From Texas to Kosovo: Rape survivor returns under new government | News from Kosovo

In 2017, Vasfije Krasniqi-Goodman wrote an open letter to men who sexually assaulted her and posted it on her Facebook page.

Her rapists, two Serbian policemen, kidnapped and raped her at the age of 16 during the Kosovo war. They were charged with the crime and then acquitted by the Supreme Court of Kosovo in 2014.

She had lived in Texas, USA since the end of the war, but in 2015 she returned to Kosovo as the first wartime rape survivor to share her story publicly, on national television, without hiding his identity.

Since then, she has been on a mission, advocating for survivors in Kosovo and around the world, demanding justice for crimes committed during the war in her country.

To date, not a single perpetrator in Serbia or Kosovo has been sent to prison for rape.

Earlier this year, she decided to run for a seat in Kosovo’s parliament in the February 14 elections.

“I never saw myself as someone who would run for office. I was happy to be an activist. I was happy to tell my story, to share what happened in Kosovo during the war, ”said Krasniqi-Goodman, a former insurance agent.

She and the party she joined, the left-wing opposition Vetevendosje (self-determination movement), won a landslide with 48% of the vote.

Krasniqi was in the top 10 with the most votes, with 61,885 votes.

During the Kosovo war of 1998-1999, various sources estimate that 20,000 women and men were raped and tortured by the Serbian police and the Yugoslav army.

The shame and stigma surrounding the subject of wartime rape prevents survivors from speaking publicly about what happened to them 22 years ago.

Rape as a weapon of war ‘not at all discussed’

Last year, Krasniqi-Goodman gave a speech in Kosovo’s parliament, lambasting MPs.

“You have to change because we have had enough. We do not forgive you for what you have been doing to us for 20 years, ”she told Kosovo lawmakers on March 9, 2020.

After winning a seat in parliament, Krasniqi-Goodman, now 38, left her home in Texas and returned to Kosovo.

She hopes to be able to make the necessary changes during her four-year tenure as it relates to wartime rape survivors.

“I think the first and most important is to fight for justice. We still don’t have a single perpetrator behind bars when it comes to rape crimes. So we have to see how the government and the institutions can push Serbia to return the criminals. “

She also wants to make more changes to the government monthly pension of 230 euros (around $ 270) that became available in 2018 for survivors.

“I want that to change, where survivors have more benefits than just a pension itself. I want to have medical coverage only for survivors, because most of us often need medical care. Some of the survivors cannot even afford to see only the attending physician. “

It has been difficult to make changes and raise awareness to break down the shame and stigma in post-war Kosovo.

Nazlie Bala, 53, a prominent women’s rights activist, also a political activist from Vetevendosje, understands this well.

During the war, she collected thousands of testimonies from rape survivors in refugee camps in Macedonia. After the war ended in 1999 and as Kosovo began to rebuild, she said Kosovar society was not ready to accept the truth about rape in wartime.

“UNMIK [United Nations Mission in Kosovo] The administration and the local politicians tried in one way or another not to hide but to bury him so that this issue was not brought up in the discussions and debates in Kosovo, ”he said. she said, adding that it had taken over 12 years to finally address the issue of rape. “And the issue of rape as a tool of war – which Serbia used during the war in Kosovo – was not addressed or discussed at all.”

In 2013, she began raising the issue of wartime rape and publicly argued and argued on national television that the existing law recognizing and compensating civilian casualties and war veterans should be amended to include victims as well. survivors of sexual violence from war.

Bala received death threats for his support of the survivors and once found a note on the door of his apartment that read: “Do not protect the shame or we will kill you.”

A week later, she was brutally assaulted by two unknown assailants outside her apartment in Pristina.

“I didn’t take this as a personal attack on me, but through me it was a message to all these women and girls to stop asking for the law and their voices. [not to be heard], and to stop discussing the rapes in Kosovo, ”Bala said.

The amendment was finally adopted in 2014.

Since Krasniqi-Goodman released her story, many survivors have contacted her to share their stories – some have not told anyone other than her.

“And that touches me too. Because it’s not only that I have my own pain, but I also carry the pain of others with me too. I just wish I could make their head of household understand that they need to support them, they need to give them some free space so they can share their stories.

She acknowledges that the other survivors believe in her as a strong voice in Parliament for Serbia’s war crimes.

“As long as I’m in parliament, if at least one culprit goes behind bars, just to be able to celebrate joy with the victims, that will be good enough for me, because I don’t want to die without justice. Even though it’s too late for my case, I just want to be able to see a survivor receive justice, ”Krasniqi-Goodman said.

“Our soul will not heal at all without justice. With righteousness we will heal at least some of them, for righteousness is what will help others to know the truth.

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