Published on March 22, 2016 | by Nicole McIntyre Photography by Nicole McIntyre0
Keeping the peace or creating unease
Imagine flying halfway across the world to better someone else’s life, only to find that your actions may have actually made things worse.
That is what happened to Guelph-Humber justice studies professor Kim O’Toole. She is also a human rights advisor and legal expert.
In 2013, O’Toole was deployed as a peacekeeping soldier in Afghanistan and her mission involved human rights and gender violence investigations.
On her trip, she met a young teen named Khadija who told her she had ran away from home with her friend. Khadija told O’Toole she didn’t make it very far from home before her and her friend were abducted, sexually assaulted, beaten and harassed by unknown captors for six months.
One day during their captivity, Khadija noticed her friend was gone. The rumour was she had been sold for $6000 U.S.
O’Toole said that by the time Khadija escaped her captors she was 16 and pregnant. She tried to return home but her father was ashamed and would not take her in. Instead she was jailed for adultery. O’Toole also said Khadija was sentenced to an adult facility, which tend to be worse than the juvenile ones.
From her jail cell, Khadija told O’Toole she was devastated that her father didn’t believe she was raped, that she was wrongly convicted and that nobody seemed to care to look for her friend that was trafficked.
Then with the help of O’Toole and her team, Khadija was released from jail and allowed to return home. However, her father still did not want her and had already adopted another child to replace her.
Khadija, though out of prison, is now poor on the streets fending for herself and her child. O’Toole said if Khadija had stayed in jail she would have had sufficient food and care for herself and her child for seven years until the authorities took him away from her.
Now O’Toole said she wonders if Khadija would have been better off in jail or if she really did help by convincing the authorities to release her.
“This is a moral dilemma I still struggle with to this day,” said O’Toole.
She told this story to about a dozen Guelph-Humber staff and students on March 10 as part of a lecture series event.
Audience member and justice studies program head Gary Ellis said this feeling of inadequacy is common among police officers and soldiers.
“You’re there to help and then something bad happens. You think you’re there to make it right but you can’t and it makes you feel like you’re not good enough,” he said.
Regardless, O’Toole said she has no regrets because she returned home from Afghanistan a better person.
“If I can change one person’s way of life than I’ve accomplished my mission,” she said.
She also said she would do a peacekeeping mission again.
Guelph-Humber’s senior faculty support officer and events coordinator Alicia Sam said O’Toole’s story was intriguing because she “has a lot of experience and a wealth of knowledge.” She added, “the lecture series are meant to recognize staff’s accomplishments and build an academic community at school.”
She said staff and students can check the events page on the Guelph-Humber website for future lectures.