With Worsening Violence Comes Staggering Reports of Rape
Such is the case in the province of North Kivu where several rebel groups are engaged in fierce fighting with government forces, displacing as many as 370,000 people this year.
The International Rescue Committee is responding to the crisis with emergency aid, including special assistance for women and girls who have been sexually assaulted.
“The nature of the tactics seem to be changing as the conflict worsens,” says Sarah Mosely, who oversees IRC programs for rape survivors in eastern Congo.
“It was not uncommon to hear accounts of armed groups seizing young women from farms or water points and enslaving them and raping them for one to three months,” says Mosely. “Now women in North Kivu talk to me more about gunmen breaking into their homes and brutally raping them in front of their families.”
She says the attacks have become so frequent that families in the north cross into Uganda at night to sleep in the forest. It’s safer than staying at home.
“What’s happening in North Kivu is part of a larger epidemic of violence against women in Congo—extremely violent rape on a wide scale that is used to terrorize communities and humiliate families in a very calculated way.”
Rutshuru District, the hub of the IRC’s emergency operations in North Kivu, has been the scene of some of the worst and most recent violence. Mosely has been meeting with dozens of women in the area who are sharing their stories for the first time and seeking help.
“Access to medical care is a big concern. The clinics in the villages are not equipped to assist and it’s a half a day’s walk in a volatile area to the closest working medical center where they can receive proper care,” she notes.
This week, Mosely and her team started counseling services for women. They are also training health workers on the appropriate clinical response to rape and supplying them with the required combination of antibiotics and other medicines. For those who require hospital care, the IRC is making sure they get it.
Working closely with women’s associations and other local organizations, the IRC has extensive and established programs in Congo that help survivors of sexual violence heal, recover and find jobs. We also facilitate legal assistance and work with families and communities on acceptance, support and prevention issues.
Media covering the North Kivu crisis should contact Melissa Winkler, Melissa.Winkler@theIRC.org, for more information.