Healing from rape

Media briefing

MA Index: AFR 62/022/2004 (For free distribution)

News Post No: 257

October 26, 2004

Below is a selection of facts from the report “Mass Rape – Healing Required.” The report presents the results of interviews and investigations conducted by Amnesty International in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2004. This report was prepared as part of the IA “Stop Violence Against Women” global campaign. The focus of the report is on one of the most urgent needs of rape victims — receiving proper medical care and the need for urgent action by the interim government of the DRC and the international donor community.

Despite the wide range of ceasefire agreements reached at the international and national levels at the end of 2002 and in 2003, instability persists in the eastern regions of the DRC. The conflict periodically flares up again.


During the armed conflict in the eastern part of the DRC, tens of thousands of women and girls were systematically subjected to sexual violence by all forces involved in the conflict.

In conversations with representatives of AI, experienced staff of the UN and international humanitarian organizations agreed that nowhere, except in the DRC, did they encounter such mass rape during hostilities. All of them also unanimously emphasized that by far not all victims have been identified.

Representatives of all parties involved in the armed conflict in the DRC committed rape and other forms of sexual violence, including members of the armed forces of the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

In the DRC, girls, including six-year-olds, and older women over 70 were also raped.

Healing from rape

Women who, due to illness, pregnancy or injury, are unable to escape from their offenders are invariably sexually abused.

Women of all ages are used as sex slaves. They are taken by force and subsequently treated with them as the “property” of one or several fighters. They spend days in captivity, months, and years.

Thousands of girls are forcibly recruited into the armed forces as fighters or field wives.

Many men have also been victims of sexual abuse.

Most armed groups systematically engage in group rape, sometimes up to 20 people participate in them. Collective rape of several women is also quite common. A huge number of women and girls were raped several times, at different times, by different people.

As a rule, rape is accompanied by beatings and threats, and often by cruel torture. In particular, the rapists drive guns, knives, sharp sticks, pieces of glass or rusty nails, stones, sand or rubble into the female vagina, which leads to severe physical injuries and suffering. Often, during rape or during it, women were shot, sometimes in the genitals.

Mothers with their daughters are often raped in public, in front of relatives. In some cases, they were forced to have intercourse with other family members at gunpoint, including with their sons and brothers.

Women and girls were raped on the streets, in the field and in their own homes, on their way to school or on their way home from church. In many areas, women and girls dare not walk alone or even in groups. Fear does not allow them to even go for water or the market.

Violence does not stop, because it remains unpunished. Rapists do their job in almost absolute security.

Rape was used as an instrument of warfare to destabilize the enemy forces, as repressive measures, to undermine the fundamental values ​​of society and deeply humiliate the victims and witnesses, as well as to subordinate the population by intimidating them and forcing fear.

Another source of motivation is superstition and fetishism. Some rapists are convinced that sex with a young child or a woman of older age will protect them from diseases, including HIV / AIDS.

In May 2004, serious accusations of sexual exploitation by the civil and military personnel of MONUC (the Moroccan contingent of the UN mission) in the city of Bunia (Ituri province) were publicized.


The brutality of the act of rape leads to serious physical injuries, which require long and difficult care to heal. A frequent outcome is the loss of survivor’s ability to give birth. Restoration of the reproductive organs surgically is not cheap.

There is an outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhea and HIV / AIDS. Accurate statistics on the prevalence of HIV / AIDS are not available. According to the National AIDS Program, in the eastern provinces, the infection rate may exceed 20%, and in the next 10 years more than half of the population may be infected.

Implications for the psyche of rape victims include depression, post-traumatic disorientation syndrome, shock, rage and shame, falling self-esteem, memory loss, a tendency to blame yourself, nightmares and spontaneous memories of the rape, headaches, nausea, stomach pain, loss of sleep and fatigue. In many cases, symptoms occur in combination.

Mental problems are often aggravated by the fear of being abandoned by the husband or rejected by the family and others.


The health care system, which was experiencing an extreme lack of resources before the war, completely collapsed during the hostilities. Everywhere there is a lack of hygiene, water and electricity. There is a lack of elementary means of sterilizing instruments.

Medical institutions lack material, organizational and financial resources. In some cases, there are no roofs, windows, doors and cots in hospitals and first-aid posts. Transport infrastructure is also completely disintegrated. Most people travel exclusively on foot.

Outside major cities, emergency care is provided by only a fraction of the victims. At the same time, about 70% of the population lives in rural areas. The vast majority of medical staff in rural areas do not have sufficient education and do not have the qualifications necessary for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

The government does not pay and does not provide any support to doctors and nurses.

The population has to pay for the treatment itself; government support is absent as such. The vast majority of the population of the DRC lives on about 20 US cents per person per day. They simply do not have the means to pay for medical services.

In the DRC, psychological support services and psychotherapists are almost completely absent.

In the east of the country there are only two large hospitals that, with the strong support of the international community, maintain gynecologists in the staff and have sufficient human resources and special equipment to assist (in

Belgium, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States substantially and materially support the DRC.

Healing from rape

To date, only international and national non-governmental organizations, as well as a few local doctors and nurses, provide assistance and provide the necessary care for victims of rape. Taking into account how great the need for this is, the current level of support should be recognized as clearly insufficient.


Survivors of rape everywhere are faced with discrimination and exclusion from society, including insults and threats. In many cases, raped women were abandoned by their husbands, leaving them to take care of the children themselves.

Rejection results mainly from the common perception that women are always guilty of what happened. Often it is believed that they are dishonored and tainted.

If conception occurs after rape, children, as a rule, have to endure the same humiliation and rejection as mothers do.

The fear of HIV / AIDS, so common in the eastern provinces of the DRC, intensifies hostility towards rape victims and their children, as well as to other suspected infected people.

Social exclusion turns the victims into enormous difficulties in terms of the economy – they are thrown out of the house and denied access to livelihoods.

Some women’s and human rights organizations in the DRC, religious organizations, and development agencies stood up to protect the interests of rape victims.

NGO workers have to act in difficult and dangerous situations. Local administrative and military authorities in the eastern parts of the DRC are hostile to activists, fearing that they will shed light on their involvement in cases of human rights violations.

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