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9 November 2015
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A Child Taken From Her Mother: Wartime Rape Survivor Suzana Tells Her Story

Džana Brkanić BIRN BiH Sarajevo

The life of a calm and cheerful girl was destroyed during two nights in 1992. Suzana J. was 14 years old when she was raped eight times by a group of soldiers. Today she says she has no reason to smile, because images of what she survived continue to haunt her.

Suzana J. lived in the municipality of Odzak with her parents and two sisters until May 8, 1992, when the Croatian Defense Council occupied the city. Her father was taken away and imprisoned in an elementary school. Suzana, her mother, and her sisters were under house arrest in Novi Grad in the municipality of Odzak.

She was pulled away from her mother’s arms on July 3, 1992, the night she was assaulted and raped. Suzana said Croatian Defense Council soldiers broke down their door at around 11pm that night.

“They pulled my hair. The beat me and abused me there. My mother and all the others fought them. My younger sisters, who were 12 and 9 years old, and my immobile grandmother was there. They were also beaten. They cut up my mother’s lip and she still has a scar there,” Suzana says.

She said eight soldiers were scrabbling for her.

“They stood in a circle. One hit me with a rifle, and the other pushed me... I fought them for around half an hour. They beat me and restrained me. I was all bloody and torn from the beating and they dragged me away. My mother begged them not to touch me and said she was a Croat too, but it didn’t help at all,” Suzana says.

She said the soldiers then threw her onto a van. She said her neighbor, V.L., who was also a minor at the time, was thrown into a second car.

“They laid me down on the back seat, below, where the legs are supposed to go, they laid me down there and two men sat down on the seat and rested their feet on me. They drove us through a rural road in Novi Grad,” she says.

Suzana said the van stopped not far from the main road to Posavska Mahala in Odzak. She said seven soldiers dragged her into a house.

“One of them came with me into the room. He pushed me, threw me, started to slap and beat me. I begged him not to touch me. He tore up my clothes and managed to rape me. And then he even threatened me not to tell anyone about it, not even the police, or anybody, because we would meet again and he would kill me and my father, because he knew he was in jail,” Suzana says.

Suzana said a second soldier entered the room, when she heard a woman’s voice warning the soldiers that the military police was coming.

Mirko Pacak, the commander of the military police, came to the house. Suzana said Pacak found her neighbour, V.L,. and a soldier named M.B. He drove them all to a police station in Novi Grad to identify the man who raped her.

“They shut off the lights, and he lit up the faces of eight soldiers with a flashlight. I recognized the one that, you know, raped me,” Suzana said. She said she was too afraid to identify her rapist at the time.

When she returned to the house her mother and sisters were detained in, Suzana found out it had been burned down. Her mother, sisters and other detainees were in another, smaller house, located nearby.

“During the night we fled through some woods and stayed at my aunt’s house. My mother and these older women were there, and us younger ones hid in the woods. We would only come out to eat something,” Suzana says. During this time Suzana says they didn’t eat for two days, and drank water from a pond in the woods.

On July 12, 1992, Suzana said they were leaving the woods to find food, when soldiers opened fire at them.

As they were turning back, Suzana saw a truck full of soldiers. She said her rapist was among them.

“He pulled me out and said, ‘I told you we’ll meet again.’ They took me and my daughter-in-law to Novo Selo and raped us,” Suzana says. She said she was raped by seven soldiers that night.

Before her rapes, Suzana says she was a happy child, always smiling and cheerful. After she was raped a second time, she was detained for a month in a house. She said if she had found a bomb or a gun at the time, she would have committed suicide.

“I never could stand it, nor can I today,” Suzana said. She said the rapes she endured caused her poor health, anxiety and depression.

“I have no reason to smile, nothing to smile about...When I watch something, I start crying just like that...After 23 years, you keep coming back to it...When I start feeling like I’m having a crisis and experiencing anxiety, as I’m getting older, I feel worse and worse. You don’t know who to turn to, who to talk to, who can help you,” Suzana says. She tells BIRN-Justice Report that she’s struggling to survive, in order to be a good mother, wife and daughter.

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