You have just read the story of Concy, who was abducted and sexually exploited by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Tragically, Concy’s story is one of many.
Stolen Angels: The Kidnapped Girls of Uganda, by award-winning journalist Kathy Cook, tells the story of 30 Ugandan schoolgirls who were abducted in 1996 by LRA leader, Joseph Kony, and exploited as child soldiers and sex slaves. Through one-on-one interviews with the surviving girls and their mothers, Kathy Cook tells their moving story and how individuals, groups and NGOs “banded together in a struggle to rescue the girls and to mobilize a people, their country and a global community.” We encourage you to read their story, as part of an existing or new book group, and discuss per the Reading Guide below (and here as a pdf) to gain a deeper understanding of trafficking, sexual exploitation and sexual violence in conflict situations and the difficulties survivors face reintegrating into their communities.
Reading Guide – Kathy Cook, Stolen Angels: The Kidnapped Girls of Uganda
All page numbers refer to the 2007, Penguin paperback version.
Since publication of the book, Catherine Ojek escaped from the LRA and Joseph Kony and returned to her parents with her child in 2009. Mariam Akello remains missing.
1. The “worth” of women: For many women in Northern Uganda, their societal “worth” is determined by their potential for marriage. Before their abduction, the Aboke Girls were valued in their community for their education and attractiveness as wives, as well as their virginity which increased their marital chances. The girls mention several times how they were targeted for kidnapping because of this. [“Joseph Kony had ordered this act [raiding the school] after he’d learned that the girls in this strict, isolated Catholic school were all very religious and virgins.” (p. 17)]; “Kony wanted the girls to be the child-bearers for his top commanders and he wanted them to arrive pure.” (p. 34)]
- Discuss the theme of controlling and co-opting women’s sexuality, e.g. value placed on virginity, debates over reproductive rights, female genital mutilation (FGM), etc. After having read this book, do you see any similarities of how the sexuality of girls and women is valued in your society? How can we change this focus on women’s sexuality as a measure of their worth?
2. The use of coercion: In the internationally agreed upon definition of trafficking, the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol), coercion is recognized as a key element of the crime:
Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. [Article 3(a)]
Violence and fear are regularly used to maintain control over victims of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation, and intimidation of their families is often used to maintain control over abductees. [“If one of you escapes, the other recruits of your unit will be punished. That punishment could be death.” (p.30); “He forced Janet to kill, with a stick, a sickly ten-year-old boy who had just tried to escape… After the boy lay dead in front of her, her new husband warned that if she attempted to escape she would meet the same fate.” (p. 50)]
- People often question why trafficking victims, like the Aboke Girls, do not try and leave their captors. Discuss the internal struggle these girls and others abducted by the LRA experienced as they decided whether to follow orders or try to escape.
3. The psychological effects: The US Department of Justice defines Stockholm Syndrome as a defense mechanism where victims become emotionally and sympathetically attached to their captors.1 For example, Kony's “wives” felt an emotional connection to him and competed for his attention. [“His wives, although all abducted, tried to please him… and many competed with each other for his affections.” (p.37)]
- Do you feel that the Stockholm Syndrome played a part in this story? Are the LRA’s actions similar to the way traffickers maintained control over victims in other Equality Now Survivor Stories?
4. Reintegration and stigmatization: Reintegration is often an extremely difficult process for survivors. In Stolen Angels, it was hard for the girls to return to their previous lives due to severe trauma resulting from their abuse and the crimes they were forced to commit. [“Grace would think how she’d discipline them if they were in the bush. If she had a gun. But then she’d be horrified at herself. Why was she so cruel? What demon was inside of her?” (p. 101); “Some call us rebel wives. It’s hard…” (p. 67)]
- How can communities help to improve the reintegration process for survivors such as these girls?
- Discuss the holistic approach to survivor reintegration (see Loreta’s Survivor Story as an example).
5. The struggle of returning with children: Many “bush wives” returned home having given birth to at least one child in while in captivity. [“Kony ordered them all released, and nearly two thousand mothers and children suddenly found themselves free again.” (p. 183)] While the Aboke Girls had parents or grandparents who were able to help them, many of these girls do not have the same resources and are often ostracized by their communities.
- Discuss the problems the girls faced when they brought children back to their communities and the potential impact on those children.
1. US DOJ, First Response to Victims of Crimes, p. 62 (2010), available at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/publications/infores/pdftxt/2010FirstResponseGuidebook.pdf