"Women and girls are forced to leave the camp in search of additional firewood, food, and income for their families and these daily chores expose them to sexual violence," says Sarah Spencer, who oversees IRC programs for rape survivors in eastern Congo.
Two women told the IRC team that they had gone to search for potatoes in fields near the frontline when they were attacked and raped. "Our men will be killed or recruited if they leave the camp," another woman told the IRC. "What choice do we have?"
Spencer says that rape is also occurring while women are sleeping in camps where they have taken refuge.
Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout eastern Congo for years. Based on IRC's experience in the region, women and girls are at much greater risk of violence and exploitation during times of heightened military conflict, displacement and in unstable and unprotected settings.
Kibati Camp is extremely congested and shelter for most is only a plastic tarpaulin. Many of the displaced women and children are now separated from trusted family and neighbors, and are living next to strangers in the camp. The absence of protective walls and traditional support from their communities increases the threat of violence and exploitation. After attacks occur, women have very limited access to medical and psychological services.
IRC experts are working with key partners in displaced settlements north of Goma to help survivors gain access to essential health and psychological care and address safety concerns for women and girls. IRC is also distributing firewood to families in camps so that women and girls don't have to leave settlements to search for it.
But Spencer says the international community is only scratching the surface of what's needed to aid rape survivors in North Kivu. She says much more needs to be done now and in the long-term to expand services and improve the safety and well-being of women and girls in the region.
"The health and psychological needs of rape survivors in Congo will continue long after the fighting stops," says Spencer. "Addressing their needs must become a priority for the international community."
Emily Meehan (Goma) +243 998 795415,
Gina Bramucci (Kinshasa) +243 813 679604, gina.bramucci@theIRC.org
Melissa Winkler (New York) + 1 646 734 0305, melissa.winkler@theIRC.org