My Son, My Past

Dealing with the Aftermath of Rape and War

In times of armed conflict, women and young girls are more vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. In the story below, I imagine the reality of Rachela, a young woman from Bosnia Herzegovina, who was raped and left to deal with her memories of the experience and a son born from the event.

When the curtains of day fall and the crowd is gone, I find myself alone again. And as my child is sleeping, away from reality, the thoughts come again to haunt me.

Who am I? The deep truth comes from within me and I cannot answer.

The window is left ajar and the casting rays of the moon make an attempt to enter. The moon too is lonely and she can share my grief. It is the soft voice of my son which brings me back to the coldness of the room. I go to him and caress his golden curls not like my raven black hair. My son is sitting on the bed with tears streaming on his sweet cheeks.

"Mama, I had a bad dream."

Little does he know that he is my bad dream, I think.

"It is OK," I utter softly as I look into his eyes, blue as the sea reflecting freckles of crystals. My son is beautiful! I say to myself but then another man looks back at me. I suddenly realize that it is him piercing me, transporting me back in time.

My memory takes me back in the dark camps surrounded by men dressed in uniforms. And I suddenly recognize him, the Serb soldier who took me under his prey, who attacked me and conceived his seed within me, throwing me in a never-ending sea of sheer devastation.

Yet, I kept my child, his child!

Again, my son's voice brings me to reality. As if reading my thoughts he asks a question which pierces my heart like daggers.

"Mama, I dreamt of papa. Tell me about him."

And then I look at the glittering light of the Goddess moon entering from my window as if to mock me.

"Your father was a great soldier."

I marvel at my courage.

"He died in war," I lie.

A shiver runs all over my spine and clouds of despair descend upon me. The truth is not what I see in my son s’ eyes.

The truth lies buried within me as I will remain here, lost in the darkness of my room, my heart shattered and torn by the wind.

And I wish that there was no son to remind me, of this hellish nightmare. 'Til then the window of my heart will remain subdued like that of my fellow sisters who share the same fate.


In 1992, thousands of Bosnian women were victims of systematic rape by Serbian military soldiers. This was a cultural genocide, and the soldiers used rape as a tool for ethnic cleansing and as a desperate measure to raise Serbian children. Women were raped more than once every day while others were forced to witness the rape and endure physical torture. These rapes resulted in unwanted pregnancies, and most of these afflicted women wanted desperately to abort the child. Others decided to keep the baby but did not escape the depression and psychological effects caused by the trauma as a result of what they had to endure.

On the other hand, those women who decided to accept the child still found it hard to love their children, and at times even pretended that they did not exist.

In armed conflicts womens’ rights are violated and women are raped, tortured and separated from their homes and families. Violence against women is rooted in a global culture of discrimination and in the belief that women are of lesser worth than men. In most cases women are perceived as property used for sexual gratification.

Rape in war is defined in Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter as a Crime Against Humanity.

Article 27 of the fourth Geneva Convention states that women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.

Sexual abuse in war affects entire families, because women frequently act as heads of the household. It is therefore essential that women are protected in armed conflicts. This can be achieved by increasing the political representation of women and involving them in decision-making, conflict resolution mechanisms and peace negotiations.

1977 Supplementary Protocols of the Geneva Convention
The Nuremberg Charter


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