International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Snapshot: Helping rape survivors in Congo recover and rebuild their lives

  • Violence against women and girls is a significant problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly in the country’s conflict-ridden eastern provinces. 

  • Armed groups aren’t the only perpetrators – civilians are also responsible for the high incidence of rape and other forms of violence in the conflict zone.

  • Few emergency or long-term care services are available to rape survivors in eastern Congo.  Social stigma and feelings of shame prevent many women from even seeking help. 

  • The International Rescue Committee provides the one-on-one support survivors need to access all the services necessary to help them heal, such as medical treatment, crisis counseling and legal support.

  • IRC social workers have found that despite this extra support some survivors continue to struggle with mental health problems and have difficulty going back to work, caring for their children, or taking care of themselves. 

  • In 2011, the IRC and Johns Hopkins University launched a group therapy called Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) tailored for survivors of sexual violence in eastern Congo who reported trauma, symptoms of depression, and difficulty completing day-to-day tasks.  IRC-trained counselors drawn from local communities led groups of 6-8 women through the course of treatment.

  • The results of a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine show that overall trauma symptoms decreased roughly twice as much among survivors who received group therapy compared to those who did not.

  • Symptoms of trauma, depression and anxiety symptoms in women who took part in the therapy groups decreased by 63%.

  • The group therapy participants reported 90% less difficulty in carrying out daily tasks.

  • These women also worked 8 more hours per week, and spent 30% more on food – demonstrating a strong improvement in their economic well-being.

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