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.
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Notably, the study adds to our understanding of who is perpetrating sexual violence, which is helpful in determining how to address it. There’s no question that rape is being used as a weapon of war in the East. But these findings also highlight the alarmingly high rate of sexual violence among married couples and intimate partners. It’s on this point that the authors offer a recommendation, while deferring to advocacy organizations for broader policy takeaways:Skip to next paragraph
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Taken together, our results suggest that future policies and programs should also strengthen their focus on abuse within families and eliminate the acceptance of and impunity surrounding sexual violence while maintaining and enhancing efforts to stop militias from perpetrating rape.
Reading reactions to the report, I was reminded of a conversation that continues to haunt me from my first trip to eastern Congo in 2007. Sitting with a camp manager from one of the teeming IDP camps near Goma, I asked what sort of psychosocial services were being provided in the camp for survivors of sexual violence. He had already demonstrated – in words and body language – how overwhelming challenges were in the camp of tens of thousands, many of whom had been displaced numerous times. He frowned when he heard the question. He said they weren’t providing services beyond referrals for women who needed medical care, because “sexual violence has become so prevalent that women don’t really know that a crime has been committed against them.” He said that with the day-to-day challenges people in the camp face – access to clean water and adequate food for a start – talking about rape and pointing out the abnormality of sexual violence could in fact traumatize women further. His perspective has stuck with me as a testament to the complexity of this crime that has come to define the eastern Congo conflict.
The looming question of why sexual violence is so prevalent has been the subject of years of academic research and subsequent books (which Foreign Policy’s Elizabeth Dickinson highlighted in her insightful post). The underpinnings of the problem – a brutal colonial history, impunity, ongoing conflict that has left communities desensitized to violence – deserves further investigation, discussion, and consideration in programming. But surprisingly absent from the debate over the statistics, why they’re so high, and what can be done about it, is the role of the Congolese government, even though its soldiers stand accused of being some of the chronic perpetrators.
Few news reports quoted Kinshasa’s reaction, and when government spokesman Lambert Mende did speak to the BBC, he tried to put a positive spin on the alarming statistics. The report is “evidence of the state becoming more and more efficient by dispatching judges, prosecutors, police all over the country." He added, “It is that, that allows people now to complain and to feed such reports."
The defensive tone struck in this quote demands just one response: So what are you going to do about it?
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