by Annick Cojean

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Review

French journalist Annick Cojean writes an important but difficult-to-read account of the extensive system of sexual violence that existed in Libya under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. She uncovered this very secretive world of abuse while investigating women's role in Libya's revolution, a topic that has not received much attention. 

The first half of the book is a firsthand account of one of Gaddafi's "girls," Soraya (a pseudonym), who was kidnapped at the age of 15 to become one of his sex slaves. The description of the way she was taken and the policies in place to stop her from escaping, are sometimes so twisted and horrifying that it is hard to imagine they are true. But Cojean was able to verify details and similar stories from many other people, including women who experienced eerily similar traumas. Gaddafi presented himself as a women's advocate to the world, traveling with an entourage of female "bodyguards," who in reality were women he had chosen to serve him sexually. 

The saddest part of the story is that even after Gaddafi allowed her to leave (after many years of "service), it seems that her life has been wrecked for good. She can't be open about her experience because of the societal norms in Libya that create a culture of shame for sexually abused women and their families. The rest of the book attempts to put Soraya's story into context, including interviews with other women who were enslaved or raped by Gaddafi and ex-members of Gaddafi's regime. 

 

This is a disturbing but important story. I think we owe it the women (and some men) who were victimized by Gaddafi's regime of sexual violence to hear and learn from their stories. 

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