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Welcome To Puntland: Where Many Men Don’t Consider Rape A Crime

by Neha Wadekar April 26, 2018

This article was originally published in ELLE.

Every morning, 28-year-old Officer Shamis Abdi Bile rises before dawn to make breakfast for her three young children.

She bustles around the house, taking part in a few of the traditional tenets homemaking, something that is arguably still expected of Somali women. But once her family has eaten, Bile takes on an unexpected role.

Bile becomes a warrior; fighting for the prosecution of rape and sexual violence in Puntland, Somalia.

She changes into her khaki police uniform, neatly pressed and spotless, and walks several miles through the dusty streets of Garowe — the small capital city of Somalia’s vast, barren Puntland state — to the local police station.

Bile is the only female officer in her unit, and the only woman handling issues of sexual violence in the area.

‘Rape is common here; nobody takes it seriously’

Waiting for Bile in the hot, stuffy interview room is a terrified teenage girl. She grips the hands of her friend so tightly that her knuckles turn white.

The girl’s angry sobs are barely audible over the sound of dozens of flies buzzing around the tiny space. It has no doors or windows to ensure privacy; any number of the men in the office will be able to overhear the girl’s testimony.

A young boy from her neighbourhood held her down for the purpose of raping her, tearing at her clothes as she screamed.

The girl has been once to the police station already, several days ago, but this is the first time she’s been given a proper hearing by a woman.

This is why Bile gets up every morning and goes to a job that can barely offer her a basic living wage. She’s furious, and she’s the only one determined to help push through change.

‘I feel driven to help when a woman is being abused,’ Bile says passionately. ‘And do whatever I can do to catch those who are harassing her.’

The girl’s dark eyes glint as she keeps the rest of her face covered. She won’t give her name, afraid that being labeled a rape survivor in Somalia’s ultra-conservative society would ruin her and her family’s reputation.

police officer somalia rape

Shamis Abdi Bile – a police officer on a mission to change life for women in Somalia

Bile, a fierce and unconventional woman, is determined to be heard in the police department on the matter, stamping her neon orange sneakers and bellowing loudly.

She doesn’t care that she is mostly outranked in the unit. She may be the only female officer, but she commands the respect of the men around her.

Arguably often, female victims in such circumstances are encouraged to go home and forget the incident ever happened. Rape is common here and many people don’t take sexual aggression seriously. Except, it seems, Officer Bile.

Brimming with frustration, Bile looks into the young woman’s case.

‘Some people say rape is not a big deal,’ Bile says. ‘They say it has been happening for ages and it’s nothing new.’

Read the full article here.

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