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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
Speaking out on rape in Mauritius
Nita Bhalla
BBC, Mauritius

Sandra O'Reilly at demonstration
Sandra O'Reilly has led demonstrations demanding justice
Sandra O'Reilly was the victim of two separate gang rapes in one night in July 2002.

Now, her courage to speak out about the brutal attacks is helping to give a voice to others in Mauritius, a country where conservative cultural barriers often force rape victims to remain silent about their ordeals.

Raped first by two men who broke into her house while she was sleeping, she sought help from two passers-by, who instead of taking her to the police, took her into the sugar fields and raped her repeatedly.

But unlike many rape victims on the Indian Ocean island, Sandra refused to keep quiet, even when those closest to her refused to believe her shocking story.

"It was around midnight when the two men broke into my house. They bound my hands and both raped me at knife-point," says Sandra, 35.

Abducted

The men then dragged her into a car and kidnapped her, saying they were going to kill her.

But shortly after, the vehicle broke down on a main road and they abandoned her.

Sandra O'Reilly
It wasn't easy to bring the rapists to justice, but I knew that it was important not only for me, but for all women
Sandra O'Reilly
"I managed to untie myself and stopped a passing car. The two men in the car said they would help me and take me to a police station," says Sandra.

But the so-called good Samaritans drove to nearby sugar plantations and also sexually abused her.

"I felt like an animal as they both took turns to rape me again and again.

"Even though they were tired, they kept trying to do it," she says. "My body and soul died that night."

"It wasn't easy to bring the rapists to justice, but I knew that it was important not only for me, but for all women," says Sandra, a softly spoken businesswoman and mother of three.

"Initially, the police didn't believe me, the media wrote awful things about me, and even some people whom I am close to questioned my story, but I knew that I had to keep fighting for justice," she adds.

Taboo

Leading marches and protests in her fight for justice against her rapists, Sandra has used her own story to speak out in an effort to raise the awareness of Mauritians about the sexual aggression against women.

While the four men who raped her were eventually arrested and jailed last year, Sandra says her fight to break the taboo of talking about rape will go on.

Mauritius, located off the south-east coast of Africa, is famous for its palm-fringed white beaches and turquoise waters.

Often victims who are raped by family members are forced to keep silent
Sandra O'Reilly
More than 700,000 tourists flock to the tiny island every year, but even on this paradise island, rape is a reality.

According to police statistics, there were 27 reported rapes in 2000, compared with 36 in 2004.

But women's groups say rape cases are grossly under-reported, and official figures represent only a fraction of the truth.

"We live in a very conservative culture here in Mauritius where often victims who are raped by family members are forced to keep silent, either because no-one will believe them or because they will be outcasts," says Sandra.

"Many feel ashamed and humiliated, and some even are made to believe it is their fault," she adds.

"This needs to change and that can only happen through education - educating men that they cannot rape their wives, and educating women that they should not accept rape as a part of life."

With local elections due on 2 October, Sandra has now decided to stand as a candidate for the municipality of Curepipe.

"I am not a politician," she says. "But I believe that if I am elected I can do more for women. They should know their rights and understand that they are equal to men."




SEE ALSO:
Fighting back against rape
13 Oct 99 |  Africa
Country profile: Mauritius
04 Jul 05 |  Country profiles


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