Acclaimed Le Monde journalist Cojean (Marc Riboud: 50 Years of Photography, 2004, etc.) investigates Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s extensive system of sexual predation, collecting testimony from many of his victims.
At the age of 15, like many other pretty young Libyan and foreign women, “Soraya” (a pseudonym) was selected by members of Gadhafi’s staff at a school ceremony and kidnapped from her home to be violently raped and abused by Gadhafi. She became one of many women kept in damp, windowless basement apartments under his residence to serve as sexual slaves and accessories to his public image. Her story is presented in the first half of this book, as she told it to Cojean. The second half of the book, narrated by the author, illuminates the broader story of Gadhafi’s corrupt, sexualized regime in Libya through interviews with a wide variety of other affected Libyans. Diplomats, international celebrities, heads of state and university students were all targets, pursued with violence or lavish gifts, according to their status. Cojean emphasizes the difficulty of finding subjects who were willing to be identified due to the extreme social pressure in Libya to deny or maintain silence on sexual crimes; thus, many of her sources are anonymous. Soraya’s memory sometimes seems suspiciously detailed, but the substance of her stories is confirmed by named sources. Cojean passionately desires justice for the women and families whose lives were destroyed by Gadhafi’s regime and who continue to suffer under the victim-shaming of mainstream Libyan morality. Many of the events described are painful and shocking, and their presentation resembles court testimony: factual, grim and occasionally stilted. This is very much an exposé, but readers looking for titillation are likely to be disappointed.
An important contribution to the understanding of Gadhafi’s regime and the social and political challenges that confront Libya now.