New report shows shocking pattern of rape in eastern Congo

By Oxfam

An extensive study of rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) commissioned by Oxfam and conducted by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, shows that 60 percent of rape victims surveyed were gang raped by armed men and more than half of assaults took place in the supposed safety of the family home at night, often in the presence of the victim’s husband and children. 

While the majority of rapists were either soldiers or militiamen, the report also shows a shocking 17-fold increase in rapes carried out by civilians between 2004 and 2008. 

The report, ‘Now, the world is without me’, is based on the study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which analyzed information collected from 4,311 female rape victims who were treated in Panzi hospital in South Kivu Province over a four-year period. 

The report found that the incidence of rape spiked during military activities. Given the ongoing offensives against militia groups in eastern Congo, the report has real relevance for the situation in DRC today. Over 5,000 people were raped in South Kivu in 2009, according to the UN. The report comes out ahead of the UN Security Council visit to DRC this weekend, with the council set to renew the UN peacekeepers mandate in May. 

Krista Riddley Director of Humanitarian Policy, Oxfam said: 

“Rape of this scale and brutality is scandalous. This is a wake-up call at a time when plans are being discussed for UN peacekeepers to leave the country. The situation is not secure if a woman can’t even sleep safely in her own bed at night. The report shows when and where women are attacked, and why peacekeepers must continue to play a vital role in creating security while the Congolese government builds up its own capacity to keep civilians from harm.” 

The study shows that 56 percent of assaults were carried out in the family home by armed men, while 16 percent took place in fields and almost 15 percent in the forest. Fifty-seven percent of assaults were carried out at night. Sexual slavery was also reported, affecting 12 percent of the women in the sample, with some women being held captive for years. 

The report also offers insights into the stigma facing women within their families after rape and the problems they face getting medical care. Less than one percent of women came to Panzi hospital with their husbands and nine percent had been abandoned by their spouse. One in three women came alone. 

This stigma leads to delays in seeking treatment, with only 12 percent of the women coming to Panzi within a month of the assault. Very few women came for treatment in time to prevent HIV infection. Over 50 percent of women waited more than a year before seeking treatment, with a significant number waiting more than three years. 

Krista Riddley from Oxfam said: 

“Panzi is the only hospital of its kind in South Kivu, which is home to some 5 million people. Many women from rural areas cannot make the journey and often die from the complications associated with brutal rape. Rich country donors together with the Congolese government need to radically increase the medical services available for survivors of sexual violence in Congo’s remote towns and villages. Every woman should be able to get the treatment she needs.”   

The research found that fewer than one percent of rapes were perpetrated by civilians in 2004. By 2008, that proportion had gone up to 38 percent. 

Susan Bartels, the study’s lead researcher from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, said, “This study confirms what has only been reported anecdotally until now: sexual violence has become more normal in civilian life. The scale of rape over Congo’s years of war has made this crime seem more acceptable. Although Congo has one of the most progressive laws on rape in Africa, few rapists are prosecuted. The law must be enforced and justice put within reach of survivors.”   

The report calls on the Congolese government and the international community to: 

  • Increase provision of medical care for survivors of sexual violence, particularly in rural areas. The easier it is to get help locally, the more likely women will be to get timely support for HIV and the more able they will be to manage the risk of others finding out. Stigma remains a significant barrier to accessing care following sexual violence.
  • Ensure that the protection provided by the UN peacekeepers and Congolese security services is tailored to local realities. The peacekeepers and security services need to consult with the local community to provide innovative solutions, such as early warning systems and night patrols to help meet their needs. This is happening in some areas and needs to be rolled out more systematically to respond to the threats this report highlights.
  • Reform the Congolese security sector and justice system to ensure that there is zero tolerance for rape, whether it is committed by civilians, militiamen, or soldiers.




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