Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Jocelyn Kelly, research coordinator for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Kelly travelled to Congo to speak with perpetrators of sexual violence. She tells anchor Lisa Mullins that many of the rapists have been soldiers since boyhood and aren’t able to question orders from superior officers.
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JOCELYN KELLY: The crucial piece of this issue is to talk to the perpetrators themselves and to understand exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing.
LISA MULLINS: That’s Jocelyn Kelly, whose research coordinator of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. She has indeed talked to perpetrators. She’s gone to Eastern Congo to talk with some of those who have perpetrated mass rape in one militia group, the Mai Mai. Where did you go to talk to these men?
KELLY: So, we actually have done this project over the course of about two and a half years and went to three different towns to talk to different subgroups within the Mai Mai. In one case we actually had hoped to negotiate a cease fire between the local police force and the Mai Mai, to have them come into this town and do interviews, for just one day to speak with us about their experiences. At all other times they were three days march into the forest and so they came out just to speak with us.
MULLINS: So what do you ask them?
KELLY: So what we wanted to talk to the soldiers about is basically their experiences with the war. In fact, what we’ve found is many soldiers are starving. They feel extremely robbed of their dignity and they have also witnessed and experienced some of the very worst parts of the war, often as children, and this is what drove them to join.
MULLINS: Now we can because your job is to understand the motivation of these soldiers, specifically we’re talking now about the Mai Mai. Who are they and why did they pick up arms to begin with?
KELLY: The Mai Mai are somewhat unique in a sense that they are kind of a homegrown militia that was formed at the beginning of the war, ostensibly to protect their hometowns, but in fact now they’ve, this group has taken on a life of its own and is one of the worst perpetrators of violence against civilians.
MULLINS: Who are the men?
KELLY: A lot of the men are people who are affected very strikingly by the war. I think of the men who I remember most vividly is someone who said “I saw my father killed in front of my eyes and I made a choice to become an animal and to perpetrate this kind of violence on other people, this kind of violence I’d experienced myself.” And I think what you really see is men who could have been fathers and [SOUNDS LIKE] traders becoming soldiers and living within these kind of cycles of violence that perpetuate themselves. And I think that’s something very heartbreaking that we’ve seen in this research.
MULLINS: And so what have you found out?
KELLY: So, we’ve found out that there’s a number of factors that really feed into this kind of very shocking violence. One is that soldiers undergo extremely violent initiation rites and so soldiers say we literally have the civilian beaten out of us. And this gives them a sense of anonymity and impunity that they can do whatever they want. They also look at civilians as an exploitable resource so on one hand, they think of themselves as protectors. On the other hand, they see civilians as, one soldier described them as, fields to be harvested. And so civilians are seen as a way to gain necessary goods and a part of this is women and women are looked at as highly exploitable and frankly a spoil of war.
MULLINS: And for you listening to this kind of testimony, I mean you were in close proximity to these people, who in some cases are very much still active militia members. What was it like to talk to them about this?
KELLY: You’re always struck by how very human people are in the end. When you start talking to them about their childhood, about their experiences with the war, about how they feel when they go to sleep at night, or when soldiers said I don’t have soap, I’m robbed of dignity because I don’t have any soap to wash with, I think there’s something kind of touching about that. And so you are able to start thinking about people as individuals instead of these kinds of monstrous groups.
MULLINS: Is that hard to admit to because they’re committing, in many cases, monstrous acts?
KELLY: They absolutely are, but I think to really reach out and try to understand why someone is doing something, even if it’s a terrible thing, you have to understand that they are human as well. And I think if we say that an act of violence is incomprehensible, we are shutting the door to preventing that act in the future. And so it’s incredibly important to understand why these acts are perpetrated.
MULLINS: So what do you do with that information though? You can feel the compassion for them and where they’ve come from and then? You bring the information back home and…?
KELLY: And use the information to see the most tactical intervention point that you can identify. It’s certainly not to excuse behavior, but I think it does inform the kinds of interventions that might be most effective.
MULLINS: Like what? What have you found effective?
KELLY: We found that soldiers are eager to demobilize. Soldiers really want to return to this kind of peaceful atmosphere, but they find themselves unable to find jobs. They don’t have the skills to reintegrate into communities. Understandably they’re looked at as enemies. And so soldiers then fall back into the habits of being in a militia. And so if we could stop that cycle of rejoining militias I think that would be a powerful intervention.
MULLINS: Thank you for coming in. Jocelyn Kelly, research coordinator of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Thank you very much.
KELLY: My pleasure. Thank you.
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