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Lima Discusses Tackling Sexual Violence Amid Violent Conflict in Colombia

Editor’s note: Jineth Bedoya Lima spoke in Spanish during this event. Her quotes were translated to English.

Jineth Bedoya Lima, a Colombian journalist, women’s rights advocate, and survivor of sexual violence, shared the difficulties in living with and learning to overcome trauma during an event on Wednesday. 

“You learn how to transform the pain, transform your tears and the oppression in your heart, into something that allows you to live,” Lima said. “Because it affects you physically, emotionally, and there is no court of justice that can repair that.”

Lima spoke to Boston College students and faculty about her experiences as a victim of sexual violence at an event co-sponsored by the Women’s Center, journalism department, women’s and gender studies program, and the Center for Human Rights and International Justice. 

Lima was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in both 2000 and 2003 while she was reporting amid armed conflict in Colombia. After these abductions, Lima said she has yet to feel entirely safe, regardless of where she is. 

“I have seven guards because my head has a price in Colombia,” Lima said. “Even being in Boston, knowing that here I am safe … in my mind I am never safe. Perhaps I will never feel safe in my life. What happened to me, it happens to thousands of women and people around the world who have faced sexual violence—who have to survive through a war.”

Lima criticized the Colombian government for failing to provide reparations to victims of sexual violence during wartime and disregarding the stories of thousands of women. Sexual violence was used as a way to spread fear and exert power during the decades-long conflict between paramilitary groups and guerrilla groups in Colombia, she said. 

Lima also noted the discrepancy between Colombia’s official data and her own research on sexual violence. While Lima’s and other women’s research found that close to two million Colombian women were raped in one decade, only 35,000 cases were listed in official government data, she said.

The Colombian government’s lack of commitment to tackling sexual violence is a crime, according to Lima.

“In this moment, what we would like to see in Colombia is the justice court recognizing that the biggest harm that the war has caused is sexual violence,” she said. “The human beings who are in that office lack a lot of empathy to put themselves in the shoes of the victims. The court has not opened the cases of sexual violence, and this is one of the worst crimes that Colombia has committed.”

Lima filed a lawsuit against the Republic of Colombia in 2011, alleging the Colombian government failed to protect her from her abductions, torture, and rape. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in Lima’s favor in 2021, holding the Colombian state responsible for the abduction, torture, and sexual violence she endured while working as a journalist.

According to Lima, however, Colombia did not take any measures to provide her with appropriate reparations. With a lack of support from Colombian justice courts and the government, Lima said she had to take action by telling her story and enabling other women to share their stories of sexual violence.

“I decided that if the state’s not going to do something about it, I will figure it out,” Lima said. “I have the will and the strength to do it because I’m a journalist and I learned that I couldn’t stay silent, but also because there are a lot of people who cannot speak up as loud as I do. And I am not speaking on their behalf. I am trying to empower their voices. They need to be heard.”

Lima said that through journalistic activism, she hopes to open the discussion on sexual violence during war and prompt the Colombian government to prioritize the issue. She said she hopes other women who are fighting against sexual violence will gain justice in the near future.

“When you’re working toward justice, you will create an opening for those behind you,” Lima said. “Whether I will be able to see this or not, if a number of journalists and women behind me who are pushing their own cases see it, that is reparation for me.”

To wrap up her talk, Lima recognized that sexual violence is not exclusive to armed conflict in distant countries, but it is an obstacle that persists everywhere. She urged the audience to take action against sexual violence, as it can occur nearly anywhere.

“I want to point out that it’s not necessary to go far, or to be at war to understand sexual violence,” Lima said. “Sexual violence—we have it right outside this door in public transport, perhaps in our fields, at the office, or even in our own homes. Sexual violence greatly limits, eats up, destroys, and silences. And it’s up to us to stop it.”

September 10, 2023