BY CHRIS ALBIN-LACKEY
WE PARKED our land cruiser by the side of the dirt road, high in the mountains covered with lush, green vegetation. In the distance, framed by greenery, was a vast, flattened plateau, a gold mine owned by Canada-based Barrick Gold.
Next to the mine were the waste rock dumps – the scene of the alleged crime. Even from afar, we could see the illegal miners on the gray rocks.
I sat on a bench in the back of the truck across from Mary, a short, heavy-set woman with cropped curly black hair. She seemed to be in her late 30s, and her teeth were stained from betelnut. She was trying not to cry.
She had been standing on the waste dump, she said, selling bags of betelnut to the illegal miners panning for gold when the cars carrying Barrick security guards pulled up.
They leapt from the cars and began sprinting toward the people working on the dump. Everyone ran. But Mary, fumbling with her wares, tripped and fell on the rocks. The guards caught her, and brought her back to one of the cars.
The guards taunted her and told her she would either go to prison or pay a massive fine for mining illegally. Then they asked her if she wanted to go to prison or if she wanted to go home.
Mary had heard what happened to women who were caught on the waste dump, and she believed the guards were asking her a question: Would she rather go to prison or let all five guards rape her in return for letting her go?
Mary said prison. The Barrick guards didn’t listen.
Barrick, valued at $47.6 billion, is the world’s leading gold producer. Since the Papua New Guinea Porgera joint venture mine opened in 1990, the mine has produced more than 16 million ounces of gold. At today’s prices, that would be worth more than $20 billion. Barrick took over the mine in 2006, and production is expected to continue until at least 2023.
While rumours of abuses like gang rapes and beatings had long been associated with the mine, Barrick Gold – the world’s largest gold mining company in terms of production – had denied these claims as unfounded.
But when we went and investigated these abuses, allegedly committed by the mine’s private security staff, we found information corroborating the allegations.
While Mary told me the details of the gang rape, she often had to stop and collect herself. During these moments, I’d look out the window or at the floor.
Whenever I interview a woman who has been raped, I wonder if it would be easier if I were also a woman. I’m not sure. In these situations, I always have a good female translator with me.
I tend to take things more slowly and quietly, giving the woman space to tell her story – or not tell it, if that’s what she wants. It’s extremely difficult and uncomfortable no matter who you are.
In short, the five guards ignored her plea and did what they wanted. They punched and kicked her while they raped her. Then they left her badly hurt, lying on the rocks, still on Barrick’s property. With the help of a stranger, she limped home – a long walk, mostly uphill.