Nancy was still a child when she was raped for the first time. 22 when it happened the second time. And 32 by the third time.
The first time it happened during a school trip. As a young woman, she was raped by paramilitaries, and ten years later by unknown men for her political activism.
In Colombia, Nancy’s home country, sexual violence has been endemic. During a civil war between paramilitary groups, state armed forces and rebels, rape was used by all parties to the conflict to terrorise the population and get control over land. During three decades of fighting, an estimated 14,000 women and girls were raped.
For many years, Nancy tried to hide the wounds that the rapes had left on her body and her soul.
Left untreated, the consequences made everyday life a struggle. “I would not allow a man to touch me, not even a friend could give me a hug,” she says.
As Nancy grew older, she began to understand that sexual violence should not be part of life, and started to speak out. At first for others: “By speaking for other women and for children, I began to give myself strength.” She joined a local network of women where they organised therapy sessions through theatre and dance.
“When everything is dark and there is no way out, there are few people who will use their inner light to build a more promising path. My mother, is one of those people.”
Together they became stronger. The women started to denounce the widespread acceptance of violence against women and got involved in electoral campaigns and politics. “At first, the men did not let us speak,” Nancy recalls. She started to teach herself how the law-making and political processes work and began to document cases of other sexual violence victims.
Today Nancy is a member of a national committee that monitors the government’s policies against sexual violence. She is also part of the Global Survivor Network, which connects survivors from different countries and receives support from the Mukwege Foundation.
The collaboration with other survivors has transformed her into a respected advocate against sexual violence.