Megan Nobert’s traumatic experience has drawn attention to sexual violence in the aid community.
The passage of time is strange. Without recognition of the days and weeks slipping past, suddenly one finds oneself on the other side of a dark valley breathing a bit easier than before.
Friday, 7 February 2015, seemed to be an ordinary day in Bentiu, South Sudan, filled with the work and challenges of humanitarian life – until suddenly it wasn’t. Suddenly it was a day that will forever define me.
Before, 6 February: I am just a regular humanitarian worker in South Sudan. I am tired and planning my next vacation.
After, 8 February: I am a rape victim, not yet on my way to be a rape survivor. I am sick and scared, sending messages to my closest friend alluding to something that I cannot yet say out loud: “I think that I was raped.”
I no longer view the world in the same way. There are relationships that are irreparably damaged by people’s first reactions to what happened to me. I do not trust as easily. I am less comfortable in party situations. I do not know when I will stop holding back.
As I write this I am wrapping up another mission in South Sudan. Coming back was a painful but empowering decision. Despite the lack of support from my soon-to-be-former organization, in particular their disappointing mental health policies and procedures, I am glad that I came back to this country one last time.
South Sudan does not feel the same for me anymore. I am tense all of the time, inwardly and outwardly, and aware that people I have never met know who I am. Sensitive conversations with new colleagues smoothed my way through the first few weeks, but I know that I am a different person on this mission. I am more guarded and distant – relieved to drift away from the partying atmosphere of Juba to my field site, even if it is rather isolated and lonely.
There is also a feeling of anger and hostility among humanitarians demanding additional security because of the increasing reports of sexual violence. On the one hand, there is something encouraging about the strength of the emotion towards this issue, but this is offset by feelings of helplessness and desolation, as I hear of how organizations in South Sudan are responding badly to their employees being attacked. I wonder sometimes if this change in the atmosphere is felt so strongly by others, or if I am projecting my own feelings on this country that holds so much baggage.
Many bad things have come out of the last year. However, the good is beginning to outweigh the bad.
I may have lost many friends who could not handle my pain, but I have also strengthened relationships with others in my life.
I am beginning to find peace out of all this chaos and unhappiness that will alter how I approach problems in the future.
I have found a community of like-minded individuals who have gone through similar experiences, and through Report the Abuse survey I set up, the evidence is growing that we are very much not alone. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a problem of sexual violence within the humanitarian aid community that we must start addressing properly.
Some days are still a roller coaster of fear and doubt; sometimes I still want to curl up in a ball under my sheets and wish the world away.
Other days I feel stronger than I have ever felt before. Those days are becoming the norm. Finding my voice and standing up to say that what is happening is not OK has changed my life. Opening up space for others to begin their healing process, on a scale so much larger than I imagined, is one of the most profound experiences of my life.
When I sat down to write this piece, I thought it would be cathartic – an expression of my recovery process, if you like. Instead, a path has opened for survivors like me to come forward. Please keep reaching out to Report the Abuse. Please keep sharing what has happened to you. Please keep finding your own voices.
Life can change in a moment. I live with a distinct before-and-after Megan. There will be hard times ahead, but the accomplishments will ultimately outweigh them.
By the time you read this, I will be back with my family in Canada, getting the last of my HIV/Aids test results. I will be breathing a bit easier. I will be continuing the process of healing.
–The Guardian UK