Eighteen years ago, Jaycee Dugard, now 29 years old, was kidnapped and made into a slave, bearing two children after being raped by her captor. Americans are outraged, and rightly so. Her story is horrifying.
While this Lake Tahoe headline hit particularly close to home, most of us are perhaps unaware that kidnappings and sexual slavery occur every day in war torn areas. Areas wrecked by civil war have the visible debris of bullet holes and bombs. But is often the invisible destruction that is the most painful–and for most women who experienced kidnapping, sexual slavery, and child marriage, there is no warm welcome when, if they’re lucky, their ordeal is over.
Women of Sierra Leone suffered such brutality during the civil war. When rebel combatants kidnapped, beat, raped and ‘married’ them as ‘bush wives’, the women lived a nightmare. Many of them became pregant, which, in a war torn area can be a death sentence. In fact, Sierra Leone has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world–one in eight women will die giving birth. While their captors are seeking reintegration into society, where do the tens of thousands of women turn?
While Jaycee’s story is nauseating, perhaps our outrage can be directed at preventing new kidnappings and forced marriages and ensuring women have access to quality reproductive health care services in conflict. There are many more women who, in a time of war, will be forced into the sexual slavery that we find so shocking in our own backyard. There is still much to be done in preventing stories like these from emerging.
Unlike the pictures of Jaycee’s stepfather proudly holding a photograph or her mother gleaming at her daughter’s miracle return, the women of Sierra Leone are not welcome home after their sexual slavery. Because the shame and stigma of such an ordeal can last forever, Americans have all the more reason to stop it before it happens.