Sunday, 7 December 2008

Rape Epidemic in the Congo

The New York Times reported the rape epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo on October 7th 2007, urging the world to listen to women who had been subject to rape and mutilation.

A year on and the same stories are surfacing. Why then is this not enough of a crisis for it to be news every day?

Occasionally a feature is written, interviewing women who have been victim. We read the story, feel sad for a few minutes and then we get on with our daily lives.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.

Surely the fact that the International Red Cross have declared this as a humanitarian catastrophe should be enough. If I were editor, appeals would be scattered over the paper so that people knew that they could do something to help, even if only with a small donation.

News is people

From the first day of our journalism course, we were taught that news is people. If that is the case, surely this should be news every day - Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that 75% of all the rape cases it deals with worldwide are in eastern Congo.

Congolese human rights groups have claimed that 7 out of 10 women in the large towns have been raped.

How not every woman in the world can feel disgusted by this situation is beyond me.

Some Congolese women have been sold into sexual slavery, others left HIV positive and pregnant.

Weapon for revenge

Rape has been used in the Congo for years as a weapon of war and as a means of ethnic cleansing. Doctors there are dealing with women each day who are victim of rape and torture.

The New York Times last year gave an account of gynecologist Denis Mukwege's daily life.

He said that each day, 10 new women and girls come to his hospital having been raped. Many of them have been butchered so badly by chunks of wood and bayonets, that "their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair."

The Guardian on Friday had a piece written by Chris McGreal, which was upsetting but made me realise the extent of this crisis.

"Gang rapes are commonplace and frequently accompanied by torture in which women are mutilated by having guns or stakes thrust into their vaginas, or their genitals slashed with knives. One in four who make it to hospitals in Goma and Rutshuru require major surgery. More than a third are teenagers."

For me, this is the most serious and desperate issue in the world at the moment. The international community needs to do everything it can to end this violence and to ensure that this catastrophe comes to an end.

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