved social relationships over time. Psychological models of trauma and recovery, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are very much grounded in these ideas. And while many people undoubtedly credit PTSD treatment with helping them recover from painful experiences, for several decades social scientists have been asking: do all people, across cultural and historical contexts, assume that it is always good to talk? Open dialogue While Euro-American cultural outlooks tend to value individual expression, self-revelation and open dialogue, the Rwandan context points to different perspectives on the relative worth of speech versus silence. Researchers — both foreign and Rwandan — have noted a general social expectation that people can (and often should) conceal as much as they reveal about their thoughts and feelings in everyday life. There is a strong cultural value placed on “sharing in the unsaid.” Indeed, silence and concealment are accepted and expected modes of dealing with hardship in Rwandan social worlds. Many Rwandans emphasise that the moral thing to do when one has problems is to avoid making too much of them so as not to burden others who have problems of their own. Social expectations like these shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign that Rwandans need more encouragement to open up about their distress or that their communication practices are inadequate.
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