Add another item to Somalia's long list of woes: A country wracked by violence and famine is also seeing a frightening rise in rape, reports the New York Times, which recounts the findings of aid workers and the tales of victims. The sexual abuse is occurring at the hands of militant group al-Shabab, among others. Reports say these self-proclaimed defenders of a harsh form of Islam are grabbing women and girls and gang-raping them; they're also apparently demanding families hand over girls as young as 12 for marriage—arrangements that typically last a few weeks and basically turn the women into sexual slaves designed to improve fighters' morale.
It's a move that's also intended to control the population, and to keep their men fighting, with the broke group substituting girls for wages. Those who refuse to marry a fighter are killed. But the Shabab aren't the only ones to blame: The Times calls the country "a free-for-all of armed men," ranging from government soldiers to rogue fighters, who are raping women in refugee camps and those forced by famine to trek long distances, separating them from the protection of their clan. Because UN operations are extremely limited in the country, there are but a few small Somali organizations in place to help these women. Says the founder of one, "There’s no justice here, no protection, people say 'You’re junk' if you’ve been raped." (Want to help? Here's one option.)