An extensive study of rape survivors in Congo shows that 60 per cent 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.
The study, released today by Oxfam and Harvard University’s Humanitarian Initiative, found that while the majority of rapists were either soldiers or militiamen, there was a shocking 17-fold increase in rapes carried out by civilians between 2004 and 2008.
‘Rape of this scale and brutality is scandalous, said Krista Riddley, a deputy director of policy and advocacy at Oxfam. ‘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 until the Congolese government is better able to keep its civilians from harm.
The UN Security Council will visit DR Congo this weekend, with the council set to renew the UN peacekeepers mandate in May.
The study shows that 56 per cent of assaults were carried out in the family home by armed men, while 16 per cent took place in fields and almost 15 per cent in the forest. Fifty-seven per cent of assaults were carried out at night. Sexual slavery was also reported, affecting 12 per cent of the women in the sample, with some women being held captive for years.
The report is based on information collected from 4,311 rape victims who were treated in Panzi hospital in South Kivu province over a four-year period.
‘Panzi is the only hospital of its kind in South Kivu, which is home to some five million people, Riddley said. ‘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 that she needs.
The report found that rape spiked during military activities, so given the ongoing offensives against militia groups in eastern Congo, the report has real relevance for the situation in DRC today. More than 5,000 people were raped in South Kivu in 2009.
The report illustrates the stigma women suffer after rape and the problems they face getting medical care. Less than one per cent of women were accompanied at the hospital by their husbands; nine per cent had been abandoned by their spouse. One in three women came alone.
This stigma leads to delays in seeking treatment, with only 12 per cent of the women coming to Panzi hospital within a month of the assault. Very few women came for treatment in time to prevent HIV infection and many women left it years before seeking medical care. More than half of women left it for more than a year before seeking treatment, with a significant number leaving it more than three years.
The research found that fewer than one per cent of rapes were perpetrated by civilians in 2004 but by 2008, that proportion had gone up to 38 per cent.
Susan Bartels, the study’s lead researcher from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative said: ‘This study confirms what has only been reported anecdotally until now: that sexual violence has become more normal’ in civilian life in Congo. The scale of rape during 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.
Notes to editors:
1. Just over half of perpetrators – 52 per cent – were identified as being armed combatants. Another 42 per cent were identified only as ‘assailants, but researchers say that the analysis of data suggests that this group is also composed largely of armed men.
2. This is a retrospective cohort study conducted at Panzi Hospital. Interviews were conducted on sexual violence survivors as they presented to hospital between 2004 and 2008. The interviews were conducted in private by trained female officers using a two-paged, semi-structured questionnaire as the victims came in for treatment. Researchers from Harvard University entered the data into an electronic spreadsheet and quantitative analysis was performed. 4,311 of the 9,709 sexual violence survivors presenting to Panzi Hospital between 2004 and 2008 were interviewed.
3. The report found that the total number of reported assaults at Panzi hospital had steadily decreased between 2004 to 2008, with military rape decreasing by 77 per cent. However figures have been affected by a number of particularly serious incidents in 2004, such as one single weekend in June when up to 16,000 women were reportedly raped by military forces in Bukavu. In 2009, cases of military rape have again surged as a result of the Kimia II military offensive, with more than 9,000 people mostly women and girls, but also men and boys raped in the affected provinces over the course of the year. Data is not yet available on the levels of rape associated with new military offensives in 2010.
4. Testimonies from the report below (more available from the Oxfam media unit)
‘It was a night in 2007 and my family and I were sleeping in our home. There was a knock from outside; assailants ordered my husband to open the door. A group of six men in military uniform, four armed with guns and two unarmed, came into the house. They started to loot all our valuables. They took us outside and forced us to follow them to the forest. Once we arrived in the forest, they freed my husband but forced me to continue going deeper into the bush with them. A commander had chosen me to be his wife and he kept me in the forest for seven months, raping me anytime he wanted. Because he did not think I was capable of escaping, he allowed me to wander alone and this is when I escaped.
‘My family and I were all sleeping when the soldiers arrived. They tied my husband’s hands behind his back and then they took turns raping me. Afterwards they took my husband and me to the forest. When my husband resisted they shot and killed him. I spent three weeks in the forest until one night I was able to escape. When I arrived home, I discovered that my little child was dead.
‘My husband and I were sleeping in our house. The children were sleeping in the house next door. The soldiers arrived and brought my daughter to our house where they raped her in the presence of my husband and me. Afterwards they demanded that my husband rape my daughter but he refused so they shot him. Then they went into the other house where they found my three sons. They killed all three of my boys. After killing them, two soldiers raped me one after the other,
‘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. This story is so tragic – I can’t believe this happened to me. I prefer death instead of life. Now, the world is without me because of my situation.
For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Karen Palmer at 613-240-3047.