Jasna (Bosnia)

“So many victims feel they are to blame but being a victim does not mean you are guilty.”

Jasna met her husband, a fellow Bosnian, while she was growing up in Germany. When they returned home to Bosnia in 1991 she was 18, already a mother and pregnant with their second child. The conflict that was engulfing parts of former Yugoslavia still seemed far away. 

The war came to our town during the night of March 31st 1992. Whenever we looked outside we saw trucks and Serb soldiers. Each night they plundered peoples homes, raped and killed. The darkness swallowed up all their evil deeds.

One morning, my husband opened the door to find a young man standing there. He was someone I knew who had once made a lewd comment when I was in the street with my children. “Where’s Jasna?” he asked. He then came straight into the house and raped me in front of my family.  Afterwards he said:  “I promised you months ago I would have my five minutes worth.”

This was just the start. Other men followed him into our house, looking for money and arms.   They hit my husband, knocked him down and then stamped on his face until he bled. Both my sister-in-law and myself were raped and I lost consciousness. When I came round, my mother-in-law was cowering in the corner with my children.  Then she told me the soldiers had taken away my husband.

I was later taken to a camp full of women, together with my children.  Soldiers came every day and would say “come with me”, then they’d take us away to be raped or some to be sent to the front lines. I don’t know how I found the strength to endure what happened to me. I remained in that camp for one year and ten days.

Some women died because of their treatment and others were sold to men who visited the camp. When a Serb friend of my parents saw me there, I was almost unrecognizable.  He asked to buy me. One of the soldiers said, “why would you want her, she has two kids”.  He said, “OK, I will buy the children, too.”

This old family friend put us in his car and drove us out of the town, passing Serb villages along the way.  I didn’t know where he was taking us and was full of distrust. Then he turned to me and said, “Please don’t be afraid. I am taking you to the boundary between the Serb and Bosnian Army lines. I have paid for your freedom. I owe it out of friendship for your parents.”

When we got to the boundary he pointed to the other side: “Everything is ok now,” he said. “If  you have anything white, wave it while you are crossing so as not to be killed by your own soldiers.”

The ground was all churned up and I was exhausted but I held a piece of white cloth between my teeth, took one child in one hand and the other one in the other, and fought my way through the mud to the other side. When I turned back to look at my parents’ kind friend he shouted: “Don’t turn round my child, don’t turn round.”

That was the last time I ever saw him. He died soon after the war.

Days later, I ended up in a collective centre in Tuzla with my children, sleeping on mattresses on the floor together with hundreds of other displaced families. I had not seen nor heard from my husband since the night he was taken from our house at the start of the war. In fact, after being imprisoned in Serbia and then forced to dig trenches on the front line, he had managed to escape, but lost a finger in a mine explosion whilst doing so.

In the end he found me in Tuzla. When he came through the door of the collective centre we were silent for a long time.  Because the children did not know their father, being so young when he was taken away, it took time for them to understand and accept him.

But I was not well. I was so consumed by guilt, blaming myself for what had happened, that I had a break down and tried to kill myself.  I went to Germany for treatment where the doctor and his wife who looked after me treated me like their child.  I opened myself to them, although even with them I could not share everything that happened to me.  That will remain for the rest of my life with myself and God, and the men who violated me.

Even my husband does not know everything. When we were finally able to talk to each other, after I returned from abroad, he said, “I will never judge you.”  He kept his word.

In 2000 after a serious relapse triggered by the guilt I was still carrying finally I decided that I had to get well. It was a social worker who helped me on my path of healing. I was determined now not to let what had happened to me destroy me.

If there is one lesson I have learned it is to separate the victim and the crime. So many victims feel they are to blame but being a victim does not mean you are guilty.  To heal you must get rid of such feelings first of all.   You must also learn to forgive rather than focus on hate.  Hatred is such a fertile soil for negative emotions.

I was brought up in a religious family. Every day when I say my prayers, I pray to God to forgive those men for what they did to me because it is not for us to judge others.