An investigation of sexual violence in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
Research on sexual violence in DRC is extremely challenging. Sexual violence is deeply stigmatized in Congolese culture and many of those affected live in remote or insecure regions. Thus, rigorous data are lacking and many important questions remain unanswered.
The report presents a retrospective cohort study of sexual violence survivors presenting to Panzi Hospital, with a specific aim of answering the following outstanding questions:
- When, where and how are women being attacked and what makes them vulnerable to sexual violence?
- How has the rape epidemic in South Kivu evolved over the last five years?
In South Kivu, sexual violence is pervasive, affecting women of all ages, ethnicities and marital statuses. Women are attacked everywhere, even in the privacy of their own homes. The sexual assaults are ruthless, with horrific reports of gang rape, sexual slavery, genital trauma, forced rape between victims and rape in the presence of family members. Sexual violence survivors often witness the torture and murder of their children and spouses.
An analysis of sexual violence trends over time revealed that the total number of reported assaults at Panzi Hospital had steadily decreased between 2004 and 2008. The analysis also demonstrated a civilian adoption of rape, with a 17-fold increase in the number of civilian rapes. These findings imply a normalization of rape among the civilian population, suggesting the erosion of all constructive social mechanisms that ought to protect civilians from sexual violence.
To the Congolese government and the international community must:
- Ensure that quality care is available for women in all areas, in order to save lives and preserve quality of life;
- Work to reduce sexual violence linked to military action;
- Build on the legal/justice initiatives taken to date, particularly the law on sexual violence and the government’s announcement of “zero tolerance” for crimes against civilians by its armed forces.
- Ensure that their protective deployments are tailored to local realities.