There have been more than 3,500 cases of sexual violence for North Kivu alone reported to the Joint Initiative on Sexual Violence from January to September this year- that's nearly 400 a month.
"We know rape is typically under-reported, and feel that this number doesn't even come close to reflecting the actual number of cases - the actual number is unimaginable," said Elisabeth Roesch, Gender and Advocacy Advisor for CARE in DR Congo, based in Goma. "With this recent fighting, we won't know the full extent right away, because there is such stigma around sexual violence. Women don't come forward for fear of rejection, reprisal, and because of continued insecurity. They need safety, medical care, support and encouragement, and this is a crucial gap in DR Congo today."
The ongoing conflict in DR Congo has created one of the most appalling wars on women in the world. Rape has become a tool of war, spreading HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, destroying families and traumatizing the women who are attacked, and their children who are often witness to this violence or are attacked themselves.
"Sexual violence has reached epidemic proportions in North Kivu," said Roesch. "These are women who have been suffering for a long time. There has been fighting and displacement for months and months. Their ability to cope is being overwhelmed, and this is pushing them over the edge.
"It has been said that it's more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in the DRC right now - that couldn't be more true. This isn't just an immediate problem. Rape leaves a legacy of violence that continues on long after the war ends."
While rape is one of the worst forms of violence against women, women are also subject to abuse and exploitation, and as more men are killed or called to fight, there is a growing number of women left to raise their children alone.
In the heavily-affected area of Birambizo, North Kivu, CARE will provide survivors of violence with medical assistance, psychosocial support, and help in recovering their ability to provide for themselves and their families, and work with communities to help women reintegrate into their former lives.
CARE's emergency program in response to the latest fighting has also expanded to provide emergency supplies for 2,700 people still taking refuge in churches, open spaces and schools in Goma town, who have no access to drinking water, shelter, food or medical support. The emergency supplies include hygiene items, blankets, kitchen supplies, plastic sheeting, and jerry cans to store treated drinking water.
About CARE: CARE is one of the world's largest independent aid organizations providing emergency relief and development projects in nearly 70 countries around the world. CARE has been working in the DRC since 2002, providing programs in the areas of health and nutrition, livelihoods, environmental protection, and good governance.
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