Lara Kajs | 12 September 2015 |
The statistics are heartbreaking. In the last 365 days, more than 500,000 women between the ages of 12 and 70 have been raped in the DR Congo. To put this in simple terms, rape is so prevalent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that in the next five minutes, five more women will be raped.
Women who are raped in DR Congo (and many other countries) are often shamed into secrecy which adds to their trauma. In a country where rape is so common, their cries for help are more often ignored by neighbors and family members. The trauma suffered leads to deeper trauma as relationships are broken, often permanently.
Testimony given by rape survivors shared that in their trauma, their male family members were forced to watch and in many cases forced to participate. This act by the perpetrators further damages the relationship between male family members and their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. In the eyes of their societal culture, women who are raped lose their purity and their value. Unable to marry, parents may discard their daughters – or husbands may reject their wives. And the perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.
In the 2010 Oxfam and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative project, “Now the World is Without Me: An Investigation of Sexual Violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo”, a twenty-seven-year-old mother of three who was raped in June 2002 and subsequently abandoned by her husband said, “We found them in our house. They pillaged everything. They put my husband on the bed and beat him. Then two of the soldiers raped me. I prefer death. Now the world is without me “
Rape with impunity is more evident in cases where the rapist is a police officer, active military or former military member, or a person in a position of power. Shame and fear are often used to prevent the victim from coming forward and telling their story. In this instance, the perpetrator commits rape or some other type of sexual violence without being brought to justice, denying the rape survivor the right to see their attacker punished.
The sad reality is that rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo is highly stigmatized and often goes unreported because the government has taken a position of indifference or outright looks the other way. Even in cases where survivors try to seek justice, the system is stacked against them. Then, there is the shame that is placed on survivors, that they will bring dishonor to their family members if they tell what happened to them. Without a strong support network and a government that believes it is time to end impunity, the survivors of rape and sexual violence are without justice.
Rape in Conflict Areas
Rape is highest in areas where conflict between the government military or armed opposition occurs, and it is not limited to women, but also includes young boys and girls. Sexual gender violence often consists of rape, genital mutilation, sexual slavery, gang rape, and torture (the insertion of objects into cavities).
Rape and sexual violence are not only a consequence of war, but it has become a deliberate military tactic or weapon of war. One reason combatants use rape or sexual violence is to humiliate the victims and their families (especially the men) from participating in the conflict. Rape is used to increase fear and insecurity and to promote a feeling of helplessness in the community to prevent insurgency. In addition to the brutal act of rape and sexual violence, many women are further violated as they are trafficked and sold into sexual slavery.
More Worried about Image
To bring attention to the escalation of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a documentary film was created surrounding the life of Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon and founder of the Panzi Hospital in the DR Congo, who has treated victims of rape and sexual violence for more than eighteen years and witnessed firsthand the physical and psychological effects of rape as a weapon of war. According to Dr. Mukwege, rape for torture has little to do with sex and much more to do with power through a type of terrorism – a way to control the population.
The government placed a ban on the film saying that it was harmful to the image of the country.
In order to end impunity for rape and sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and free itself from the title “rape capital of the world”, the country must face the reality that there is a problem. It needs to take a stand against rape and sexual violence, and it has to hold the perpetrators – regardless of the position of power – accountable.
Change through Education
In 1995, the Beijing Declaration took a giant step in advancing women’s rights around the globe. Sadly, the efforts have fallen short of protecting women from rape and sexual violence, especially during conflict. This is particularly true in DR Congo.
However, more than offering protection to women, there needs to be more done to educate the population (especially the men) on the consequences of rape and sexual violence. Men who brutally assault women and girls, taking their ability to conceive and birth children, rob the community of their future. For the Democratic Republic of Congo, addressing the epidemic of rape and sexual violence is a matter of preserving humanity.
Photo Credit: Women testify through veils, disguises, and curtains in a DR Congo military court to sexual violence. Licensed under CC 2.0 license