By Kristen Gelineau, AP
UKHIA, Bangladesh — The use of rape by Myanmar’s armed forces has been sweeping and methodical, The Associated Press found in interviews with more than two dozen Rohingya Muslim women and girls now in Bangladesh.
They were interviewed separately, come from a variety of villages in Myanmar and now live spread across several refugee camps in Bangladesh. Yet their stories were hauntingly similar. The military has denied its soldiers raped any Rohingya women.
Here are the accounts as told by 21 women and girls. They agreed to be identified in this story by their first initial only, out of fear the military will kill them or their families.
WARNING: Graphic details
The Associated Press reported this story with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
SHE IS ONLY 13
She is only 13, but R had already learned to fear the military men. Last year, she says, soldiers stabbed her father to death.
One day in late August, 10 soldiers barged into R’s house. They snatched her two little brothers, tied them to a tree and beat them.
R tried to run out the front door, but the men caught her. They tethered her arms to two trees. They ripped off her earrings and bracelets, and stripped off her clothes.
R screamed at them to stop. They spit at her.
Then the first man began to rape her. The pain was excruciating. All ten men forced themselves on her before she passed out.
R’s older brothers carried her toward the border. Once in Bangladesh, a doctor gave her emergency contraceptives.
R desperately misses her little brothers, and her sleep is plagued by nightmares. She struggles to eat.
Before the rape, she says softly, she was pretty.
F and her husband were asleep at home in June when seven soldiers charged into their bedroom. The men bound her husband with rope and gagged him with a scarf they ripped from F’s head.
They yanked off F’s jewelry and stripped off her clothes. They threw her to the floor, where the first soldier began to rape her.
Her husband wriggled the gag from his mouth and screamed. One soldier shot him, and another slit his throat.
After the assault, the men dumped F’s naked body outside her home and set it on fire. The neighbours rescued her. Two months later, she realized she was pregnant.
In September, her nightmare began again. F was asleep at a neighbour’s house when five soldiers broke down the door.
The soldiers slashed the throat of the 5-year-old boy who lived there and killed his father. They stripped off the women’s clothes. Two men raped F, and three men raped her friend.
After the men left, the women lay on the floor for days before fleeing for Bangladesh.
Despite everything, F is determined to love the child.
HER HUSBAND BLAMED HER
K and her family were settling down to breakfast one morning in late August when they heard the screams of other villagers outside. Her husband and three oldest children bolted out the door.
But K was nearly 9 months pregnant and had two toddlers to watch. She couldn’t run anywhere.
The men barged in, threw her on the bed, yanked off her jewelry and stole the money she had hidden in her blouse. They ripped off her clothes and tied down her hands and legs with rope. When she resisted, they choked her.
And then they began to rape her.
She was too terrified to move. One man held a knife to her eyeball, one a gun to her chest. Another forced himself inside her. Then they switched places. All three men raped her.
She began to bleed and was certain her baby was dying.
She blacked out.
When she awoke, the men had gone. Her husband blamed her for the assault, admonishing her for not running away.
The family fled to Bangladesh. Two weeks later, K gave birth to her son.
I WAS IN IMMENSE PAIN
R was at home in late August with her husband and five of her six children when she heard a commotion outside. She saw houses going up in flames in her village.
Her husband ran out, but she had the children to take care of.
Five soldiers barged into the house. Her children screamed and ran outside.
The men stripped off her clothes, took her necklace and kicked her in her back with their knees. Then one of the men began to rape her, while the other four held her down and hit her with their guns. When it was over, they took money and her husband’s clothes from the wardrobe.
She fled to Bangladesh with her family the next day. She struggled to move with her injuries, and had to use a walking stick.
“I was in immense pain,” she says, pausing to take a long breath at the memory. “It hurt so much to walk through the hills.”
Four days later, she arrived in Bangladesh.
ALLAH SAVED US
A was at home praying with her four children in late August when about 50 soldiers surrounded her village and opened fire on the men.
A began to shake; she had heard of soldiers raping women in other villages.
Three men burst into her house and told her to get out. She refused. They beat her.
Her children screamed. The soldiers slapped them, then threw them out of the house.
Two of the soldiers hit her until she fell. One pressed his boot against her chest, pinning her down. They took off her jewelry and stripped off her clothes.
Then all three raped her, punching and kicking her when she screamed. One pressed a knife to the back of her neck, making her bleed. She still bears a faint scar.
After the attack, she bled so heavily she thought she was dying. A farmer told her that her husband had been shot to death, so her brother, mother and daughter helped her make the painful trek to Bangladesh.
“They wanted to wipe us out from the world,” she says of the military. “They tried very hard, but Allah saved us.”
In the first few days after the attack, she cried all the time. Now she cries silently in her mind.
THE BABY GIRL WAS DEAD
M was at home feeding her son rice in late August when a bullet from the military blasted through the bamboo wall of her house and struck her teenage brother.
Her husband and children ran out of the house. But M was 8 months pregnant, and did not want to leave her brother behind. For two days, she stayed by his side, until he died.
Soon after, four soldiers charged into her house.
They began slapping and punching her. Three soldiers dragged her outside the house, stripped her and beat her. When she screamed, they put a gun in her mouth.
The first man began to rape her, while the other two held her down and punched and kicked her pregnant belly.
After the second rape, she kicked them so ferociously, they finally left.
M felt intense cramping in her belly. She gave birth that night at home. The baby girl was dead. M buried the infant in an unmarked grave by her house.
Her husband returned, and they made the three-day walk through the hills to Bangladesh.
“They humiliated us, they destroyed our land and farm, they took our cows, they took our produce,” she says. “How would I go back? They destroyed our livelihood.”
WHEN WILL I HAVE PEACE?
H was reciting the sunrise prayer at home in late August with her husband and six children when she heard a commotion outside.
A dozen soldiers burst through her door and started beating her husband. They grabbed three of her children by their feet, carried them outside and bashed them against trees, killing them.
Her husband screamed, and H ran out of the house. As she fled, she heard gunshots behind her. She never saw her husband again.
She made it with her three other children to the nearby hills, where other women from her village were hiding. But soldiers descended upon the women and dragged them away to rape them.
They ripped off H’s clothes, took her jewelry and tied her hands behind her back with her headscarf.
One man held her head and hands back, while another held her legs. The third raped her. Then they switched. All three men raped her.
Her crying children refused to leave her side during the assault. The soldiers slapped them, kicked them, tried to shove them away. They refused to budge.
When the soldiers finished, her 8-year-old daughter tried to cover her naked body with her torn clothing.
It took her and her children four days to reach Bangladesh.
“I’ve lost my husband, I’ve lost my children, I’ve lost my country. When will God take me back to my country?” H says. “When will I have peace?”
I BURN INSIDE FOR MY CHILDREN
When seven soldiers stormed into the house in October, 2016, S’s husband fled. The soldiers began beating her parents.
A soldier beat S with his gun, ripped two of her babies from her arms and dropped them on the floor. They tore the clothes off S, her mother and several other young women in the house, and took S’s earrings and money she had hidden in her clothes.
Two soldiers took S to a field. They covered her mouth with their hands to stop her screams. They held her down and raped her.
When it was over, she hid in the hills but eventually returned home.
In August, S was at home with her family when the military began firing rocket launchers at houses, setting them ablaze. Her husband and two eldest children fled, but she stayed behind to pack up her baby girls and a few belongings. One baby was in a swing, the other sleeping on the floor.
A rocket launcher hit the house. The babies went up in flames before her eyes.
There was nothing she could do. So she ran. She hid with the rest of her family in the hills for several days before making the 3-day trek to Bangladesh.
“I burn inside for my children, but what can I do?” she asks. “They burned to death. I guess that was my destiny.”
SHE TOLD NO ONE
The military surrounded N’s village one early morning in late August. Around 18 soldiers stormed her house, and dragged N outside with her sister-in-law and mother-in-law.
The women were taken to the centre of the village, where soldiers robbed them of their jewelry.
Three men then took her to the hills and stripped her naked. Two men held down her hands while a third raped her. Then they switched positions. All three raped her.
During the attack, they showed her their knives and beat her. She was too frightened to fight back.
When it was over, they left her there. She returned home and told no one about the rape.
She was in agony after the assault and bled for eight days.
SHE SAW HER VILLAGE BURNING
There was no warning before five soldiers suddenly stormed into 16-year-old S’s house one morning in early August.
They searched the home for money and valuables. Then they slashed her husband’s neck, killing him. The men briefly left to ransack other neighbouring houses, before returning.
Two soldiers pulled her into a room, snatched her 3-month-old son from her arms and put him on the floor. They searched her clothes for valuables and took her earrings. Another three men came in and began to beat her with guns while the others stripped off her clothes.
One soldier held down her hands, and another put his gun in her mouth. All five men raped her.
When she struggled, they beat her. She could hear her baby crying and was terrified the men would kill him.
When they were finished, they let her get dressed and then dragged her bleeding body outside to the centre of the village. Soldiers were dragging other women they had assaulted out of surrounding houses. The men beat S and the other women again, then left them.
S ran back to her house, grabbed her baby and ran. As she fled, she saw soldiers lining men and boys up and shooting them. When she made it to the hills, she looked down and saw her village burning.
SHE NEVER SAW HER SON AGAIN
The soldiers had been harassing T’s family for days: Showing up and stealing their food, urinating in their rice, hitting T and, once, stripping off her clothes.
And then one morning in mid-August, five men dragged her husband out of the house, where they slashed his neck. They grabbed her 10-year-old son and dragged him outside; she never saw him again. Her 12-year-old daughter managed to flee.
The soldiers took off T’s earrings and nose ring, then stripped off her clothes. When she screamed, they kicked her.
Then they pinned her to the floor. Two men held her while the first man raped her. Then they switched. One man put a gun in her mouth to silence her screams.
Afterward, she bled for two days. Months later, her back still hurts from the attack.
When they finished, they ate the food in her kitchen and stole her chicken and duck. They also dragged away the body of her husband.
She ran into the hills and found her daughter and father. They tried to find safety in neighbouring villages, but the military kept showing up. With nowhere to go, they headed toward Bangladesh.
ALL I HAVE LEFT ARE MY WORDS
N’s husband was walking down a road in late August when several villagers saw soldiers grab him and drag him into the hills. Later that day, children in the hills came upon his head, along with several other corpses. Soldiers were milling around near the bodies.
N stayed in her house with her 8-year-old daughter for the next few days, unable to stop crying. Then suddenly, around 80 soldiers descended on the village. Five soldiers came to her door and shouted: “Who’s inside?”
N was terrified. The men barged in.
One man held her as she screamed and fought. They covered her eyes with tape, and hit her head with a gun. Two held her in place while three others began rifling through her clothing. There was nothing for them to steal; she’d already hidden her valuables.
They ripped her clothes off and beat her in the head with a gun until she blacked out. When she awoke, her vagina was swollen, bleeding and covered in sores. She had clearly been raped; by how many men, she does not know.
She was in too much pain that day to leave the house. She and her daughter fled the next day for Bangladesh. She bled for eight days, and three months later still has trouble urinating.
“I have nothing left,” she says, blinking back tears. “All I have left are my words.”
SHE BLED FOR SIX DAYS
N, 17, was at home with her parents and siblings in late August when she heard the crackle of gunfire. Suddenly, 10 men burst into the house. They began slashing open sacks of rice looking for valuables.
Then the soldiers tied her hands with rope behind her back and put tape over her mouth.
Five of the men held her frantic family back, hitting them with their guns. They ripped off her clothes, snatched her earrings and took the money she had hidden in her new blouse.
When she tried to protest, they hit her with their guns.
They threw her to the floor. Five men then took turns raping her, while the others helped hold her down.
Her parents were forced to watch. When they screamed, the soldiers beat them. Eventually, they stood in silence as their daughter was assaulted.
After the men left, N’s parents untied her and washed her. She bled for six days.
The family left for Bangladesh the next day. N was in too much pain to walk, so her father carried her over the border.
IT WAS JUST ALL PAIN
Around 100 soldiers surrounded A’s village one afternoon in late August. A’s husband fled, leaving her alone in the house with their 2-year-old son.
Two soldiers came into her house. One soldier threw her baby on the floor, then grabbed A by the neck. Both men slapped her and pointed their guns at her.
They tore off her clothes. She wept and begged them to stop. One of the men took off her earrings. Then they shoved her to the ground, laughing at her.
One soldier pressed his knife to her right hip and cut into her flesh. Both of them punched her in the face.
The men then took turns raping her. She could hear her son crying. She prayed to Allah, terrified the men would kill her and her boy.
“It was just all pain,” she says now.
As the soldiers walked out, they fired their guns toward the sky.
After the rape, she couldn’t eat for days and struggled to walk. She hid in the nearby hills with her son until she found her husband. Together, the family walked for 14 days until they finally crossed the border into Bangladesh.
TEARING HER FLESH WITH THEIR TEETH
M was at home with her husband, her sister-in-law and her sister-in-law’s brother in late August when security forces stormed their village. The husbands fled, leaving M alone in the house with her sister-in-law, who was in the shower.
Three men kicked the door open. They tied M’s arms behind her back.
They dragged her sister-in-law out of the shower. They bit her face and body, tearing her flesh with their teeth. All three men raped her, then stabbed her torso and her breasts with their knives, killing her.
One of the men came over to M, stripped her clothes off and took her earrings.
He unzipped his pants, pushed her down onto her back and then raped her. He choked her and punched her in the face and chest, and bit her eyebrow.
She was terrified she would be killed like her sister-in-law. She screamed so loudly that her neighbours came running. The men then fled.
She has no plans to return to Myanmar.
“How can I go where there is all this pain and suffering?” she says.
SHE DOES NOT KNOW HOW THEY DIED
D was at home one evening in late August when she heard noise outside. Her two older sons and husband rushed out of the house, leaving her alone with her 3-year-old boy.
Three men entered her home. She screamed and her son began to cry.
They took her nose ring and earrings, then ripped off her clothes.
One man restrained her arms and held a knife to her hip while the other two men raped her. She feared the men would kill her, so she stifled her screams.
After two hours, the men finally left. When her husband returned, he found her naked. But she was too ashamed to tell him what had happened to her.
She was so swollen and bled so much that she found it difficult to walk for nearly three weeks after the rape.
They fled to another village. While there, people from her village told her that her home had been burned, and that they had seen the dead bodies of her eldest sons. She does not know how they died.
D and her family arrived in Bangladesh in October.
IT WAS NEVER-ENDING
It was late August and K was around four months pregnant when soldiers swarmed her village.
Four men smashed the door open, tied up her husband and began beating and kicking the couple’s children. They kicked K’s 3-year-old daughter in the head so hard that she died of her injuries three days later.
They dragged K’s husband out of the house and took him to a police station.
They snatched the money she had hidden in her blouse and took her earrings. Then they ripped off her clothes.
They hit her face and kicked her back. They tied her up and began to rape her, one after the other. The men kicked her so viciously, she feared the baby inside her would die.
“It was never-ending,” she says now.
Just before the men left, they shoved a gun inside her vagina. The pain was excruciating.
The next day, a village leader helped raise the money the soldiers demanded to release K’s husband from the police station.
In November, K gave birth to a baby boy. He was two months’ premature, and his skinny arms are barely wider than an adult’s thumb. K is too malnourished to produce much milk for him, so he is subsisting on sugar water.
SHE FEARED HER BABY WAS DYING
S was pregnant and at home with her family in late August when 20 soldiers surrounded her village. All the men in the area fled, including her husband.
Four soldiers burst into the house, grabbed her two crying toddlers and beat them. She tried to run, but they caught her and dragged her deeper inside the home to a bathing area.
One man threatened her with a gun, another with a knife. They ripped her clothes off, and took her gold earrings and gold chain. They threw her to the floor.
One man held her left arm, one held her right arm and one held down her legs, while the fourth man raped her. Then they switched. All four men raped her. When she screamed, they threatened to shoot and stab her.
They kicked and punched her so hard, she feared the baby inside her was dying. Finally, they left.
After the attack, she felt sharp pains in her belly and bled for a month. For two weeks, she thought the baby had died. Finally, she felt something moving inside her.
Her husband never returned home. She does not know whether he is dead or alive.
IF WE CAN LIVE PEACEFULLY
It was mid-afternoon one day in late August when about 10 men in camouflage uniforms entered M’s house. Her three children began to scream and cry. Five men took her husband away, and four forced her out of the house and into the nearby hills.
One of the men held a gun to her. They tore her clothes off and took her earrings. They bit her face and her body and hit her.
They tied her mouth with her own headscarf. And then three of the men held her down while the other man raped her. The attack lasted for hours; all four of the men raped her.
The men eventually released her and she stumbled back to her house. Her husband was not there.
After resting for five days, she took her children and began the three-day journey to Bangladesh. She had to use a walking stick to move her battered body.
Despite the horror she endured, she would consider returning to her homeland — if she is assured of her family’s safety.
“If we can live peacefully side by side like we do here in Bangladesh, then I will go back,” she says.
WE’VE HAD ENOUGH TORTURE
F was at home in late August when she heard screaming outside. Her husband went to investigate and saw that about 300 soldiers and Buddhist villagers had surrounded the area. The men began burning houses and arresting people. Soldiers separated the men from the women.
About eight soldiers and villagers grabbed F’s husband and tied his hands behind his back. They tore off her and her mother’s jewelry. Then they took the women outside and set fire to F’s house.
Around 100 men took F, her mother and about 20 other women to another village. The soldiers beat them with guns, kicking and slapping them.
Once they reached the next village, the women were forced to lie down on the ground next to each other. The men tied their wrists together with rope and began to rape them.
Ten men raped F, beat her with their guns, kicked her and slapped her. She could hear her mother crying and calling “Allah” as she, too, was raped.
It was dark when the men finally left. F managed to wriggle her wrists free of the rope and ran into a field. In the morning, she returned to search for her mother, but she had vanished. She saw at least five women lying dead on the ground, their throats cut.
She has no idea what has become of her husband. And she cannot imagine returning to her homeland.
“We’ve had enough torture,” she says.
SHE DOES NOT KNOW IF HER HUSBAND IS ALIVE
S was lying in bed with her husband and son after dinner in late August when around 10 soldiers burst into the house. A few took her husband outside. Five stayed behind, and one pointed his gun at her.
She tried to run, but they grabbed her and kicked her back, stomach and chest. They stripped off her clothes and took her necklace and earrings. Three men raped her.
Her young son began to cry. A soldier pointed his gun at the child and he screamed louder.
S was in agony. After the men were finished, they took her outside, naked. Her son followed them. About two dozen other women, also naked, had been dragged outside as well.
The soldiers forced the women to march toward a rice paddy, beating and kicking them as they walked. S felt blood running down her legs. Once they arrived, the men ordered them to lie down. S fought back and soldiers kicked her. She fell to the ground.
Three more soldiers began to rape her.
When at last the assault was over, S fled back toward her house with her son, only to find her home had been burned along with many others. She does not know if her husband is alive.
(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)