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rape as a weapon of war, violence against civilians The Congo

Oxfam correspondent Coco MCabe, April 30th 2010.

People sometimes ask me about the places I’ve been. Which is the most troubling, they want to know. Darfur? Haiti? Zimbabwe?

For me, it’s Congo–because the catalog of crimes against women is so long and so horrific.

Oxfam and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative recently come out with a study detailing some of that horror and the statistics make me ache: during the period of the study, 60 percent of the victims surveyed were gang raped by armed men and more than half of assaults took place in the woman’s home at night–often in front of her husband and children. And, as frightening, is the news that there was a 17-fold increase in rapes carried out by civilians between 2004 and 2008–the period of the study.

For Susan Bartels, the lead Harvard researcher on the report, the picture is all too clear.

“This study confirms what has only been reported anecdotally until now,” she said. “Sexual violence has become more normal in civilian life.”

Think about what that means for women: rape as more normal; predation and brutality as more normal; sorrow and ruin as more normal. All of it stems from a wartime strategy to terrorize and humiliate people, stigmatizing women and shredding the fabric of their communities.

In the words of one survivor on the frontline of this terrifying war, here’s where the new normal starts:

“My husband and I were sleeping in our house. The children were sleeping in the house next door. The soldiers arrived and brought my daughter to our house where they raped her in the presence of my husband and me. Afterwards, they demanded that my husband rape my daughter, but he refused so they shot him. Then they went into the other house where they found my three sons. They killed all three of my boys. After killing them, two soldiers raped me one after the other.”

The story is almost paralyzing. And it’s not just this story, but thousands upon thousands like it.

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