Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Monday, October 18, 2010

How many women have been raped in the Congo?

How many women have been raped in the eastern Congo? We have no exact figure, and we all know how difficult it is to get good data. Rape survivors are afraid to tell and many are in remote areas, where no records are kept of the violence.

According to one UN estimate that I first saw in 2008, 200,000 women have been raped since 1998. Last week, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo told the UN Security Council that 15,000 women had been raped in the East of the country alone in 2009. The UN Population Fund came out with a figure of 17,507 for the whole country for the same period.

I am pretty sure that the UNFPA figures come from records provided through a central data bank, into which health centers, NGOs and UN agencies feed data. One of the problems I have heard is that "sexual violence" as recorded in health centers includes a relatively wide spectrum of violence, including domestic abuse.

Other researchers have adopted a different methodology, carrying out surveys in which they ask a randomized sample of men women a bunch of health related questions, including about sexual violence. One such survey, a Demographic and Health Survey carried out in 2007, surveyed around 10,000 women throughout the Congo. They asked women between 18-49 about being forced to have sex with a man:
10% said that the first time they had had sex it was forced; 16% said that as some point in their life they had been forced to have sex; and 4% said that they had been forced to have sex in the previous 12 months.
Interestingly, the variation between provinces defies expectations. The highest rate of forced sex was in North Kivu (25% said they had had forced sex as some point), but the second and forth highest rates were Equateur and Bandundu, respectively (19% and 18%), provinces where there has not been nearly as high levels of armed conflict as in the Kivus.

One problem is that the study asked about forced sexual relations in general, not the rape you observe during armed conflict. Unfortunately, many women in the Congo suffer this kind of domestic abuse. As terrible as it is, conjugal rape is different from military rape.

Another, more recent study (2010) carried out by American researchers and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association focused on the Kivus and Ituri. Researchers interviewed around a thousand men and women. They found that a shocking 39.7% of the women had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime and an amazing 23.6% of men.

There were other counter-intuitive findings: of the women who had experienced sexual violence in conflict settings (74.3% of total), over 40% had experienced it at the hands of women with no men present.

This begs the question: How did the researchers, who have done similar studies in West Africa and Darfur, define sexual violence? Was it any kind of sexual intimidation or harassment, or was it actual rape? I will try to get the full data they collected and report back.


Sam Gardner said...

When starting the first project on sexual violence with UNFPA, one of the underlying assumptions was that, like in Southern Africa, chances were big that sexual violence outside of conflict was equally rampant, but unreported. The project was partially conceived in order to make sexual violence in general more unacceptable, even by people from the village.

Rich said...

Hey Jason,

Ref # "One problem is that the study asked about forced sexual relations in general, not the rape you observe during armed conflict. Unfortunately, many women in the Congo suffer this kind of domestic abuse. As terrible as it is, conjugal rape is different from military rape."

I can see where you are coming from but in some cases, for instance, when one is trying to establish correlational evidence of factors influencing the likelihood of being a victim of rape (domestically or in a war setting) these studies are better placed to provide potential explanatory variables.

The other fact is that, in any war setting, the likelihood of any kind of violence, let alone rape, is increased by a substantial proportion. Remember at the end of WWII, Soviet troops raped German women and girls as young as 8 years old beyond any recognition. This led German women to refer to the Soviet Unknown Soldier’s tomb as the “Unknown Rapper’s tomb”.

Here we are talking about a professional army (Red Army troops); what about the asylum of delinquent and criminals that forms what is called the DRC army?

This is to say, that on a war setting it is more likely that any conflict will provide a just as bad record of rape and sexual violence cases as the DRC. In that respect, I think, it will be better to compare the war against the non-war situation of male violence to women (rape and sexual violence) in order to establish some background to the behaviour and come up with meaningful ways of tackling the issue.

Will be interesting to find out what sexual violence has been defined in the case of Darfur!

A suivre ...

friends of congo said...

Questions such as the ones posed on this recent blog will be discussed at Congo in Harlem II on Wednesday, October 20th as Dr. Roger Luhiriri (human rights advocate and former fistula doctor at Panzi Hospital), Jocelyn Kelly (gender-based violence Research Coordinator with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative) and Dr. Lee Ann De Reus (President of the Board of Directors of Panzi Hospital Foundation)share insights on their studies and reports of violence against women in the Congo:

Anonymous said...

Reponse de Lambert Mende sur cette question:

"car, a-t-il noté, 4.956 viols répertoriés pour 2010 représentent 13 cas par jour contre 42 dans la pénultième situation, soit une réduction de quelques 70%. Ce qui est un taux presque identique à celui de la France qui alignait 4.412 cas de viols avérés, soit 12 cas par jour répertoriés par le ministère français de l'Intérieur alors que ce pays était encore plus peuplé que la RDC."

L'important n'est pas de savoir si 200000 ou 500000 femmes ont ete violees (car la bataille des chiffres est presque devenue ideologique), mais comment y mettre un terme. Parce qu'apres le viol en conflit, ce sont les civils qui s'y mettent. Le tort fait durera des dizaines d'annees, si cela ne recommence pas, tout simplement.

Unknown said...

My goodness, I've found a grown-up and informative discussion on the Congo.

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