(Som) +252 616 345 252 (Ke) +254721314590

Supporting Survivors of Sexual Assault in Somalia through GBV One-Stop Centers

Scary, painful, traumatizing,” that’s how Halima*, a 20-year-old girl from Gadudey site in Bardheere describes her ordeal at the hands of 2 perpetrators. Recounting her traumatic experience of sexual assault stirred profound emotions hidden beneath her façade.

Halima still vividly recalls the memories of the events that transpired that day: “They threatened to kill me if I shouted for help,” she continued. “They forced me to strip naked,” said the 20-year-old, picking at the skin around her fingernails. “When I refused, they tore off my clothes …I resisted until I had no more strength left,” she told NoFYL.

Then they started raping me, I was terrified and in pain.” Halima paused, wiped her tears and tried to steady her shaking hands. Her voice struggled to contain her anger and her breath deepened. Her ordeal was not only physically brutal, but also psychologically devastating.

Cases of gender-based violence, including rape, are tragically common in Somalia. Rape trauma affects mental, physical and intimate health and can be a life sentence. Women and girls in displacement face an elevated risk of sexual assault. Yet most survivors lack access to critical response and recovery support such as post-rape care and treatment, which is critical to healing and avoiding unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. Psychological support is also vital to helping the survivors cope with the trauma and initiate the healing process.

Halima was relieved to learn she could seek medical treatment at the UNICEF-supported One-Stop Centre established in Bardheere. The GBV One-Stop center, conveniently located inside Bardheere General Hospital, is among 2 set up by NoFYL in September 2023 in Gedo which is supported by UNICEF in Somalia to improve access to support service for survivors of GBV. The centers have been essential in providing medical care, counseling, and referrals to other services for those affected by GBV. Since its inception in September 2023, the center has been instrumental in providing assistance to displaced women and girls who sought help for various issues, including cases of physical assault, sexual assault, and emotional/psychological distress. To date, over 265 GBV survivors have accessed medical and PSS support services, 16 survivors have been provided with the CMR services while 54 survivors with complex issues were referred to other hospitals for advanced treatment.

Initially, Halima kept silent about the rape, as the potential stigma was too much to bear. Her ordeal remained undisclosed & hidden under layers of stigma & fear. Stigma related to sexual assault can lead survivors to keep their experiences hidden, fearing judgment, rejection, retaliation or marginalization from the very community that should ideally provide support. Most survivors don’t report cases, because the perpetrators are often close family members. The trauma, meanwhile, remains raw and debilitating.

One day later, Halima* chanced upon a weekly information session by NoFYL whose mobile teams work across the camp to spread awareness of sexual and gender-based violence. She was immediately referred to NoFYL’s One-Stop center.

Displaced women attend an information & awareness session on gender-based violence in Bardheere.

Halima found solace and support when she arrived at One-Stop Centre, where a psychosocial counselor and a nurse welcomed her with empathy. They reassured her that she was not alone and, crucially, emphasized that she was not to blame for the assault. This compassionate response aimed to counteract the potential self-blame and societal stigma that survivors often grapple with.

We administered her with post-exposure prophylaxis to prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases,” says Asha, a nurse at the One-Stop center managed by NoFYL. The nurse took immediate action, providing Halima with the necessary post-rape care and treatment for the injuries sustained during the rape assault. This included thorough examinations, treatment for physical injuries, and measures to prevent potential infections. She was also provided with dignity kits as well as emotional support and counseling to address the psychological trauma she experienced.

The moment I entered the one-stop center, I felt a sense of relief. The psychosocial counselor and the nurse treated me with such kindness and understanding. They made me realize that I was not alone in this, and that meant the world to me. Here, I felt heard and supported. I became less worried and felt more capable and confident. The guilt and shame I felt disappeared completely,” she said.

Hibo Abdi is a psychosocial counselor at the One-Stop center. She followed Halima’s case closely; “She was in shock when we received her and it wasn’t easy for her because she was a young girl. The counselling sessions helped her to share her pain and experience, so she can overcome feelings of low self-esteem & negativity. Fortunately, we managed to get her back on her feet. The comprehensive support she received at the One-Stop Centre played a pivotal role in her healing process. Today, when I see Halima doing well, it reaffirms the importance of the holistic support we provide at the One-Stop Center.”

Reflecting on her journey and experience at the One-Stop center, Halima likened it to a home, stating, “The one-stop center became a sanctuary for me. The welcoming atmosphere and the compassionate care I received made it feel like a home away from home. It played a pivotal role in my recovery, and I will forever be grateful to NoFYL for all the assistance during a challenging time.”

In the weeks that followed, Halima attended psychosocial sessions at the women and girls safe space which was also established by NoFYL in Bardheere. While Halima was undergoing psychosocial support, her husband divorced her, stating he couldn’t remain with a wife who had been raped due to negative talk among the community. Surprisingly, the divorce didn’t affect her as severely as expected. She found solace in the skills training, which provided a much-needed distraction. Now, she focuses on honing her tie & dye skills to support herself. The 6-month tie & dye training supported by NoFYL in Bardheere & Belet-Xaawo districts aim at giving 60 women survivors a life-changing and income-generating skills to reduce vulnerabilities that engender GBV.

When I had lost all hope and the will to live, relief came unexpectedly through NoFYL… This is how the One-Stop Center and the skills training saved me. Now, I see a future filled with possibilities thanks to the skills I am learning here,” said Halima with confidence.

She concluded by expressing her commitment to creating awareness within the camp about the vital GBV support services offered by NoFYL, which she learned through awareness campaigns conducted by NoFYL. “I feel a responsibility to let others know about the GBV support services and most importantly how and where to report and recover from abuse. So many women and girls suffer in silence because they do not know about the services that can help them heal. I’m eager to empower & support others facing challenges like the one I went through.”

*Name changed for privacy & protection.

Women taking part in tie-dying as part of the life skills training at the UNICEF-supported women & girls safe space in Bardheere.
The final product: Skills training participants folding the tie-dyed fabric at the safe space in Bardheere.

auto clicker