Editor’s note: This article is the first in a two-part series. Part I focuses on assistance to rape victims and educational efforts for everyday Congolese. Part II, which will appear tomorrow, looks at efforts to reform the groups responsible for rape in Congo.
DUNGU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Two years ago in this remote territory, a young woman named Dina and three others — another woman and two men — fled a camp belonging to the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. The LRA had kidnapped the four months earlier: the men as laborers or fighters, the women as sex slaves.
As victims of rape, Dina and her friend were part of a disturbing trend. Around 15,000 women and girls are reported raped in Congo each year. It’s likely that thousands more rapes go unreported. Rebels account for a third of the assaults; the majority are perpetrated by Congo’s own army. “It’s a crime against humanity,” Benoit Kinalegu, a priest in Dungu, says of Congo’s rape crisis.
The tide of sexual violence threatens a “reversal of society’s norms and values,” according to aid group Oxfam. The resulting anarchy could sow instability across Congo and Central Africa, displacing millions. The chaos could also disrupt Congo’s export of vital minerals that supply much of the world’s advanced industry.
Fearing the massive human and economic cost of runaway sexual violence, a coalition of aid groups and agencies is working in Congo to treat both the effects and causes of rape.