Teen’s gang rape in Addis Ababa sounds alarm

Hanna Lalango, 16, died on Nov. 1, from a brutal gang rape after five men kidnapped and held her captive for several days in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Hanna attended a private high school in the city’s Ayer Tena neighborhood.

On Oct. 1, the day of her kidnapping, Hanna, the youngest of six siblings, “complained about not feeling well” before she left for school. “She was a typical young girl … a timid and respectful child,” Hanna’s brother told Blen Sahilu, who first posted the story on Facebook, as part of the online #JusticeForHanna campaign. “She was really nice.”

Hanna reportedly left school around 4 p.m. local time and got on a taxi that already had a couple of passengers. It is unclear at what point Hanna knew she was being kidnapped. But the culprits allegedly threatened the teen with knife and took her to one of the suspect’s house. Reports vary but Hanna’s father told the local media she was raped for at least five days.

Hanna’s kidnappers had other plans. They apparently contacted her sisters by phone, perhaps to kidnap them as well. They met the sisters at an arranged place, driving the same minibus, and reportedly asked them to come along. When they refused, the men drove off, exclaiming, “You won’t see your sister then!” A few days later, the suspects left Hanna to die in an abandoned area in the outskirts of the city. Hanna was found unconscious on Oct. 11 and taken to hospital.

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“My phone rang 11 days after Hanna disappeared, it was the voice I missed,” Hanna’s father told the U.S.-based Admas Radio last week. “She was weak and exhausted.” For the next few days the family spent going between various referral hospitals and waiting to be admitted. Among other injuries, Hanna suffered from fistula and lost her battle 19 days after she was found. She reportedly identified three of the five suspects from her hospital bed.

On Nov. 19, police brought five suspects before the First Appearance Court in Addis Ababa, according to local reports. During a hearing attended by journalists and women right’s groups, one of the suspects pleaded innocence and all five denied the allegations, telling the court their initial confessions were obtained under duress. The police denied torturing the suspects and asked for 14 days to conduct further investigation.

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Hanna could have been saved. The police were slow to investigate the case as a sexual crime. The hospitals failed to treat Hanna’s case with the outmost urgency the situation demanded. I broke down in tears as I read about Hanna’s ordeal. I tried to imagine what she might have felt as her captors took turns to satisfy their desires. I imagined how helpless she might have felt. I imagined Hanna worrying and speculating about how to deal with this tragedy or even tell her parents. Hanna spent days on the streets after suffering a brutal gang rape. It took her few days to call her parents and seek help. It remains unclear whether this was planned or a random incident. But Hanna’s story is far from isolated.

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