Why female victims of violence remain silent

The current asylum procedure is focused on efficiency.  In a process lasting only 8 days, the Immigration Service IND carries out the interviews with the asylum seeker and makes its ruling.  The content of the hearings determines the IND’s ruling.  It is therefore very important that asylum applicants tell the full and true story about their motives for fleeing their home country, starting in the first interview.  This is often a problem for women who have been subjected to (sexual) violence.  They remain silent in a situation where speaking up is necessary, in their own interest.
Medical anthropologist Marian Tankink has done PhD research into why these women stay silent*.  They carry their experiences with them as a great secret.  Or, as Tankink puts it: “they carry these experiences with them much like an unexploded bomb”. The possible reasons for remaining silent:
They stay silent out of shame.  Newspapers regularly report about victims of sexual assault by priests who only come forward with their story after decades.  The asylum procedure requires women to overcome their hesitance to talk about these experiences within a few days.
They stay silent because talking amounts to social suicide.  Their friends and family would not accept it, their husbands would disown them and take away their children.
They stay silent in fear of new violence by their husband towards the perpetrator, to punish them or to exact revenge.  Such violence of course also carries risks for the husband and his family.
They stay silent because they cannot yet feel safe.  They have lost confidence in fellow man (or men), so how can they trust the strangers who interview them during the asylum procedure?
The IND demands a credible, consistent and coherent testimony.  It is clear that the current excessively speedy procedure will not achieve this in many cases.  This process does not do these women justice.  They need more time and expert attention.

Marian Tankink, Over zwijgen gesproken (talking about silence), Pharos publishing house, 2009.

Actie ‘Geen vluchteling op straat of in de cel’ op 23 maart 2013 georganiseerd door vluchtelingen uit de ‘Vluchtkerk’ in Amsterdam en het ‘Vluchthuis’ in Den Haag samen met ondersteunende organisaties. http://vluchtelingenactie2013.nl