The war in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has been the subject of numerous studies related to the problem of sexual violence. Historically, such violence is known to be part of strategic war plans to conquer and destroy communities, but it is now unfortunately prevalent in times of relative calm.
We describe the characteristics and consequences of sexual violence in Ituri province of Democratic Republic of Congo through the retrospective analysis of 2,565 patients who received medical care in the Médecins Sans Frontières sexual violence clinic in the capital of Ituri province, Bunia, between September 2005 and December 2006. Using a standardised questionnaire, we report patients’ demographics, number and status of aggressor(s), forced detention and violent threats among other variables for all patients presenting for medical consultation after a sexually violent event during this period.
Ninety-six percent of our cohort were female and 29.3% minors, 18-29 years was the most represented age group. Acts of sexual violence (n= 2,565) were reported to be mainly perpetrated by men with military affiliations (73%), although civilians were implicated in 21% of crimes. The attack was perpetrated by two or more persons in over 74% of cases and most commonly perpetrators were unknown armed males, (87.2%). Male victims accounted for 4% (n=103) of our cohort. Forty-eight percent of our patients reported being attacked whilst performing daily domestic duties outside the home and 18% of victims being detained by their perpetrators, the majority of whom were held for less than 2 weeks (61.6%).
The characteristics of sexually violent acts in Ituri province during this period cannot be simply explained as a ‘weapon of war’ as described in the literature, meaning the use of sexual violence within a military strategy where it is employed under the orders of a commander to harm a particular community. Whilst the majority of aggressions were by armed men there was an important proportion in which civilian perpetrators were implicated. This type of violence has become part of the general characteristics of violence in this war-torn population. Sometimes, as a means for some military factions to acquire remuneration with impunity and for some civilians, a means to counteract confronting, changing social norms occurring during chronic conflict.