DR Congo

Sexual violence in the protracted conflict of DRC: Programming for rape survivors in South Kivu

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Conflict and Health 2009, 3:3
doi:10.1186/1752-1505-3-3

Birthe Steiner (steiner.birthe@gmx.de)
Marie T Benner (mariet.benner@malteser-international.org)
Egbert Sondorp (Egbert.sondorp@lshtm.ac.uk)
K. PETER Schmitz (Peter.schmitz@malteser-international.org)
Ursula Mesmer (umesmer@yahoo.com)
Sandrine Rosenberger (Sandrine.rosenberger@malteser-africa.org)

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Abstract

Background: Despite international acknowledgement of the linkages between sexual violence and conflict, reliable data on its prevalence, the circumstances, characteristics of perpetrators, and physical or mental health impacts is rare. Among the conflicts that have been associated with widespread sexual violence has been the one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Methods: From 2003 till to date Malteser International has run a medico-social support programme for rape survivors in South Kivu province, DRC. In the context of this programme, a host of data was collected. We present these data and discuss the findings within the frame of available literature.

Results: Malteser International registered 20,517 female rape survivors in the three year period 2005-2007. Women of all ages have been targeted by sexual violence and only few of those and many of them only after several years sought medical care and psychological help. Sexual violence in the DRC frequently led to social, especially familial, exclusion. Members of military and paramilitary groups were identified as the main perpetrators of sexual violence.

Conclusions: We have documented that in the DRC conflict sexual violence has been and continues to be highly prevalent in a wide area in the East of the country. Humanitarian programming in this field is challenging due to the multiple needs of rape survivors. The easily accessible, integrated medical and psycho-social care that the programme offered apparently responded to the needs of many rape survivors in this area.

Introduction

Today's armed conflicts mostly occur within state borders and typically drag on for years, even decades. Multicausal in nature, these crises are typically highly politicised and frequently associated with non-conventional warfare (1,2). National accountability mechanisms are characteristically absent or severely weakened (3), which consequently gives rise to a climate of impunity for perpetrating all sorts of crimes. These conflicts tend to affect the civilian sphere, regardless of growing international emphasis on the protection of civilians in conflict. Civilians are affected accidentally as they are not well distinguishable from combatants, or intentionally. They may be intentionally targeted because the goal of warfare is not simply the occupation and control of territory (anymore) - it is about destroying the identity and dignity of the opposition (4). One of the strategies to achieve this goal is by targeting women s sexuality and reproductive capacity. Sexual violence, therefore, not only causes individual physical and psychological ill health and social exclusion, but uproots families and communities and contributes to the moral and physical destruction of society (5). In the absence of governmental programmes to mitigate the impacts of sexual violence humanitarian organizations play a role in caring for rape survivors, as is the case in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). International humanitarian organisations support the Congolese government s efforts to address the issue of sexual violence, among them Malteser International, a non-governmental organization. Since 2003, Malteser works with rape survivors in the Eastern province South Kivu by offering medical and psycho-social care. Over the years a host of programme data were collected, forming a unique dataset in the light of the overall scarcity of data related to sexual violence and rape survivors. Here we present an analysis of these data against a background of a literature review on sexual violence in the DRC crisis and discuss implications for humanitarian programming.