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Will Congo's troubling rape statistics compel any change?

Although it is helpful to have reliable numbers on rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, that doesn't change the fact that so far there's no answer on how to bring those numbers down.

By Laura HeatonGuest blogger / May 13, 2011

Margot Wallstroem, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, attends a press conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva on Sept. 27, 2010. Wallstroem shared with the human rights council her assessment of the mass rapes in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and addressed the issue of sexual violence in conflict and rape as a tactic of war.

Valentin Flauraud/Reuters

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Reacting to the new statistics boiled down to “four women raped every five minutes” in Congo, a few people questioned the accuracy of the findings, or suggested that “we don't need figures like this to know sexual violence is a problem.” Both responses may be true. But the press pick-up of the announcement of the American Journal of Public Health‘s findings proves its importance, at the very least, in redirecting attention to a persistent and particularly disturbing characteristic of the long conflict in eastern Congo.

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The report’s authors provide the most comprehensive compilation of countrywide statistics to date on sexual violence by pulling together the findings of previous studies and then filling in gaps with results of the 2007 Demographic and Health Survey, conducted by the Congolese government with technical and financial assistance from USAID and Macro International.

The authors acknowledged the shortcomings of previous studies based primarily on health facility and police reports and sought to improve upon that methodology. Despite the new study’s thorough effort to generate the most accurate statistics, the particularly sensitive nature of sexual violence in Congo, where victims are often ostracized, poses inherent challenges; we’ll likely never know the true extent, quantitatively, of sexual violence across a country as vast as Congo.

The statistics are a useful reference tool for journalists, aid organizations, and advocacy groups like Enough. But the unprecedented problem, both in scope and brutality, is widely acknowledged by now. Lack of awareness isn’t the issue any more. Despite the deployment of the world’s largest UN peacekeeping mission, visits from prominent officials and activists, and the presence of local and international NGOs seized with serving survivors and finding solutions on the ground, the problem persists.

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