Life in Gulu is hard. Please read this guest post from our dear friend, Will Lathrop, Field Office Director, International Justice Mission, Gulu. Read, think and pray.
Who was Acen Dorothy?
To her community she was property. She was a peasant girl with no hope of anything but a meager existence. Her principal value was a bride price in a culture that sees young girls married off as early as 10 or 11 years of age. Brides are not all equal commodities. And, it turns out Dorothy wasn’t worth all that much. In fact, a man called Norbit wanted to marry her in January, but his family decided she was not worth the modest price. To Norbit, she was his possession regardless of whether he had obtained a receipt. She cleaned and cooked for him and he beat her—a routine reminder of what she was.
To IJM, she was picture of who we all aspire to be. She was a transformative masterpiece—Christ’s prodigious work on full display. The story goes: A pitiful street girl met a missionary, who told her that she was loved. He brought her to church and from there she joined an intense discipleship class and emerged a confident woman who knew her value in God. That missionary referenced Dorothy to IJM for a temp housekeeping role and we struck gold. She came to work tiny and young, wearing shabby clothes and having no idea of how to act in a professional work environment. She had plenty of doubters. In a few months’ time, she had embedded herself deeply in the IJM work family. She was universally known to be confident, cheerful, humble and honest, with a world-class work ethic.
To IJM, she was a talent. We worked quickly to find her a salaried position, even when it appeared the budget wouldn’t allow it. She was known for her well-prepared devotions—when she would hammer down the word of God, she would tip the team back because the author had deceived us with her diminutive size and age. Dorothy had a habit of furiously completing her morning work in overalls and then changing into a nice dress just before Morning Prayer—the essence of her life’s transformation captured in a daily routine. To IJM, she was the portrait of humility. She cleaned floors like she was preparing for the most important court case. If a teammate struggled in the field, he or she would return to a warm bowl of porridge that Dorothy had placed on their desk. She quietly did “undignified” work like it was for Jesus and not an arrogant FOD. To IJM, Dorothy had exciting potential. Her supervisor, Ocaca Mathew, steadily increased her responsibility almost every month—she had a remarkable bandwidth for learning. She spent hours after work trying to conquer the basics of computers. Lanyero Pamela started to work with Dorothy to fulfill her wildly impossible dream of getting a university degree in accounting. In April, she started to fill out an application to go back to school. Dorothy was determined to enroll in school on the weekends.
IJM didn’t know Dorothy through the eyes of her culture. Her community refused to see Dorothy as we intimately knew her to be. On the issue of school, the two competing definitions of Dorothy finally faced one-another to conclusion. The Story Goes: Norbit wanted to keep Dorothy as his property, but she now felt she had a say in the matter. Beginning in early 2016, Dorothy started pulling away from him and he became increasingly violent and jealous. He regularly threatened her life as he tried to control her—as he tried to force her back to her lowly station. He believed she had grown too tall working at IJM, too independent. He found her school application and he destroyed it. He found her talking with another man and became angry and possessive. Fatefully, Dorothy decided to get another school application. Norbit knew he had lost all control. So, he played his trump card. He used his natural physical dominance over tiny Acen Dorothy in the ultimate display of power. In cold-blood, he plotted and then murdered Dorothy with just his hands. And, after enduring a heavy guilt that Judas also knew, he took his own life.
Shockingly, Dorothy’s corpse was treated as a commodity even after her death. The story concludes: Norbit’s family wanted to marry the two in death and then bury them side-by-side in his village to prevent a curse from besieging their village. A deal was struck between families that Dorothy would be buried next to her murderer for a modest sum. On the day of the burial, Dorothy’s family filibustered. They let her body sit in the hot sun while they tried a last minute negotiation for a higher bride price. They threatened to bury her somewhere else and release the curse if their monetary demands were not met. Norbit’s family would only offer 4 goats and about $75—the market value of a dead woman. While negotiations stalled into a second day, Dorothy’s body was left out through a night rain. In the morning, no deal was to be had and she was placed in the ground of her father’s village while he pouted openly about “the justice” of him being denied the money he deserved for a daughter he never truly knew.
Dorothy’s tragic end defines the spiritual front line of justice work in Northern Uganda. Satan does not want women to be viewed as fully human or intrinsically valuable. Bride prices, female circumcision, sexual assault, prostitution, land grabbing and domestic violence crush the humanity and value of women under Satan’s favorite tools—fear, hopelessness and shame—mostly fear.
Aparo Josephine lamented on Dorothy’s passing, “I am so angry that this continues to be happening. Can some good, can some change come out of this poor girl’s suffering?” Pervasive violence against women effectively cages women in a sub-human category. Domestic violence suffocates self-worth and blinds women to their true identity in God. Jojo is right, Dorothy’s death should not be met with inaction. Domestic Violence is the cornerstone of gender poverty and the blunt sword of the violent plague gutting the poor around the world.