Editor’s note: This story contains language and details of sexual violence.
Dressed in all black, women in Zimbabwe took to the streets in protest against sexual violence and assault perpetrated by the military on Wednesday.
The protesters, part of the “Black Wednesday” campaign, called on the government to hold the military accountable for raping and assaulting several girls and women over the past two weeks, the Guardian reports.
Zimbabwe is in the midst of a violent crackdown after the government’s sudden hike in fuel prices earlier this month caused a three-day strike and demonstrations. The demonstrations turned violent, leaving 12 people dead and dozens more injured.
Since then, police have received reports of military personnel robbing, murdering, and raping people. In some cases, the military has forcefully entered people’s homes to “punish” them for participating in anti-government protests.
“Soldiers stormed my home at midnight on the second day of the protests, their faces hidden behind balaclavas, and started beating me,” a 21-year-old survivor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“They were accusing me of participating in the protests, saying I was one of the hooligans that burnt tires on the streets. After that, they raped me,” she said.
She, like many others alleging rape by the military, has not reported the attack to the police out of fear.
While many incidences of rapes have been reported in the media and to NGOs, human rights lawyers say most survivors are afraid to seek treatment or file official police reports for fear of further retaliation and humiliation.
The government has urged survivors to file official reports.
"All women, who were allegedly raped, are encouraged to come forward and report the cases to the Zimbabwe Republic Police Victim Friendly Unit," Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said.
"The unit is led by a female commissioner, hence, all affected women will be treated with empathy, compassion, respect and due care. Their safety will be guaranteed," she added.
However, mistrust of the police, who have been involved in the violent government crackdown, remains high, the BBC reports.
Wednesday’s protest — organized by the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE), a women’s empowerment organization, and nonprofit Justice for Women Zimbabwe — encouraged men to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence. It also called on the government to act on the ongoing situation.
“We demand that the regime owns up to their actions,” WALPE said in a statement.
“We need the voices of men also to support women, so that women may restore their confidence in men...We are calling on all women who have been abused by uniformed forces to report to independent bodies,” the organization said.
People have also shared messages of solidarity with the movement on social media.
Today I went makeup free and wore black in solidarity with all the sexual abuse victims by the army n Zimbabwe.— 6meters Wife Material (@Masibanda101) January 30, 2019
They have made our bodies a battle field and seek to kill our courage by striping us of our dignity#shutdownatrocities#blackwednesday#InjureOneInjureAllpic.twitter.com/BaXRPibQLK
RAPE IS ALWAYS A CRIME 🤬🤬— Sweden in Zimbabwe 🇸🇪 (@SwedeninZW) January 30, 2019
We say NO to all forms of sexual #violence & stand in solidarity with the victims of sexual violence#BlackWednesday in #Zimbabwe#InjureOneInjureAll#EndGBV@email@example.com/MoS2E0x0Gj
Rape strips a person of their human dignity! My hope is that we may all stand together in unity and peace against RAPE. Human dignity knows no gender. My thoughts and prayers are with the survivors of this terrible crime #blackwednesday#injureoneinjureall#shutdownatrocitiespic.twitter.com/YGQwsn9zBQ— Chenesai (@chenesaimangoma) January 30, 2019
As we are aware of the riots in Zimbabwe,the military is abusing and raping woman. So today is Black Wednesday as a way to speak out against the rising cases of rape. As CYECE staff we agreed to wear black as a sign of solidarity. #BlackWednesday#InjureOneInjureAllpic.twitter.com/uNmZ5hodun— CYECE MALAWI (@CYECE_Malawi) January 30, 2019
I'm wearing black as a symbol of standing in solidarity and speaking out against the rape of women by the security forces of the Zimbabwean govt #injureoneinjureall#feminist#justicepic.twitter.com/C2ZHuY1WYT— Richard Tsvangirayi (@RTsvangirayi) January 30, 2019
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access the 24-7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org. You can find international resources here.