A Weapon of War: Rape in the Congo

Despite the official end of the Congo wars in 2002, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was recently named by a UN official as the “Rape Capital of the World.” Over 200,000 women have been raped and they are still not safe.

It is well documented that, throughout history, rape has been used as a weapon of war to break the will of a people. In more recent history, similar strategies were used in East Timor, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, and Algeria. Rape in the DRC, however, is not considered just a military tactic. Soldiers from all sides of the Congo confl ict have stated that rape and sexual slavery are their entitlement. Young girls to elderly women are considered the spoils of war. Recent reports have begun to include sexual brutality toward men and boys as well. Soldiers have been allowed to brutalize with impunity, and few have been prosecuted.

Consequences for victims of sexual violence in the Congo are grave. Stigmatized by chronic medical and psychological problems due to brutal beatings, genital and bodily mutilation, life-threatening diseases such as HIV/AIDS, forced pregnancy, and infertility, they face rejection by their husbands, families, and communities. Women and girls in refugee camps are often regarded as common sexual property and are forced into prostitution in exchange for food, documents, or refugee status. Though some are able to fi nd their way into hospitals or safe havens established by women’s rights groups, little has been done to control the extent of the violence.

On October 17, 2010 thousands of women, led by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s First Lady, marched into the town of Bukavu, one of the country’s most intense confl ict areas where 303 women were raped in nearby villages between July 30 and August 2. With increased international awareness and advocacy by women’s and human rights groups, the tide has perhaps begun to turn.

— Reprinted with permission of La Jolla Playhouse

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