from Living Cells

by Julienne Busic

Her rapist came nearly every day. It made no
sense to resist. There were too many stories
about the women who did and ended up
stabbed, mutilated, gang-raped, and then shot
in the head. She often made lists in her head
during the early days of her captivity, the pros
and cons of resistance, the forms of resistance,
how far she was willing to go, how much
suffering she could endure, whether she was
willing to pay the final price, death, and, if so,
was she willing if it was slow and painful or only
if it was quick? She had few means at her
disposal, however, and since the other women
were not inclined to resist, she couldn’t count on
their participation or support. In fact, who
knows, they might even side with Dusan-Dule,
who brought them food and toiletries and
chatted with them as though they were his
equals. Of course, she could simply refuse to go
with him, kick and spit, scratch his eyes, use
some kind of tool to poke at them, blind him in
an instant, before he even understood what she
was doing. It was an effective self defense
technique for women, the eye poke, with the
end of a comb, say, or a finger, just stick it in as
though it were a knife, tear through that
membrane into the retina, if that is even
possible, or simply pop the eye out, she’d heard
it was fairly simple, leave it hanging there like a
ripe fig. And then go for the other while he was
in a state of shock and surprise, just pop it out
and leave him there helpless, crying, probably,
like a great, sniveling baby. There was also the
groin kick, a swift, unexpected kick right to the
crotch. He would double over in intense pain,
totally incapacitated for several minutes. She
could wait and, as he lay there groaning, deliver
several more kicks, keep him in a continual
state of powerlessness. And tie up his hands,
too, and his feet, rip up her blouse or pants or
whatever she could find, tie him up like a
squealing pig as his penis and testicles swelled
and threatened to burst, to bleed out. No more
rapes, buddy, no more rapes. No consensual
sex, either! It would be a justice perfectly fitting
the crime, a rare achievement in today’s world.
She could easily do the groin kicks, although
she doubted she was capable of blinding
someone with her finger, it gave her the shivers
just to imagine the glutinous sensation, the
voluptuous roundness of the eyeball as her
finger circled around in the cavity trying to get a
grip, pop it out. Say she was able to resist, in
any number of ways, have him temporarily
under her control, what then? Other Chetniks
would come, or from the JNA, see what she had
done and take revenge, teach her a lesson, do
to her what had been done to others, she’d
heard scores of stories already, stick a bottle up
her rectum, break it off inside her, cut off a
breast, pretend to shoot her with an empty gun,
over and over until she’d wet her pants in fear
and then really shoot her, but limb by limb, from
toe to head until the final bullet in the mouth, or
force her to satisfy dozens of them orally, drunk
and dirty, sadists, perverted, day after day, and
then kill her. She was grateful, although she
hated to admit it since it made her feel
ashamed or guilty, but it was true, she was
grateful that her rapist was not sexually violent
or perverted, that he did his business and then
left her alone. All she really had to do was lie
there with her legs spread, hold her breath,
control her loathing, and think of a cool, trickling
stream somewhere in the mountains, a setting
sun over the Velebit mountains, anything but
that. So why not?

The worst part, really, was at the end.
the sound he made when he achieved orgasm, that
scream he made, like a horse

After the first rape, she’d returned crying and
screaming, but her fellow prisoners had ordered
her to be quiet or they would all be taken out, or
beaten or killed, so the next time it happened
she simply kept silent. After all, she had been
forced to choose, in front of the other women,
so there was no need to share with them what
was happening. They already knew, all too well.
The walls have ears. She loved that phrase, at
least in a less deadly context; it was brilliant,
the concept of a flat expanse of stone or mortar
having sensual organs sprouting from it, fleshy,
pale eruptions of various shapes and sizes
which could hear a whisper in Morocco, a sigh in
Tibet. A rape in Vukovar.


“Living Cells” is a novel based on the true story, including actual tapes, of a young Croatian woman  who was held hostage as a sex slave, or “comfort woman”, for over two months by Serbian paramilitary forcesa during the occupation of the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar in 1991.

Interview with Eve Ensler, activist and author of
“The Vagina Monologues”on the Vukovar women, from the Croatian daily newspaper, Vecernji List, March 8.2012

Eve Ensler, renowned American playwright and screenwriter, and author of the best-selling “The Vagina Monologues”, spoke recently in Vukovar, Croatia, about sexual violence in wartime.  Ensler is widely known in the world as an activist engaged in areas that have, in the recent as well as distant past, recorded cases of rape; thus far in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatian, the Philippines, Congo, Sierra Leone…  She is the initiator of V-day, when activists for human rights stage readings of “The Vagina Monologues” in order to protest violence.

Where do you get the energy for your activism and work with female victims of rape and violence?

I was abused myself as a child.  Back then I had a choice, to either oppose it and fight for myself and others, or to die.  I chose to fight.  Now that I have also survived cancer, I’ll fight even more.  I’ve gotten a second chance at life and I don’t plan on wasting it.  Every woman who has been raped has gotten a second chance at life.  So we have to support them so that they become strong.

As an activist, you’ve been in the Congo, the Philippines, and other places where crimes against women have been committed.  Were you successful there in accomplishing your goals?

Those are countries where horrific crimes were committed against women, abuse, rape.  In the Philippines, there are women who were raped in the Second World War by Japanese soldiers and are fighting today for their rights and compensation.  Some are over 80 years old, but they’re not giving up.  And terrible things also happened in the Congo, women had nightmares about everything they experienced, they were aggressive, they didn’t love their children.  So we organized a City of Joy and I am happy to say the results were fantastic.

Can the rape victims suppress and forget their traumas?

Of course they can.  The best proof of that is the women in the Congo, and me myself.  I too was raped, but I don’t live with it anymore.  In the past six months, the women in the Congo have been talking, attending workshops, undergoing psychotherapy, various trainings, learning about their rights…the results have been great.  After six months, they are different women.  They don’t have nightmares anymore, they aren’t aggressive, and are able to love their children.   We need to work with these women, show them they have support and love.

You’ve heard the statements of the women from Vukovar and Croatia who were raped during the war.  How do you see the women of Vukovar?

I believe that the women of Vukovar have been completely forgotten. They have waited twenty years for understanding, justice, love, but they haven’t received anything.  I hope this will start to change and that people will support these women.  In this way, the entire community will be changed.  I think there is a lot of anger, pain, and sadness here that needs to come out so that healing can take place.  The women have a right to healing and justice.  This is important for Vukovar, so that it can move forward.

Is there a difference between the women of Vukovar and the Congo?

What happened here, in the Congo, and in other places has a common denominator:  patriarchy.  It’s all the same or very similar.  But there are wonderful women and men who want to change things.  We have to work harder, be more open, more revolutionary, and change these conditions.

What repercussions in society can occur if it does not begin to address the issue of the raped women, if everything remains status quo?

I just saw this in Manila, where the women have been waiting since the Second World War for justice.  If there is no justice, the cruelty and fear continue.  When we look at these women and see that nobody has been held responsible, then we know it could happen again and that nobody is really safe.  If there is no justice, the women are not respected.  If there is no justice, they fear they could be raped again because they believe they’ll be treated the same way.  These women live continually with this fear.  That is why there is no peace without justice.

(Interviewed by Branimir Bradaric for Vecernji List daily newspaper, Croatia)

Photo by Eleanor Bennett


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