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AC 360: the rape of the women in the Congo

While we sit in the comfort of our homes and offices, laughing at the idiocy of the clowns running our incompetent, corrupt government, we are worlds away from this kind of unimaginable violence, pain and suffering. Anderson Cooper‘s series, Africa’s Misery, is doing what most of the television news media refuses to do — cover the atrocities going on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan in graphic detail. (CNN):

The level of everyday violence here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been simply unfathomable over the last several years. Guns and machetes, of course, are common. But the most ruthless weapon that has been used here is rape, tens of thousands of women, children have been attacked, mostly by gangs of soldiers and bands of outlaws.

According to Doctors Without Borders, an estimated 40 percent of the rape victims are under the age of 18. Often, there are multiple assailants. It is something that’s hard to report on, but is something that is fact. And this story may be certainly hard to watch, but we can’t avoid it. It is part of life here. And the world should know what the women here are facing.


COOPER (voice-over): At a busy hospital in Goma, a silent little girl sits on a stoop. She is 5 years old now, but still cannot speak of the terrible thing happened to her. Two years ago, when she was just 3, she was gang-raped by soldiers.

COOPER (on camera): Children as young as 3 years are getting raped?

DR. LUC MALEMO, HEAL AFRICA: Yes, 3 years old, yes.

COOPER: That’s — it’s — it’s crazy.

MALEMO: Very crazy. And we — it’s difficult to understand the — the social causes of these events.

But we think that people are so disappointed, and they have been in a dictatorship for 40 years, that now the war came. So, they lost all the hope. And they start behaving like animals.

COOPER (voice-over): Dr. Luc Malemo has a hospital ward full of girls and women who have been raped and developed fistulas, holes in their vaginas or rectums that make it impossible to control bodily functions.

(on camera): Why do so many rape victims here develop fistulas?

MALEMO: We — we think that — that the — the first reason, that the rape is too violent. Some of them, they will use, after — after raping the lady, they will use maybe — they may use a weapon, a knife, or even a piece of wood. And some of them have been shot on after being raped.

COOPER: So, women aren’t just getting raped, and they’re not just getting gang-raped; they’re — they’re often being shot internally afterward, or — or — or people putting objects inside them, knives, clubs?

MALEMO: Yes. Yes.

I saw the whole report, and it’s hard to watch and comprehend the tragedy and horror of what human beings can do to one another. There is no rule of law to help stop the violence, and all the aid workers can do is to help at the most basic level in terms of food, shelter and medical care.

The men who rape these women are not prosecuted; the women are forced to leave their villages because of the stigma of rape (it’s also assumed by neighbors, family and spouses that they will contract HIV, so their husbands kick them out). Many of them are raped repeatedly by bands of soldiers and show up at Dr. Malemo’s clinic time and again. The level of the raping is beyond belief.

ROMAIN GITENET, DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS: We have — we are curing something like 100 raped women a week now, which was the — which was not exactly like this before. Like, this, in — in — in July, we were just curing 200 raped women by month. And now it’s — it’s on a weekly basis.

COOPER: Do — do the rapists, do the men ever get brought to justice?

GITENET: I don’t think so. Really — really, it’s — those women are just living in the forests at night. They are scared to be at risk, scared to be looted. And, I mean, they have no — no way to go to justice. They are just trying to live, to survive. That is all. This — this type of justice is not there for the moment. And they’re not even thinking about it. They could — they could get trouble to go to justice.

COOPER: Because the — the rapists are still living in the communities, and — and there — I mean, there is no place to put them. There’s no jails. There is no law. There is no nothing.

GITENET: Yes. I — I don’t know, actually. There is many problem in the country. This is just one of the problem, but what is our preoccupation and what is shocking us, actually, is the level of violence against the civilian population.

We are talking about sexual violence. Actually, I can tell you that women sleep in the forest at night. All the people are looted. There is malnutrition because they have no more money, no more food. And there is just all those armed groups around and doing whatever they want with impunity.

…GITENET: Last week we have around 100 case of rape, and among them, you had four people coming back for the — they were raped for the second time. We cure them one month before, and they come back again for a second case of rape.

COOPER: In traditional African society, there’s a strict moral code and sort of village system. That seems to have completely broken down here. I mean, it’s been decades of corruption and war, and there just — it seems like there is no — there’s no responsibility.

What can you really say after reading this? It puts our pampered lives in perspective, and begs the question — if the U.S. put a fraction of the money it is burning in waste, fraud and abuse toward problems around the world like this, what a difference it could make. It’s raw reporting and Cooper has used the reach of CNN to present this international shame to a wide audience. Well done.

The AC360 blog serves as a journal for Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s personal impressions of what they are seeing on the ground.

For aid:
UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, World Food Programme, UNHCR, Action Against Hunger.

For more information on the conflicts in the region, go to the International Crisis Group.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding