Conflict & Justice

Congo: nearly 2 million women have been raped, reports study


Tantini Kahindu, 16, sits in her house in the village of Luvungi in Congo on September 4, 2010. Her house was attacked on July 30 by Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and local militias, who raped more than 280 women and minors as punishment for the villagers' alleged support for the Congolese Defense Forces (FARDC).


Marc Hoffer

A new study finds that nearly 2 million women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The study, to be published online Thursday by The American Journal of Public Health, found that women are raped at 26 times the rate previously reported by the United Nations, the Daily Beast reports.

It shows that the problem of rape in Congo, long considered a serious situation, is actually even bigger and more pervasive than previously known.

The study finds that women are reportedly raped not only in the war-torn eastern part of the country, but also in the capital and far away provinces.

“I was overwhelmed, but I wasn’t shocked,” Lisa Shannon, founder of Run for Congo Women and A Thousand Sisters, told the Daily Beast. “We’ve known for a long time that the numbers coming out of Congo were vastly underreported.”

Congo has faced a brutal war for the past 15 years as rebel groups have terrorized civilians as they have fought over the country's rich minerals. More than 5 million people have died, and rape and sexual violence have been used as weapons of war.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited rape victims in eastern Congo in 2009 to bring more attention to the crisis.

"Still, comprehensive statistics have been hard to come by," reports the New York Times. "Many areas of Congo are inaccessible — cut off by thick forests and warring groups — and many victims have been too frightened to speak out. The central government is also weak, which has exacerbated the violence and made it difficult to collect information."

An essay by Elizabeth Dickinson in Foreign Policy asks what if rape has become systemic in Congo. One aspect of the above study points out the prevalence of rape among married couples.

"To answer that 'the system' is to blame is both comforting and disconcerting," she writes. "We can reassure ourselves that humanity is not so cruel as to captivate millions of men to rape simply out of a fit of passion. And yet something that has been built by mankind -- the body politic that is the Congo -- is that cruel."

"In other words," she continues, "to end rape would mean to re-write the system that has grown up over decades in the Congo, an idea made all the more daunting by the fact that very few people can claim to have an understanding of what that even means."

Human Rights Watch has this video on the crisis in Congo, called "Dear Obama," which won a Webby Award.