Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 2 – The Savagery]


It is difficult to write this section because what I am about to describe is nearly unimaginable. But it is true and it is happening. Not to one woman. Not to ten, or one hundred, or one thousand. Not to ten thousand. It’s happening to hundreds of thousands of women throughout the DRC. It is happening right now, this second, as you read this.

Women, children, babies. Raped, tortured, mutilated. Many times in front of their families. Many times for days on end. They are gang raped. They are raped with objects. Sticks. Rocks. Bayonets. Guns. They are raped with the sheer intent to destroy – body and soul. Women have had firearms discharged into their vaginas, blowing out their female anatomy, yet surviving. Girls under the age of three, women over eighty.

Women are left with wounds, infections, STDs, and traumatic fistulas. A traumatic fistula is a tear in the wall between the vagina and the bladder and/or the rectum, leaving the woman entirely incontinent.

Having been raped these women are frequently and “justifiably” abandoned by their husbands. Bearing the stench of incontinence, they are often ostracized by their villages. Unable to bear children, they lose their primary value as mother or wife.

Individual stories are nearly unbearable to hear. Congolese human rights activist Christine Schuler Deshchyver describes:

Babies. The last baby who was raped, it was in April. She was ten months old, so a very small baby. She was raped. The same gang raped the mother during two weeks. Then they came to Bukavu into my office. I wanted to bring the baby to the hospital, but she was so injured she died in my arms. Ten months—can you imagine that? And these people, these women in Congo, are just begging for life, not begging for money, just the right to live in their country safely.

The New York TimWabulasaes recently reported:

“I still have pain and feel chills,” said Kasindi Wabulasa, who was raped in February by five men. The men held an AK-47 rifle to her husband’s chest and made him watch, telling him that if he closed his eyes, they would shoot him. When they were finished, Ms. Wabulasa said, they shot him anyway.


Honorata Barinjibanwa, 18, […] said she was kidnapped from a village […] raided in AprilHonorata Photo from NYTimes and kept as a sex slave until August. Most of that time she was tied to a tree, and she still has rope marks ringing her delicate neck. The men would untie her for a few hours each day to gang-rape her, she said. […] She is also pregnant.

The HRW report cites a Congolese doctor in eastern DRC specialising in the treatment of rape victims:

In peacetime, the demands on Congolese women are limitless; but in this war, the most insane fantasies have found their expression. When seven soldiers rape a women or little girl, and thrust a knife or fire shots into her vagina, for them the woman is no longer a human being, she is an object. And since there are no longer any laws or rules, combatants pour out their anger and their madness on to women and little girls.”

Particularly horrifying is the indiscriminate targeting of victims. Even in times of war, certain standards of decency usually remain – at least in a percentage of the terrorizing population. But no code of ethics seems to stand in the DRC. According to an Amnesty International report:

All levels of the population in eastern DRC are affected by sexual violence. Survivors hail from all ethnic groups, all social strata and all age groups,(24), from rural and urban districts. Those raped may be seriously ill, physically or mentally disabled or pregnant. In some areas, rapes of men and boys are common. In the words of one rapist[…], “It makes no difference“.

John Holmes, head of the U.N. Emergency Relief Operations described DRC’s intensity and frequency of rape as “the worst in the world,” explaining

It’s the scale and brutality of it. It’s the use of it as a weapon of terror. It’s the way it’s done publicly, for maximum humiliation.

Prevalence of Rape

In the first six months of 2007 the UN reported reported 4,500 instances of rape in the Southern Kivu province alone. However, only the most extreme cases are reported. Keep in mind that a woman who admits to being raped bears the stigma of it for the rest of her life. She exposes herself and her children to abandonment by her husband. If she is unmarried, admitting lost virginity makes it nearly impossible to find a husband, which is essentially the only way to make a place for herself in Congolese society.

Rapes are reported when a woman requires life-saving medical care and must admit what has happened in order to get it. That is, if she has manages to discover that medical help is available and to safely traverse many miles to arrive at one of the few hospitals able to treat her condition.

Therefore, the actual number of rape cases is much higher than 4,500 in six months. Holmes estimates that “many — perhaps most — attacks go unreported.” Most? So the actual figure may be ten times higher, though probably more. And remember, we’re only talking about South Kivu – a province with a population of 245,000. If we add in the population of surrounding rural communities, it’s still less populated than, say, the city of Boston or Tuscon. Using the reported number of cases only, that would lead to 9,000 (90,000) women brutally mutilated, beaten, and raped in a single year. That’s 750 (7,500) women every month. 173 (1,730) every week. 25 (250) per day. In an area with the population of Boston.

Information from the Stephen Lewis Foundation gives even higher figures:

In October, 2006, UN Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, reported that “In the eastern Congo, over 12,000 rapes of women and girls have been reported in the last six months.”

But Jean-Marie Guenhenno knows that the number of rapes that go unreported as usually ten or twenty times higher than those that come to official attention, and vastly higher still during a war. [Em. mine]

Who is raping the women? Who isn’t.

Although much focus is placed on the Interahamwe (Rwandan Hutus who perpetrated the 1994 genocide), virtually every militant group is a danger to women. Perpetrators also include the Congolese army and any of dozens of armed civilian factions. Even UN peace keepers have been cited as some of the worst offenders. Activist Christine Schuler Deschryver explains:

All of them are raping women. It is a country sport. Any person in uniform is an enemy to women.

This doesn’t even include the sweeping instances of survival sex. In 2005 the Washington Post reported on the issue in a piece called “Congo’s Desperate One-Dollar U.N. Girls“:

When Yvette was 10, a militiaman raped her, leaving her without clothes, she recalled. She cried a lot, wrapped her body in rags and then got up. She sought counseling at a women’s organization, where she was told that she had done nothing wrong but that the theft of her virginity made her worthless as a bride. She should understand, the counselors said, that now no man would marry her.

“I’m sad about it. But I needed the dollars. I can’t go farm because of the militias. Who will feed me?” asked Yvette. At 14, she has a round face with wide eyes beneath a cap of neatly shorn hair, and her hands rest on her hips in an older girl’s pose.

Not to Mention AIDS…

As many as 60% of the combatants in the DRC are believed to be HIV-positive. About 30% of the women who are raped will become infected as well. Nearly all of them are left with an untreated STD of some sort, in addition to the wounds inflicted during the attack.

A recent article in the Nation noted “In the Congo, rape is a cheaper weapon than bullets.”

Next: Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 3 — The Healing]


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9 Responses to “Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 2 – The Savagery]”

  1. Megan G Says:

    This is unbelievable! I am only 15 and cannot even imagine how I would continue living if this happened to me. What can i do about this? I feel that it is my responsibility to do something and i need to do something about this but I also feel helpless because I dont know what I can do.

  2. blackbirdwoja Says:


    Check out my post “Rape as a Weapon of War in the Congo – Part 3: The Healing and What You Can Do To Help

    I have links to lots of ways to help. I also recommend a great documentary called “Lumo” about the incredible strength of these women.

    Really, one of the best things to do is simply raise awareness. The violence in the DRC is ongoing and viciously extreme (not even including the rapes), yet it remains underreported in western media. Tell people. Talk about these women. Blog about them.

    It’s great to hear from someone who really cares!


  3. supreet Says:

    I am Supreet Kaur from India. Iam a student of law and I am doing a research on ‘rape as a war crime’.while i am writing this mail my hands are shaking thinking about the attrocities that are being comitted on women in Congo. i feel helpless because i cannot do anything for them yet it brings tears into my eyes evrytime i recall the fate of a human being in the hands of another human being. we are always taught that there is nothing above god but today i have realized that FEAR is above anything else.

  4. Black Panther Says:

    It is good to see that you don’t think like the rest of america Megan.

    As for you 2 this should be nationaly brodcast.

  5. Jonathan Zilberg Says:

    Dear Julie, Thank you for posting this important article.

    I am hoping that you might be able to post something about the current situation in North Kivu.

    Also, as I am citing your on-line article in an academic context, I was hoping you could post your full name so that I can credit this to you rather than to an anonymous Julie. My apologies if I have missed the credit somewhere.

  6. Julie Ann Marra Says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    My name is on the about page – Julie Ann Marra. However, as I really only research from second-hand sources – newspapers, online journals, etc… – you might want to go straight to the source for your references. I tried to link as extensively as possible and not post facts without documenting them. As much as I would love to travel and speak to these women and others involved directly and write from from first hand sources, my current situation has limited me to a concerned citizen and part-time blogger!

    My time for blogging has been scant lately, but I do know that the violence has intensified especially in N Kivu over the past few weeks and I’d been meaning to address it here – although at this point, it will probably be later rather than sooner.

    I would suggest checking out Human Rights Watch (www.hrw.org), most especially their recent report “Renewed Crisis in North Kivu.” It’s pretty comprehensive and addresses something I have yet to talk about on my blog – the recruitment and use of child soldiers.

    Hope this helps!

  7. jonathan zilberg Says:

    Hi Julie,

    Many thanks, I now have it properly referenced in the bibliography and very much appreciate the thoroughness of your references. I have been careful to check the HRW references and to be as exhaustive as possible and like you and most concerned advocates out there also have to rely purely on these all important reports. I suppose you may have seen the latest UNHCR campaign announced last night – The Gimme Shelter Campaign at http://www.unhcrshelter.org discussed last night, December 18, on CNN, the HARD Talk interview with Leah Chishugi on December 17 at news.bbc.co.uk/!/programmes/hardtalk/17December2008 and before that the Al Jazeera Riz Kahn interview with Eve Elsner “Caught in the crossfire in Congo” at http://english.aljazeera.net/programmes/rizkhan/2008/11/200811187391146861.html.

    Many thanks for replying and hope these references are of some use to you.

  8. Sandra_Dalene_VanAlstine Says:

    Sandra Dalene VanAlstine – Wanted to introduce myself

    Sandra Dalene VanAlstine

  9. Thabo Says:

    It is horrible that children are raped in that manner. One thing for sure those rebels if they rule the nation they would have to support the victims. They must be brought to book. What is the toothless AU doping to protect our children?

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