2.15.2008

Turning a Blind Eye to Rape and the Congo

(Editor's Note: The themes of this piece deal with graphic and mature content.)

by Robin Forman

I’m afraid of dying.

But there’s something more frightening to me than death.

Rape.

What’s about as prevalent as brutal murders in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?

Brutal rapes.

There have been reports of women raped in the Congo by soldiers of various factions as the country's civil war simmers to a close. The American media have touched on this subject with tales of women whose parents are killed in front of them. These women are sometimes found by the assailents as they try to flee and they are held captive after their parents are murdered.

The men vow to destroy these women just as they had killed the parents. And so, for sometimes days at a time, they repeatedly raped their victims. Many men raping women. Many times over.

This story is not uncommon in the Congo.

Rape is a cheap and effective weapon.

Some women are even captured by militants and members of their own family are forced to rape them at gunpoint.

These women are not only victimized by gang rapists but these rapists sometimes shove other objects inside of their victims as well.

In at least one woman’s case a gun was shoved inside of her and fired.

The physical damage can be so great to these women that walls between their uteri and bladders are torn and they are no longer able to control urinating.

The families and villages of these women are shamed by these events and often the victims are the focus of their scorn. They are forced to live in exile. If they are married, they cannot go back to their husbands because they are considered tainted. In their culture, the victims are faulted for their fate.

This is unfathomable to me. Rape is unfathomable and the thought of it alone paralyzes me with fear and makes me nauseous.

To be sure, when he leaves for his Africa mission today (Friday, Feb. 15), President George Bush won't be thinking about those women and their problems.

The president is headed out on his second Africa tour since becoming president. During the trip he plans to highlight the progress of several U.S. programs in Africa.

Yes, there have been some successes including a significant reduction in malaria cases in Tanzania where Bush will be on Sunday. And there’s been some success in AIDS prevention and treatment, too.

But is Bush stopping over in the DRC?

Nope.

Bush will visit five countries, beginning with Benin, but the DRC is not on the list.

Those Congolese rape victims are at risk for AIDS, too…a big risk. One doctor in Africa who treated rape victims between May and October of last year said 24% of them test positive for HIV.

U.S. National Security Advisor Steven Hadley said that Bush’s “trip will be an opportunity to demonstrate America’s commitment to the people of these countries and to Africa as a whole.”

Well, Steve, what about the women of the Democratic Republic of Congo? Are they not part of “Africa as a whole?”

(Note: The group Women for Women International of Washington, D.C. and London sponsors special programs to aid the rape victims of the DRC.)

(Photo of the Congolese-Ugandan border by futureatlas.com via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)









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